Eight sold-out performances of last spring's production of Disney's "High School Musical" show what Pickerington-area residents have long known about Pickerington High School North's theatre department.

Eight sold-out performances of last spring's production of Disney's "High School Musical" show what Pickerington-area residents have long known about Pickerington High School North's theatre department.

Soon, the rest of the country will know it, too.

The school's production of Disney's "High School Musical" has been named the best in the country by USA Weekend Magazine and the grand prize winner in the publication's 2008 HSM Showstopper! contest.

The magazine is distributed as a supplement to more than 600 Sunday newspapers nationwide, including the Columbus Dispatch. The school will be featured in an article about the contest in September.

Theatre department director Margaret Lawson said she was encouraged to enter the contest by members of the community and her colleagues, who slipped multiple copies of the contest application into her school mailbox.

"And I got probably 10 different copies of the entry form in the mail and about 20 e-mails from people in the community, saying I had to enter the contest," she said. "That's why I did it."

T.J. Walter, associate editor of USA Weekend Magazine, said he could not comment on the contest.

However, Lawson said the school's contest entry included "a box of stuff," including more than 150 photos, a DVD recording of the show, lighting, costume and set designs and a program.

While she said she is proud of the more than 100 students involved in the show, Lawson stopped short of saying she was surprised by the recognition.

"What our designers do is just fabulous," she said. "I think I have the best designers on my staff of any high school in the country."

Lawson has known most of the designers who worked on the show since they were students working on their own high school musicals at Pickerington High School.

The PHS North theatre department's set designer, Scott Skiles, graduated from Pickerington in 1985 after working on several productions. He received an undergraduate degree from The Ohio State University and a master's degree from the University of Connecticut, both in theatre design. He has been on the school's staff teaching that subject for 13 years.

The show's choreographer, Heidi Mulcahy, and sound designer, Chris Zinkon, both graduated from Pickerington in the early 1990s.

Mulcahy works with the Columbus-based EventCo. and Zinkon is assistant technical director for OSU.

Matt Guirreri, another Pickerington graduate, conducted the show's orchestra.

"I have really fabulous people and I'm proud to say they are my former kids," Lawson said. "High schools just don't have people like that on their staffs."

In addition to being featured in the magazine, Lawson said the school's theatre department will receive a $1,000 award. She said she plans to use it to buy equipment for the scene shop.

Also, each student involved in the show's cast, crew and orchestra will receive a ticket to the Sept. 23 production of Disney's "The Lion King" at the Ohio Theater.

msegaloff@thisweeknews.com