ST. LOUIS – Friday was the sixth annual St. Louis High School Musical Theatre Awards. With 34 schools, over 2,500 students, and a packed theater, two winners are now packing up to compete nationally in New York.

The center stage is where groups of high schoolers from St. Louis and surrounding areas gather to showcase their talents. For Noelle Sonderegger, the news of her nomination as an outstanding lead actress is a goal she shared with many other students who have been practicing for months.

“To be on the stage where I’ve seen Wicked and Les Mis, and I mean so many incredible actors and actresses… the fact that I can be up there is insane,” said Gage Williams, a senior at O’Fallon High School.

Students were overjoyed to see the stage from a different perspective. The theater was filled with sounds and sites, from classics to cartoon-based acts showcased. Also, FOX 2’s Chelsea Haynes was there to host the award ceremony.

Besides the singing, dancing, and acting, it’s not just what you see but also how it makes you feel.

“The entire musical has a bigger message than what you would think,” Sonderegger said. “You’d think oh, it’s just SpongeBob SquarePants, it’s just an annoying sponge and a dumb starfish, but it’s so much more than that.”

She played the lead role of SpongeBob, she and others say putting yourself inside the story helps to bring the characters alive.

Liberty High School student Anna Wright has been a performer in St. Louis for years; her role as Alice Murphy in Bright Star was an act she’ll never forget.

“Well, she’s country, and she is a journalist, and she is no BS…… the only thing that matters most to her is that everyone is treated fairly,” Wright said.

Some say the opportunities in St. Louis present more opportunities than they had seen elsewhere. Williams moved to St. Louis two years ago. He said he wishes he had more time in the area.

“Nothing like the programs that are in St. Louis… some ways I wish I lived here longer than just two years, so I could have experienced it more,” he said.

Still, Williams said that wherever he goes, the stage is where his heart is.

“Theater is a safe place; you can always look at a friend, smile and have fun,” he said.

Williams and Wright took home titles for the best lead acts. Now, they are getting ready to perform on a national level in New York this June.