MILLBURN, NJ – The Paper Mill Playhouse threw a party on Thursday evening to celebrate its 75th birthday. Members of the management team, stage crew and contributors came to toast the milestone with champagne and birthday cake.
Managing Director Todd Schmidt offered a bit of the theater’s history during his remarks to the revelers. Antoinette Scudder and Frank Carrington had started a theater company in Newark in the 1930s and then found a permanent home for it in Millburn in what was then the Diamond Paper Mill. They invested to convert it into a Broadway-grade theater, and on Nov. 14, 1938, the Paper Mill Playhouse opened with its first show, “Kingdom of God.”
“What they did in the 1930s was part of a burgeoning movement in theater, moving out of the major metropolitan area of New York City and Chicago, and opening theaters out in the regions, and really the very beginning of what has led to a huge theater movement in this country,” Schmidt said.
Paper Mill now has a budget of $15 million per year, which ranks it in the Top 20 theaters in the country. It is the only one in the Top 20 that is not located in a major metropolitan city.
“It’s amazing. How many people get to celebrate a 75th anniversary?” said Mark Hoebee, producing artistic director. “We’re sort of riding a wave right now of great success in a lot of different areas. Artistically, we have been on a high, especially since ‘Newsies’ and now with ‘Honeymoon in Vegas.’ Our subscriber base is now up over 20,000 and shows are starting to sell out, which tells us we are providing a product people want to see.”
Two members of the Paper Mill Broadway Show Choir, Alexander Carr and Isabel Stein, performed at the party. The choir is a relatively new venture for the theater and now boasts 45 members.
Next up for the theater is a new production of “Oliver,” which opens Nov. 21.