SHORT HILLS, NJ – Three hundred community and business leaders packed the Hilton Short Hills ballroom on Friday night for the Center Stage Celebration, the Paper Mill Playhouse’s annual fundraising gala.  Attendees included Governors Tom Kean and Brendan Byrne; CEO of Investors Bank Kevin Cummings, Chris Daggett, President and CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; Ken Wenger of PNC, Sandy Haimoff, Mayor of Millburn, and Mitchell Beinhaker, President of the Westfield Area Chamber of Commerce, among others.

Governor Tom Kean told TheAlternativePress.com, “The Paper Mill Playhouse is the greatest institution in our State.  Sixty years ago I saw my first play and it was at the Paper Mill.  Since then, I’ve had a lifelong love of the arts.  You always remember your first theater experience.  I was speaking with my daughter tonight, who now lives in Massachusetts, and she still remembers her first theater experience and it was at the Paper Mill.  She told me, ‘I love that place.’”  Kean continued, “Tonight is very important.  It helps keep alive the great shows and the wonderful work the Paper Mill does, and we’re all grateful for it.”

Shayne Miller, Director of Press and Public Relations for the Paper Mill Playhouse, told TheAlternativePress.com, “This is our 73rd season.  We’ve had a lot of successes this year.  To continue the great programs we offer, including a new program for students with disabilities, we need contributed support.  Donations from contributors are at least 20% of our annual budget and our annual budget is approximately $15M.  So contributions play a significant role for the Paper Mill and tonight is our biggest fundraising event of the year.”

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Mark S. Hoebee, Producing Artistic Director for the Paper Mill, added, “It’s the most important night of the year.  In addition to all of the successes of the theater, this gala is our biggest fundraiser to enable us to continue to do the great work the Paper Mill Playhouse does.”

Mayor of Millburn/Short Hills Sandy Haimoff attended the gala with her daughter.  She remarked, “I’m very happy to be here supporting the Paper Mill.  I’m very proud and we are fortunate to have the Paper Mill here in Millburn.”

Todd Schmidt, Managing Director of the Paper Mill, told TheAlternativePress.com, “We are very excited and appreciative of the large number of people who came out to support the Paper Mill tonight.  We are pleased to honor Charles Pascarella, a longtime supporter, and John McEwen, one of the best advocates for theater in New Jersey, and then we finish tonight’s festivities with Lorna Luff, Hollywood royalty.  This is a great function and we have a wonderful night ahead.”

The Antoinette Scudder Patron of the Arts Award was presented to Charles Pascarella.  Pascarella is the founding partner of the Pascarella Wealth Management Group of Wells Fargo Advisors and is a longtime supporter of the Paper Mill Playhouse and a former Board member.

John McEwen and the New Jersey Theatre Alliance were awarded the Byrne/Kean Arts Advocate Award.  McEwen has served as the Executive Director of the Alliance since 2001, a service organization for the state’s 34 professional theaters.  His awards and achievements include, among others, the first Excellence in Accessibility Leadership Award from the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Ann Klein Advocate Award from the Community Health Law Project.

McEwen told the attendees, “I had my first theater experience at the Paper Mill and it was my home for 15 years….This award is special for many reasons [including] that it is named for two of the state’s most vocal advocates for theater.”

Broadway star Lorna Luft, daughter of legendary entertainer Judy Garland, was honored with the Frank Carrington Excellence in the Awards Award.  Luft made her television debut at age 11 singing on her mother’s series The Judy Garland Show.  Since then, she has starred in roles in both television and film.  She recently joined Alan Cumming and Margaret Cho as part of the talented voice cast of Logo Network’s animated series Rick & Steve.

Luft told TheAlternativePress.com, “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.  It is such an important time for theater.  Theaters are so fragile.  A gift like the Paper Mill should not be taken for granted.”  She continued, “I am just thrilled I’m able to be here tonight.  The time I spent doing White Christmas at the Paper Mill…when you’re away from family, I was welcomed into the Paper Mill family for the holidays so the Paper Mill will always be home to me.” 

Summarizing the feelings of the attendees at the gala, Luft concluded, “I love the Paper Mill Playhouse!”