MILLBURN, NJ - Khailah Johnson of Franklin Township won the 22nd Annual Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Award for outstanding actress in a leading role as “Deloris van Cartier” in Franklin High School’s production of Sister Act, Tuesday night. 

Johnson said her most memorable moment of the night was performing Spread the Love. 

“That song was so vibrant and uplifting and full of so much movement and joyous lyrics,” Johnson said. “It was one of those songs where the cast had many opportunities to look at each other and interact throughout the song. The message in that song is the base of the whole show and it was a gorgeous way of bringing a close to our story each night.”

Sign Up for E-News

Since their inception, the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards for excellence in high school musical theatre have ignited the careers of many notable performers, all of whom attended high school in New Jersey.

“We are very excited to celebrate excellence in high school musical theater with the students of New Jersey,” Producing Artistic Director, of  Paper Mill PlayhouseMark S. Hoebee said. “For many New Jersey schools, the prestigious honor of a Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star nomination is the culmination of their hard work in a high school musical. Many of our Rising Star nominees and winners are now working professionally and have won esteemed industry awards while working in theater and film.” 

Johnson will be attending Carnegie Mellon University to pursue her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre.

Past Rising Star nominees and recipients recently appeared on Broadway in She Loves Me (Laura Benanti), Noises Off (Rob McClure),American Psycho (Morgan Weed) Aladdin (Josh Dela Cruz, Jonathan Schwartz, Kathryn Allison), Les Misérables (Nikki M. James), Disney’sThe Lion King (Jelani Remy), Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Julia Knitel), Jersey Boys (Russell Fisher), The Phantom of the Opera(Julia Udine), London’s West End production of The Book of Mormon (Jared Gertner); the Public Theater's Grounded (Anne Hathaway). Shanice Williams, star of NBC’s The Wiz Live was nominated for a Rising Star Award in 2014.

Johnson comes from a musical family and her mother runs a local dance studio and is very involved with the development of her daughter’s career. 

“I remember working on a play and we needed a little girl for a role and we used Khailah,” Johnson’s mother Normarie McClean said. “She was around 3 or 4 years old at the time.   I started a nonprofit performing art school when she was 9 years old and this is where all of her training in dance, voice, and acting started.  While working with her at the school I noticed that she was interested and good in all three areas that we focused on.” 

The Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards are modeled after the Tony Awards, and serves New Jersey with close to 100 public, private and parochial high schools competing. 

Franklin High School’s orchestra was also nominated for an outstanding performance award. 

Presented by the Investors Foundation are modeled after the Tony Awards, and Paper Mill Playhouse's program serves the entire state of New Jersey, with nearly 100 entered productions from public, private and parochial high schools. 

The 2017 Rising Star Awards Presented by the Investors Foundation are also generously supported by The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation.

TAPinto Franklin Township is Franklin Township’s only free daily paper. 

 Sign Up for E-News to get top stories delivered daily to your inbox. 

Download the FREE TAPinto App!  Click here for Android - Click here for iOS to get news as it is happening.

Give us your feedback at

Like/Follow our FaceBook Page!  and follow us on Twitter.