MILLBURN, NJ — Paper Mill Playhouse has announced casting for “Rising Star Honors,” presented by the Investors Foundation, a virtual celebration of New Jersey high school students, many of whom were unable to perform their high school musicals due to the current Covid-19 health crisis.“Rising Star Honors” presented by the Investors Foundation will stream on Monday, June 1, 2020 at 7 p.m. on Paper Mill Playhouse’s Facebook page (facebook.com/PaperMillPlayhouse).

In response to the coronavirus national emergency and statewide school, business and institution closures, dozens of New Jersey high schools participating in the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards were forced to cancel their spring musical. Of the 94 schools on the roster, over two-thirds canceled their show. In the face of this, the theater was forced to cancel the awards program and ceremony which would have been the milestone 25th annual gathering.

While the Rising Star Awards could not be presented live at the theater, Paper Mill will instead present a virtual celebration of the 2020 participating schools with “Rising Star Honors” presented by the Investors Foundation. The celebration is a montage of school video submissions of the shows that happened, were in process or had to be canceled entirely. Schools will share highlights of their performances, rehearsals or create new performances by company members. 

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The Host is Rising Star winner, Broadway performer and Olivier nominee, Jared Gertner, along with Rising Star Alumni from across the nation. Broadway artists appearing are:

Jared Gertner (OLIVIER nominee, The Book of Mormon) 
Nikki M. James (TONY winner, The Book of Mormon, Les Misérables) 
Rob McClure (TONY nominee, Chaplin, Mrs. Doubtfire) 
Laura Benanti (TONY winner, Gypsy, She Loves Me) 
Julia Knitel (LORTEL nominee, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Bye, Bye Birdie) 
Jennifer Blood (Girl From the North Country, Matilda) 
Natalie Weiss (Everyday Rapture, The Greatest Showman - 20th Century Fox) 
Matthew Scott (An American in Paris, Sondheim on Sondheim) 
Monette McKay (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Come From Away) 
Constantine Rousouli (Wicked, Hairspray) 
Anne Brummel (Wicked) 
Meghann Dreyfuss (Mamma Mia) 
Mike Schwitter (Pippin) 
Matt Ban (Rock of Ages) 
Renee Marino (Pretty Woman, Jersey Boys) 
Meghann Zervoulis (Musical Director, The Prom, West Side Story) 
Matt DiCarlo (Stage Manager, Beetlejuice, The Color Purple)

Also performing are students from Paper Mill Playhouse’s competitive musical theater professional training program, the Summer Musical Theater Conservatory.

Since its inception in 1996, the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards for Excellence in High School Musical Theater has ignited the careers of many notable performers who attended high school in New Jersey. Many Paper Mill Rising Star nominees and winners are now working professionally and have won esteemed industry awards while working in theater and film. Along with Mr. Gertner, early Paper Mill Rising Star nominees and winners are Academy Award winner Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables), Tony Award winners Laura Benanti (Gypsy) and Nikki M. James (The Book of Mormon), Tony nominee Rob McClure (Chaplin), and Shanice Williams, star of NBC’s “The Wiz Live!” Visit PaperMill.org for a full list of notable alumni.

“We want the students of New Jersey to know our hearts are with them and we understand and acknowledge the deep disappointment they feel, especially those Seniors,” commented Mark S. Hoebee, Paper Mill Playhouse’s Producing Artistic Director. “In the theater arts, the cast and crew of the musical are a family, and the time they spend together in rehearsals are a safe harbor for many kids, so we understand how they may feel incomplete right now. We want them to know we are thinking of them and love their passion. Each year for the past 25 years, the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards have raised the bar and created opportunities for student performers, musicians, and theater technicians to be recognized for their achievements. We can’t wait to return next year.”

“Even though the current pandemic has impacted the Rising Star Awards program, it has not dampened students' interest and enthusiasm for musical theater. These student performers and theater technicians have worked so hard and it is wonderful to have the opportunity to recognize their talent in a unique way,” said Investors Bank Chairman and CEO Kevin Cummings. "Investors Bank is proud to be a part of this program that acknowledges the students and the high school theater programs in which they participate.

The “Rising Star Honors” presentation is salute to the New Jersey school community while the theater operation is on hiatus. Paper Mill Director of Education Lisa Cooney explains, "During this difficult moment, we want to give the students an outlet to shine. The passion that the students and educators here in New Jersey have is remarkable. “ 
Paper Mill Playhouse Education & Outreach are generously sponsored by The Goren Family & the Harmony Helper App.

“Rising Star Honors” is supported in part by Stages Online, a partnership with New Jersey Theatre Alliance to bring theatre content into homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stages Online is made possible by generous funding from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, Bank of America,The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, OceanFirst Foundation; the George A. Ohl, Jr. Trust; New Jersey Historical Commission; and Fund for the New Jersey Blind.

Paper Mill Playhouse programs are made possible, in part, by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Paper Mill Playhouse is grateful for generous contributions from numerous corporations, foundations, and individuals.

Paper Mill Playhouse needs your support more than ever. Donate now at: https://papermill.org/donate