MILLBURN, NJ – As one of the nation’s leading regional theaters and producing partners for Broadway, Paper Mill Playhouse (Mark S. Hoebee-Producing Artistic Director, Todd Schmidt-Managing Director) has a well-earned reputation for launching both performers and shows for the Great White Way. The theater will be the recipient of this year’s Regional Theatre Tony Award. Since their inception in 1996, 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.  Among the early 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), Shanice Williams, star of NBC’s The Wiz Live! and Olivier Award nominee Jared Gertner (The Book of Mormon).  The 2016 Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards Presented by the Investors Foundation ceremony will take place at Paper Mill Playhouse on Tuesday, June 7, at 7:30pm, featuring presenters from Broadway and beyond. The ceremony will be broadcast live on television and online through Paper Mill Playhouse video partner, Hometowne Television, of Summit, New Jersey.

Among the top nominated high schools, Summit High School leads with 18 nominations, followed by Union High School with 12 nominations, Westfield High School with 11 nominations and Columbia High School (Maplewood) with 10 nominations.

“We are very excited to celebrate excellence in high school musical theater with the students of New Jersey,” commented Mark S. Hoebee, Paper Mill Playhouse’s Producing Artistic Director. “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.”  

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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’s The 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. 

Paper Mill Director of Education Lisa Cooney explains, "What's happening in high school musical productions here in New Jersey and around the country is remarkable. Programs like the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards raise the bar and create opportunities for student performers and theater technicians to be recognized for their achievements, while giving them access to thousands of dollars in scholarships and professional training. We consistently hear from top-tier colleges and casting directors that a Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Award is a significant accolade for an aspiring theater artist.”

The Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards 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. Paper Mill Playhouse conceived and created the awards in 1996 to give schools the opportunity to showcase their musical arts programs on a statewide level. The musicals are adjudicated by Paper Mill Playhouse throughout the spring by a group of 70 evaluators, with each school receiving four independent evaluations.  Schools nominated for Outstanding Overall Musical and Leading Actor/Actress nominees perform at the event, and award recipients are presented with an engraved crystal award from Tiffany & Co.

“We are proud to support the 2016 Rising Star Awards,” said Investors Bank President and CEO Kevin Cummings. “All of the nominees put in a tremendous amount of time and hard work into their productions, and it has certainly shown with all the amazing shows put on this year. Best of luck to all the nominees!”

Paper Mill Playhouse also awards $5,000 in scholarships at the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards Presented by the Investors Foundation.  Five $1,000 cash scholarships are given to outstanding individual students who plan to continue studying theater performance or technical theater in college. Paper Mill Playhouse is pleased to award a prize of $500 to a school receiving the 2016 Educational Impact Award, which acknowledges a school that successfully connects the musical to the district's curriculum, using the production as a teaching tool for the greater student body and local community.  Through the Rising Star “Theatre for Everyone” Inclusion and Access Award and a partnership with VSA New Jersey and The Cultural Access Network of New Jersey, a project of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Paper Mill Playhouse will present a cash award of $1,000 to a school to recognize excellence in the promotion and practice of creative inclusion of students and adults with disabilities as performers, designers, musicians and production staff. Additionally, this award seeks to recognize and reward a school that takes steps to ensure their performances are accessible to audiences with disabilities.

Lastly, students receiving final nominations in the lead and supporting acting categories receive a scholarship to Paper Mill Playhouse's competitive Summer Musical Theatre Conservatory, a professional training program, which, along with advanced classes in singing, acting and dance, offers the nominees an opportunity to perform onstage at Paper Mill Playhouse in the season finale concert, "New Voices of 2016: Everything Old is New Again!” on July 29 and July 30.

The 2016 Rising Star Awards Presented by the Investors Foundation are also generously supported by The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation and MetLife Foundation. 

Rising Star scholarships are made possible by Ruth Bedford in memory of Jane Burgio, Walt Santner in honor of Janet Sovey, and the Douglas Michael Krueger Scholarship Fund Trust.  The “Theatre for Everyone” Inclusion and Access Award is supported by VSA New Jersey and the New Jersey Theatre Alliance.

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, a not-for-profit arts organization, is one of the country's leading regional theaters.  Paper Mill Playhouse programs are made possible, in part, by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.  Paper Mill Playhouse is a member of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, the Council of Stock Theatres, and the New Jersey Theatre Alliance.