MILLBURN, NJ — Gabrielle Florendo of West Orange High School was one of the finalists in the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Award for “Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role” for her performance as Flounder in the high school’s spring musical “The Little Mermaid.”

Despite falling short of the award, which went to West Essex High School’s Shane Daneyko for his role as Chef Louis in the same musical, Florendo was among some of the most talented performers in the state as a nominee for the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards for Excellence in High School Musical Theatre.

According to Mark Hoebee, Paper Mill’s producing artistic director, the “prestigious honor” of a Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star nomination is the culmination of the student’s hard work in a high school musical.

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He also said many nominees and winners are now working professionally and have won esteemed industry awards while working in theater and film.

According to Paper Mill Playhouse, the Rising Star Awards have ignited the careers of many notable performers, all of whom attended high school in New Jersey. In fact, some of the early nominees and winners since its inception in 1996 include 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).

"What's happening in high school musical productions here in New Jersey and around the country is remarkable,” said Paper Mill Director of Education Lisa Cooney. “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 2017 Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards, presented by the Investors Foundation ceremony took place at Paper Mill Playhouse on June 6, featuring presenters from Broadway and beyond. The ceremony was broadcast live on television and online through Paper Mill Playhouse video partner, Hometowne Television of Summit.

The 2017 Rising Star Awards are also supported by The Blanche and Irving Laurie 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 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. To learn more, click HERE.