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If you have ever been a high school kid rehearsing for your lead role (or chorus debut or whatever) in your school's annual musical, you know what a big deal it is. You rehearse, you run your lines, you run everyone around you ragged, you get fitted for a costume and then "out of the hat it's that big first night"...except it's not.

When COVID-19 suddenly closed schools across New Jersey and the rest of the country, the theatrical dreams of many high school thespians disappeared. Ninety-four New Jersey schools were taking part in the prestigious Rising Star Awards program of the Paper Mill Playhouse's education department, but only about a third of them actually mounted their shows before the shutdown. The rest simply folded. So did the 2020 Rising Star Awards.

Rising Star was founded in 1996 to encourage excellence in high school musical theater. Four adjudicators (there are about seventy adjudicators who are professionals in the musical theater world) anonymously attend eight shows each and write a detailed report on each one. Numerical values are attached to each section (technical theater, the creatives, and the performers) and tabulated by the education department of Paper Mill. Winners are declared in every category from Best Scenic Design to Best Leading Actor and Actress to Best Overall Production. These winners perform during the Awards Show, quite similar to the TONY Awards. This year, obviously, the show will not go on.


Many of the participating schools had made archival videos of rehearsals and of performance highlights. On Monday, June 1 at 7pm, in tribute to the hard work and passion of high school music theater students in New Jersey, Paper Mill has created the "Rising Star Honors". This montage of videos of some of the productions that never were is being sponsored by the Investors Foundation. It will allow Paper Mill the opportunity to honor the talents of these high school kids by showcasing them. The show may be seen on Paper Mill Playhouse's Facebook page as a Premiere video.

We are fortunate to have truly gifted and brilliant young performers in New Jersey. You may be watching the next Anne Hathaway or Laura Benanti, both of whom were Rising Star nominees.

"Let's go on with the show!"

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From This Author Joanna Barouch