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Paper Mill Announces 2019 Rising Star Award Winners, Madison High School Takes Top Prize

As one of the nation's leading professional theaters and recipient of the Regional Theatre Tony Award, Paper Mill Playhouse (Mark S. Hoebee-Producing Artistic Director, Michael Stotts-Managing Director) has a well-earned reputation for launching both performers and shows to Broadway. 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 2019 Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards Presented by Investors Foundation ceremony took place at Paper Mill Playhouse on Tuesday, June 4, at 7:30pm, featuring presenters from Broadway and beyond. The ceremony was broadcast live on television and online through Paper Mill Playhouse video partner, Hometowne Television (HTTV), of Summit, New Jersey.

Madison High School in Morris County took home the top prize of Outstanding Overall Production of a Musical for their production of Bright Star, along with five other trophies. Summit High School took home an impressive five Rising Star Awards and Harrison High School took home three trophies. Several schools won their very first Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Award this year. See below for a full list of award winners and scholarship recipients.

"Congratulations to this year's Rising Star Award winners. All of the nominated students are winners. They have poured their hearts and souls into their performances and can take pride in their effort and dedication to their craft," said Investors Bank Chairman and CEO Kevin Cummings. "Investors is so proud to celebrate not just the talented students, but the committed high school programs, administrators, faculty, and parents behind them."

Paper Mill Playhouse also awarded $5,000 in scholarships at the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards Presented by Investors Foundation. Five $1,000 cash scholarships were given to outstanding individual students who plan to continue studying theater performance or theater education in college. Paper Mill Playhouse was pleased to award a prize of $500 to Perth Amboy High School receiving the 2019 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 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 presented a cash award of $1,000 to Carteret High 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.

A total of 63 school districts received at least one nomination or honorable mention in 2019 out of the 100 entered schools. Among the top nominated high schools, Summit High School had 15 nominations, Morristown High School had 13 nominations, Madison High School had 12 nominations, Howell High School had 10 nominations, Hopewell Valley Central High School had 9 nominations, Delaware Valley Regional High School and Westfield High School each had 7 nominations, Academy of Holy Angels and Gill St. Bernard's School each had 6 nominations and Chatham High school received 5 nominations. These totals did not account for Student Achievement Award 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."

Past Rising Star nominees and recipients recently appeared in My Fair Lady (Laura Benanti), Beetlejuice (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 (Matthew Scott), 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 Hollywood Bowl's Into the Woods, 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 Investors Foundation are modeled after the Tony Awards, and Paper Mill Playhouse's program serves the entire state of New Jersey, with a full 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 performed at the event, and award recipients were presented with an engraved crystal award from Tiffany & Co.

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 in the season finale concert, "New Voices of 2019: Learn Your Lessons Well" on August 2 and August 3 on the main stage at Paper Mill Playhouse.

2019 Rising Star Awards Winners

Featured Ensemble Group........................................... Dance Hall Girls, Westfield High School, SWEET CHARITY

Featured Ensemble Member........................................ Abigail Montesino, "Grace", Fair Lawn High School, WORKING

Educational Impact Award........................................... Perth Amboy High School, 9 to 5

Inclusion & Access Award............................................ Carteret High School, FOOTLOOSE

Hair & Make-Up Achievement................................... Harrison High School, JAMES & THE GIANT PEACH

Costume Achievement................................................... Harrison High School, JAMES & THE GIANT PEACH

Scenic Achievement........................................................ Madison High School, BRIGHT STAR

Lighting Achievement.................................................... Harrison High School, JAMES & THE GIANT PEACH

Music Director.................................................................. Summit High School, PIPPIN

Orchestra .......................................................................... Summit High School, PIPPIN

Chorus.......................................................................... Summit High School, PIPPIN

Performance in a Featured Role.................................. Sara Bartoszek, "Peron's Mistress", High Tech High School, EVITA

Choreography/ staging.................................................. Summit High School, PIPPIN

Direction By A Teacher/Outside Director.............. Blake Spence, Madison High School, BRIGHT STAR

Actor In A Supporting Role......................................... Joseph Grisanzio, "Adolpho", Howell HS, DROWSY CHAPERONE

Actress In A Supporting Role...................................... Alex Mroczko, "Margo Crawford", Madison HS, BRIGHT STAR

Actor In A Leading Role............................................... Jaron Cole, "Jimmy Ray Dobbs", Madison HS, BRIGHT STAR

Actress In A Leading Role ........................................... Kassi McMillan, "Alice Murphy", St. Joseph Rg. HS, BRIGHT STAR

Overall Production of A Musical................................ Madison HS, BRIGHT STAR

Scholarship Awards

  • Investors Foundation Rising Star Awards Scholarship: Matthew Green, Millburn High School
  • Douglas Michael Krueger Scholarship for the Rising Star Awards: Emery Myers, Rahway High School
  • Jane Grey Burgio Memorial Scholarship for the Rising Star Awards: Vicky Fleisch, Howell High School
  • Janet Sovey Scholarship for Rising Star Awards: Moses Hyman, Cicely L. Tyson School of Performing & Fine Arts
  • Mickey McNany Theater Education Scholarship for Rising Star Awards: Lauren Mennen, Morristown-Beard School

Student Achievement Awards

  • Patricia Vitug, Student Assistant Music Director, Carteret High School, FOOTLOOSE
  • Erin Quinn, Assistant to the Directors, Madison High School, BRIGHT STAR
  • Erin Cramer, Stage Manager, Moorestown High School, 9 TO 5
  • Deanna Swanson, Graphic Designer, Morristown High School, THE ADDAMS FAMILY
  • McKenna Moore, Stage Manager, Ridge High School, DISNEY'S HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL
  • Sarah Gorman, Pit Orchestra Keyboardist Rehearsal Accompanist, Scotch Plains-Fanwood HS, MAMMA MIA!
  • Sophie Li, Stage Manager, Summit High School, PIPPIN
  • Francesca Morella, Costuming, Voorhees High School, BIG FISH
  • Matthew Nowell, Lighting, Voorhees High School, BIG FISH
  • Brandon Rivera, Stage Manager, Perth Amboy High School, 9 TO 5

Rising Star Awards - Presented by Investors Foundation is generously 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. The Mickey McNany Theater Education Scholarship is provided by Paper Mill Playhouse. Paper Mill Playhouse Education & Outreach are generously sponsored by The Goren Family & Harmony Helper.

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.



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