(MILLBURN, NJ) -- Paper Mill Playhouse presents the East Coast premiere of Benny & Joon with book by Kirsten Guenther, music by Nolan Gasser, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, based on the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture written by Barry Berman and Leslie McNeil. Benny & Joon runs from April 4 through May 5, 2019.
Based on the 1993 film starring Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Masterson, this new musical is a smart, funny, tender-hearted celebration of love: between children and parents; romantic partners; friends; and, most of all, siblings. The pair at the heart of the show are Joon, a young woman dealing with mental illness, and Benny, the big brother who’s determined to take care of her. When a charmingly eccentric stranger comes into their lives, he throws their carefully calibrated world off-kilter—maybe for the better. Large in emotional scope and artistic ambition, Benny & Joon embraces a difficult subject with warmth, honesty, and wit.
Benny & Joon will be performed at Paper Mill Playhouse eight times a week, Wednesday through Sunday. Performance schedule: Wednesday at 7:30pm, Thursday at 1:30pm and 7:30pm, Friday at 8:00pm, Saturday at 1:30pm and 8:00pm and Sunday at 1:30pm and 7:00pm. Tickets are on sale now starting at $34.
Directed by Jack Cummings III, with choreography by Scott Rink and music direction by J. Oconor Navarro, the principal cast features Claybourne Elder (Sunday in the Park with George) as Benny, Hannah Elless (Paper Mill’s The Other Josh Cohen) as Joon, Bryce Pinkham (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder) as Sam, Conor Ryan as Sam at certain performances, (Paper Mill’s My Very Own British Invasion) and Tatiana Wechsler (Oklahoma) as Ruthie, with Colin Hanlon (Falsettos) as Mike, Paolo Montalban (Paper Mill’s The King and I) as Larry, Natalie Toro (A Tale of Two Cities) as Dr. Cortez/Mrs. Smail, Jacob Keith Watson (Carousel) as Waldo/Video Store Owner and Belinda Allyn (Paper Mill’s West Side Story).
The production team includes scenic and costume design by Dane Laffrey, lighting design by R. Lee Kennedy, sound design by Kai Harada, flying by Foy, movement coordinator Lorenzo Pisoni, and orchestrations by Michael Starobin. The production stage manager is Victoria Navarro. Casting by Nora Brennan, CSA.
BELINDA ALLYN (Standby for Joon, Ruthie, Dr. Cortez/Mrs. Smail) is thrilled to be back at Paper Mill Playhouse! She was previously seen at Paper Mill as Maria inWest Side Story. Other credits include Allegiance (Broadway), understudy Imelda in Here Lies Love (Seattle Rep), Maria in West Side Story (Riverside Theatre), and Mrs. Claus in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular (NYC). Graduate of Oklahoma City University.
CLAYBOURNE ELDER (Benny). Broadway: Sunday in the Park with George (Soldier, George standby), Bonnie and Clyde (Buck), Torch Song. London: You and Me and Sondheim (Arts Theatre). Off-Broadway: Sondheim’s Road Show (Hollis, Public Theater), One Arm (Ollie—Drama Desk nomination), Allegro (Joseph—Lortel nomination), Two by Two with Jason Alexander (Japheth), Do I Hear A Waltz? (City Center Encores!), Venice (Public Theater). Regional: Sondheim on Sondheim at the Hollywood Bowl, Passion (Giorgio) at Signature Theatre, Angels in America (dir. David Cromer), Into the Woods (dir. Moisés Kaufman, Kansas City Rep). Film/TV:Flatbush Luck, “The Carrie Diaries” (Pete).
HANNAH ELLESS (Joon) returns to Paper Mill Playhouse, where she was last seen originating the musical comedy The Other Josh Cohen. Ms. Elless’s Broadway credits include Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s Bright Star and the revival of Godspell. Off-Broadway: Summer and Smoke; Come Back, Little Sheba; Picnic; The Other Josh Cohen. Regional: Ophelia in Hamlet, Aricia in Phaedra, Katherine in Henry V, Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Elise McKenna in Somewhere in Time, Joon in Benny & Joon (Craig Noel Award nominee). TV/Film: “The Deuce,” “Glee,” The Lake Effect, Nora Ephron Goes to Prison.
COLIN HANLON (Mike) has a recurring role on “Modern Family” as Steven. He has had guest starring roles on “Difficult People,” “The Sinner,” “The Good Fight,” and in the upcoming film Yes. Co-producer and star of the web series “Submissions Only.” The New York premiere of Dot (Vineyard, dir. Susan Stroman) and A. R. Gurney’s last play Final Follies (Cherry Lane, dir. David Saint). Broadway: Falsettos, Rent, Wicked (tour), In Transit. Four shows at George Street Playhouse, most recently The Nerd (dir. Kevin Cahoon); four seasons at NYS&F and the O’Neill; Next Fall (St. Louis Rep). Off-Broadway includes I Love You Because and Pirates of Penzance.
PAOLO MONTALBAN (Larry) returns to Paper Mill with his fourth production. He appeared in The King and I, R&H’s Cinderella, and Nine. He is most recognized as the Prince in ABC/Disney’s TV musical movie of “Cinderella “(with Brandy and Whitney Houston). Broadway: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Pacific Overtures, The King and I.Off-Broadway: Bella: An American Tall Tale (Playwrights Horizons—Lortel nomination), Two Gentlemen of Verona (Delacorte). Regional: Mamma Mia! (5th Avenue),The Unsinkable Molly Brown (Denver Center). TV: “Mortal Kombat: Conquest” as Kung Lao, “Madam Secretary,” “The Blacklist.” Film: Just Wright, The Great Raid.
BRYCE PINKHAM (Sam) originated the role of Monty Navarro in the Broadway production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder where he played over 700 performances. Broadway: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder (Tony, Drama Desk, Grammy nominations), The Heidi Chronicles (Outer Critics Circle nomination),Ghost, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Holiday Inn. TV: Mercy Street, Blindspot, The Good Wife, Person of Interest, God in America, The Get Down, Instinct. Upcoming: Proven Innocent on Fox. Countries visited: 22 and counting. Cofounder of www.zaraaina.org. BA, Boston College; MFA in Acting and bio writing, Yale School of Drama.
CONOR RYAN (Sam at certain performances) is thrilled to return to Paper Mill after playing Trip in the world premiere of My Very Own British Invasion. Television: “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert” on NBC. Broadway: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Off-Broadway: Johnny Blood in Desperate Measures at New World Stages (Outer Critics Circle nomination for outstanding actor in a musical) and previously at York Theatre Company; Keen Company’s revival of John & Jen (with Kate Baldwin); Second Stage’s Invisible Thread; Public Theater’s The Fortress of Solitude. Developmental: Charles Bingley in Austen’s Pride (5th Avenue Theatre), Chris McCandless in Into the Wild (The Encore Musical Theatre Company).
NATALIE TORO (Dr. Cortez/Mrs. Smail). Paper Mill debut! Broadway: A Tale of Two Cities (Madame Defarge), A Christmas Carol (Sally), Les Misérables (Eponine). Tours: Evita (Eva Perón), Jesus Christ Superstar (Mary Magdalene), Cats (Grizabella), In the Heights (Camila). Off-Broadway: The Yellow Brick Road, Zombie Prom,The Audience, Pedro Pan. Regional: Benny & Joon (Old Globe), Snow Child (Arena Stage), The Bikinis, Zorba, Blood Brothers, Frances of Guernica, Everything’s Ducky,Fame, The Fix. Television: “Law & Order,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Elementary,” “Person of Interest,” “Black Box,” “Unforgettable.” Soloist with symphony orchestras (Carnegie Hall, Dublin’s National Concert Hall), headliner on major cruise lines around the world, and recording artist.
JACOB KEITH WATSON (Waldo/Video Store Owner). Broadway: Carousel (Enoch Snow), Hello, Dolly!, Violet, The Phantom of the Opera (Joseph Buquet), Amélie. New York/Tour/Regional: 1776 at Encores! (Robert Livingston); the national tour of Chicago (Amos Hart), Bye, Bye, Birdie (Albert), Seussical (Horton), As You Like It(Corin), Twelfth Night (Feste). Symphony: The Music Man (Marcellus Washburn); New York, New York! at the Kurt Weill Festival in Dessau, Germany; Kurt Weill on Broadway at Symphony Space. Jacob is a past winner of the prestigious Lotte Lenya Competition and the NATS National Music Theater Competition as well as a regional finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
TATIANA WECHSLER (Ruthie). Paper Mill debut! First woman to play Curly in Oklahoma! (Oregon Shakespeare Festival). Off-Broadway: X: Or, Betty Shabazz vs. The Nation (Acting Company, Theatre at St. Clement’s/New Victory Theater), Julius Caesar (Acting Company, New Victory Theater), The Golden Bride (National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene). NYC: Othello (Acting Company). Regional: The Legend of Georgia McBride (Marin Theatre Company), Love’s Labor’s Lost (OSF). Tour: X andJulius Caesar (Acting Company). Many concert and reading appearances in major venues around NYC. Big thanks to Nora, the B&J team, and the most supportive family and friends. Proud graduate of NYU Tisch’s New Studio.
KIRSTEN GUENTHER (Book) is the recipient of a Richard Rodgers Award, Rockefeller Grant, Dramatists Guild Fellowship, and a Lincoln Center Honorarium. Current projects include Universal’s Heart and Souls, Measure of Success (Amanda Lipitz Productions), Mrs. Sharp (Richard Rodgers Award workshop; Playwrights Horizons, starring Jane Krakowski, dir. Michael Greif), and writing a new book to Paramount’s Roman Holiday. She wrote the book and lyrics for “Little Miss Fix-it” (as seen on NBC), among others. Previously, Kirsten lived in Paris, where she worked as a Paris correspondent (usatoday.com). MFA, NYU Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program. ASCAP and Dramatists Guild.
NOLAN GASSER (Music) is a critically acclaimed composer, pianist, and musicologist—notably, the architect of Pandora Radio’s Music Genome Project. He holds a PhD in Musicology from Stanford University. His original compositions have been performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, among others. Theatrical projects include the musicals Benny & Joon and Start Me Up and the opera The Secret Garden. His book, Why You Like It: The Science and Culture of Musical Taste (Macmillan), will be released on April 30, 2019, followed by his rock/world CD Border Crossing in June 2019. His TEDx Talk, “Empowering Your Musical Taste,” is available on YouTube.
MINDI DICKSTEIN (Lyrics) wrote the lyrics for the Broadway musical Little Women (MTI; Ghostlight/Sh-k-boom). Benny & Joon, based on the MGM film, was a NAMT selection (2016) and had its world premiere at The Old Globe (2017). Mindi’s work has been commissioned, produced, and developed widely, including by Disney (Toy Story: The Musical), Second Stage (Snow in August), Playwrights Horizons (Steinberg Commission), ASCAP Workshop, and Lincoln Center (“Hear and Now: Contemporary Lyricists”). Honors include a Larson Foundation Award and a Constance Klinsky Award from Second Stage. MFA and current faculty: NYU Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program. Dramatists Guild and ASCAP.
JACK CUMMINGS III (Director) is the artistic director of Transport Group, where his select credits include Summer and Smoke (coproduction with Classic Stage Company), Renascence (codirected with Dick Scanlan), The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, Queen of the Mist, The Audience, Strange Interlude, I Remember Mama, Normal, Once Upon a Mattress, Picnic, The Boys in the Band, and Our Town. Other NY credits: Terrence McNally’s And Away We Go, A Thousand Words Come to Mind, Arlington. Regional credits: Benny & Joon (Old Globe), I Remember Mama (Two River). BA, The College of William & Mary; MFA, University of Virginia. He is married to Barbara Walsh.
SCOTT RINK (Choreographer). Off Broadway: Renascence, Once upon a Mattress, Three Days to See, Queen of the Mist, Hello Again, (Transport Group, dir. Jack Cummings III). Regional: Benny & Joon (The Old Globe), Alice in Wonderland (Birmingham Children’s Theatre). Commissioned works include dances for Ailey II, ABT II, Oakland Ballet, The Ailey School, Harvard University, UNCSA, University of Minnesota, among others. Mr. Rink has created a number of works for his company, danceRINK, performed in NYC and abroad. As a dancer, Mr. Rink performed in the companies of Eliot Feld, Elisa Monte, and Karole Armitage and as principal dancer with Lar Lubovitch.
J. OCONER NAVARRO (Music Director). Paper Mill Playhouse debut! J. was most recently music supervisor for Twelfth Night (Public Works/Shakespeare in the Park). Select credits: new arrangements for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); the world premieres of Rain (The Old Globe), Iowa (Playwrights Horizons), First Daughter Suite (Public Theater), Adding Machine (Minetta Lane); the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center Theater, and more. J. is the recipient of the American Theatre Wing’s Jonathan Larson Grant, an alumnus of the Composer-Librettist Studio at New Dramatists, and resident composer at the Church of Saint Paul the Apostle in NYC. Faculty, MFA: NYU. For CMS.
MICHAEL STAROBIN (Orchestrations). Credits: Renascence, Once on This Island, Sunday in the Park with George, Falsettos, Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing, Freaky Friday, First Daughter Suite, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Kid Victory, If/Then, Little Miss Sunshine, Annie, Dogfight, Leap of Faith, Queen of the Mist, The People in the Picture, Sondheim on Sondheim, Next to Normal (Tony Award), The Glorious Ones, Grinch, Adrift in Macao, Bernarda Alba, Spelling Bee, Assassins (Tony Award),Tom Sawyer, A New Brain, A Christmas Carol, Hello Again, Guys and Dolls (1992), My Favorite Year, In Trousers, Closer Than Ever, Legs Diamond,Romance/Romance, Carrie, Birds of Paradise, Rags, Three Guys Naked, Von Richtofen.
DIANE LAFFREY (Scenic & Costume Design). Broadway: set for Once on This Island (Tony, Drama Desk, Hewes Award nominations); set and costumes for Deaf West’s Spring Awakening; set for Fool for Love. Off Broadway: Manhattan Theatre Club, Roundabout, Lincoln Center, Second Stage, MCC, Playwrights Horizons, BAM Harvey, Transport Group, Atlantic, Labyrinth, Vineyard, Soho Rep, many others. Regional: Mark Taper Forum, Geffen, Huntington, Hollywood Bowl, Williamstown, The Old Globe, Arena Stage, Geffen Playhouse, many others. International work in Tokyo, Osaka, Oslo, and throughout Australia. 2017 Obie Award for Sustained Excellence; nominations for Tony, Drama Desk, and seven American Theatre Wing Henry Hewes Awards.
R. LEE KENNEDY (Lighting Design). Off Broadway: Transport Group: The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, Summer and Smoke (Henry Hewes Design Award nomination),Once Upon a Mattress, I Remember Mama (Henry Hewes Design Award nomination), Queen of the Mist (Henry Hewes Design Award nomination), Hello Again, See Rock City (Drama Desk nomination), Bury the Dead (Drama Desk nomination), Normal, The Audience (Drama Desk nomination); The Pearl Theatre Company: And Away We Go. Regional: The Old Globe: Benny & Joon; Philadelphia Theatre Company: The Outgoing Tide (Barrymore Award nomination), The Light in the Piazza(Barrymore Award). Signature Theatre: Cake Off.
KAI HARADA (Sound Design). Broadway: Head over Heels, The Band’s Visit (Tony Award and Drama Desk Award), Amélie, Sunday in the Park with George,Allegiance, Gigi, Fun Home, On the Town, First Date, Follies (Tony and Drama Desk Nominations), and Million Dollar Quartet. Other: A Chorus Line and Grand Hotel(City Center Encores!); Candide (LA Opera); Little Shop of Horrors, Chess, Little Dancer, and First You Dream (Kennedy Center); Silent Night (Washington National Opera); Zorro (Moscow and Atlanta); Hinterm Horizont (Berlin); Sweeney Todd and Man of La Mancha (Portland Opera); and The Honeymooners (Paper Mill). Audio consultant for the revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Education: Yale University.
LORENZO PISONI (Clowning & Illusions Coordinator). Broadway: Gary, Beetlejuice, Frozen, Noises Off. Off Broadway: All the Fine Boys, Humor Abuse, Harlequin Studies. Other Credits: Pickle Family Circus, Cirque du Soleil. As an actor, Lorenzo’s work on and off Broadway has been recognized with Drama Desk, Lucille Lortel, Obie, and Outer Critics Circle awards.
NORA BRENNAN, CSA (Casting) a NYC-based casting director. Broadway: Children’s casting director for Billy Elliot: The Musical, Matilda, The Audience starring Helen Mirren. Nora is resident casting director for Transport Group in NYC. Select musicals and plays: Summer and Smoke (Classic Stage Company); Picnic; Come Back, Little Sheba; Renascence; And Away We Go; Queen of the Mist; Hello Again; All the Way Home; The Dark at the Top of the Stairs; and others. She also castWest Side Story at La Scala Opera House and for the past three years has cast the boys for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
VICTORIA NAVARRO (Production Stage Manager). Broadway: The Lion King, The Color Purple. National tours include Matilda, Annie, Oliver!, and Seussical. Paper Mill: Annie, Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn. Opera: Santa Fe Opera, Virginia Opera. Vicky is an adjunct professor at NYU Tisch and Montclair University as well as a Maplewood resident.
Paper Mill Playhouse’s 80th anniversary season concludes with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (May 29-June 30), an international sensation that has played to more than 35 million people in 13 countries. Based on the Academy Award-winning animated feature, the stage production includes all of the original songs from the movie by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, plus additional gems by Menken and Tim Rice.
PAPER MILL PLAYHOUSE, a not-for-profit arts organization under the direction of Mark S. Hoebee (Producing Artistic Director) and Mike Stotts (Managing Director), recipient of the Regional Theatre Tony Award, 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, a partner agency of the National Endowment for 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.
Photos by Jim Cox from The Old Globe production of Benny & Joon.