(MILLBURN, NJ) -- Since its inception in 1996, the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards for Excellence in High School Musical Theatre presented by the Investors Foundation have ignited the careers of many notable performers, all of whom attended high school in New Jersey. The theatre will announce this year's award recipients on Monday, June 7th at 7:00pm in an online ceremony across their YouTube and Facebook outlets.
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).
Among the top nominated high school performances and student achievement efforts, Delaware Valley Regional HS has five nominations, Ridge HS has four nominations, and St. Peter’s Preparatory School, Union HS and Madison HS each have three nominations.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic caused rolling school building closures and social distancing restrictions, leaving many New Jersey high schools unable to produce a traditional musical at their schools with a live audience. Despite the restrictions, theater educators found new ways to teach students with strict Covid protocols in place, or explored new concepts for virtual rehearsals and performances.
With this in mind, Paper Mill launched an abridged Rising Star Awards program that preserves essential elements that serve both students and teachers and continues to provide a meaningful recognition platform for the school community. Paper Mill welcomed video submissions of student performances for a shorter list of categories: Outstanding Solo Performance by an Actor and Actress; Outstanding Performance by a Small Ensemble and Large Ensemble; the Student Achievement Awards for non-performance contributions; the Rising Star Scholarships for graduating seniors and the Theater for Everyone Inclusion and Access Award. A new honor, Outstanding Educator Award, has been added. Winners will receive the crystal Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Award made exclusively by Tiffany & Company.
“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, television and film.”
"After a most difficult year, the Rising Star Awards are a testament to the determination and commitment of student performers and the dedication of the teachers involved in high school theater programs," said Investors Bank Chairman and CEO Kevin Cummings. "Investors Bank is proud to present the awards and to encourage students to rise up each day in pursuit of their dreams. You are the essence of the show business mantra, 'the show must go on.'"
In addition to recognizing performances, Paper Mill Playhouse will award $5,000 in scholarships at the awards ceremony. Five $1,000 cash scholarships are given to outstanding individual students who plan to continue studying theater performance, education, or technical theater in college. In addition, Paper Mill Playhouse is pleased to award a prize of $1,000 to a school receiving the 2021 Rising Star “Theatre for Everyone” Inclusion and Access Award, a partnership with the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, to recognize excellence in the promotion and practice of creative inclusion of students and adults with disabilities as performers, designers, musicians, and production staff. This award seeks to recognize and reward a school that takes steps to ensure their performances are accessible to audiences with disabilities.
New to the Rising Star Awards in 2021 is the Outstanding Educator Award which will put the spotlight on educators nominated by their home school districts for their distinguished service to their students and theater programs. A $1,000 prize will be granted to the recipients’ school theater programs.
Lastly, students receiving a Final Nomination in the Outstanding Performance by an Actor and Actress categories will receive a full scholarship prize to attend Paper Mill Playhouse’s competitive professional training program, the Summer Musical Theater Conservatory, at the Millburn theater during the month of July. Conservatory students take advanced classes in singing, acting and dance on a hybrid schedule - both in-studio and online - and will appear in the filmed musical theater montage, New Voices of 2021: Stand By Me. New Voices is directed by Paper Mill’s professional creative staff and will be filmed in July with a World Premiere in September.
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 2021 Rising Star Awards Ceremony and the “Theatre for Everyone” Inclusion and Access Award are part of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance 2021 Stages Festival, made possible by support from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; Bank of America; The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey; OceanFirst Foundation; the George A. Ohl, Jr. Trust; New Jersey Historical Commission; and Fund for the New Jersey Blind. njtheatrealliance.org/stages
A complete list of the 2021 Nominations and Honorable Mentions may be found at PaperMill.org/RSA_2021 .
PAPER MILL PLAYHOUSE, a not-for-profit arts organization under the direction of Mark S. Hoebee (Producing Artistic Director) and Michael Stotts (Managing Director) and recipient of the 2016 Regional Theater 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.
These are the nominees for the 2021 Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards presented by Investors Foundation.
OUTSTANDING SOLO PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS NOMINEES
Alex Belle, Collier HS, “My New Philosophy” from YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN
Emma Casertano, Ocean County Vocational Technical Schools-Grunin Performing Arts Academy, “The Music and the Mirror” from A CHORUS LINE
Leonor Fontanez, Delaware Valley Regional HS, “Cleaning Women” from WORKING
Halle Lipton, St. Peter’s Preparatory School, “Lying There” from EDGES: A SONG CYCLE
Kyra Longenecker, Madison HS, “I Want to Go to Hollywood” from GRAND HOTEL
Khadijah Sankoh, Union HS, “Waiting for Life” from ONCE ON THIS ISLAND
Yemie Woo, Pascack Hills HS, “Fabulous Baby” from SISTER ACT
OUTSTANDING SOLO PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR NOMINEES
Will DeLargy, Morristown HS, “All I Care About is Love” from CHICAGO
Collin Flanagan, Madison HS, The Lady Must be Mad” from ILYRIA
Michael Bryant Kessie, Delaware Valley Regional HS, “Joe” from WORKING
Nicholas Matos, St. Peter’s Preparatory School, “Monticello” from EDGES: A SONG CYCLE
Miguel Ramirez, Lawrence HS, “Dulcinea” from MAN OF LA MANCHA
Max Rodriguez, Ridge HS, “Gus: The Theatre Cat” from CATS
Jonah Ruderman, Livingston HS, “Who I’d Be” from SHREK: THE MUSICAL
OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A SMALL ENSEMBLE NOMINEES
County Prep HS, ”The Most Amazing Thing” from LITTLE WOMEN, featuring Ivellisses Segovia, Mathew Segovia, Kayla Velazquez
Delaware Valley Regional HS, Brother Trucker” from WORKING, featuring Michael Bryant Kessie, Dakota Krouse, Maddy Clyde, Mark Westling, Gabi Pfefferte, Tori Kelly
Ocean County Vocational Technical Schools-Grunin Performing Arts Academy, ”Sing” from A CHORUS LINE, featuring William Einbinder, Gabriella DeBenedict
Pinelands Regional HS, ”Secrets” from THE ADDAMS FAMILY, featuring Nadia Vito, Lily Targett
Ridge HS, Macavity” from CATS, featuring Elisabeth Schmitt, Eileen Brady, Eve Armstrong, Samantha Rascio, Morgan Connell, Gabriella Hairston, Jordan Perla
Summit HS, ”King of New York” from NEWSIES, featuring Sydney Veloso, Hope Pierotti, Avery Johnson, Anna Sullivan, Theo Errig, Ethan Engmann
Union HS, ”Forever Yours” from ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, featuring Khadijah Sankoh, Makayla Michel
OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A LARGE ENSEMBLE NOMINEES
Columbia HS, “You Can't Stop the Beat” from HAIRSPRAY
Delaware Valley Regional HS, All the Livelong Day” from WORKING
Madison HS, ”On My Way” from VIOLET
Ridge HS, “The Jellicle Ball” from CATS
St. Peter’s Preparatory School, “Become” from EDGES: A SONG CYCLE
Summit HS, “Seize the Day” from NEWSIES
Union HS, “Mama Will Provide” from ONCE ON THIS ISLAND
STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT AWARD NOMINEES
Atlantic County Institute of Technology, Dominic Roberts, Dance Captain
Bridgewater-Raritan HS, Liz Driscoll, Dance Captain
Bridgewater Raritan HS, Sophia Pedroso, Stage Manager
Delaware Valley Regional HS, Simon Kinderman, Designer: Cinematography/Production/Pit
Immaculate Heart Academy, Grace Capeless, Assistant Director/Film Editor
José Martí STEM Academy, Felix Tavarez, Assistant Choreographer
José Martí STEM Academy, Clarisse Moreno, Kathy Bernal, Oliver Villalta, Writing Team
Morristown HS Lorelei Eck, Student Director
Mount Saint Dominic Academy, Hema Davalla & Sophia Garske, Production Stage Managers
Mount Saint Dominic Academy, Kiera Carbone, Ava Ciauro, Lynn Jean-Baptiste, Sound Board Operators
Pascack Hills HS, Valentina Cannao, Scenic Designer & Assistant Director
Piscataway HS, Melly Merida, Scenic Illustrations
Randolph HS, Kathleen Brennan, Christine Hamilton, Jilliane Najera, Digital Designers
Ridge HS, Morgan Beatty, Student, Director
Summit HS, Emma MacPherson, Costume Crew Head
Toms River HS North, Archie Bird, Tech Crew
Voorhees HS, Owen Tabor, Choreographer/Dance Captain
Westfield HS, Ben Zakharenko, Sound Designer
Westfield HS, Josh Saxon, Scenic Designer / Asst. Technical Director
OUTSTANDING EDUCATOR AWARD NOMINEES
Elizabeth Volpe, Atlantic County Institute of Technology
Pete Gambino, Cherry Hill HS East
Michael Penna, Collier HS
John Giresi, Fair Lawn HS
Jim DeVivo, Holmdel HS
Blake Spence, Madison HS
Cindy Dwyer, Mater Dei Prep
Jodi Bosch, Mount Olive HS
Jensyn Modero, Mount Saint Dominic Academy
Bart DiFrancia, Pinelands Regional HS
Anne Poyner, Summit HS
Steven Collins, Union County Academy for Performing Arts
Nancy Reynolds, Voorhees HS
THEATER FOR EVERYONE INCLUSION AND ACCESS AWARD NOMINEES
Collier HS, Madison HS, Piscataway HS