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Paper Mill Playhouse 2021 Rising Star Winners Are Announced

Paper Mill Playhouse 2021 Rising Star Winners Are Announced

(MILLBURN, NJ) --  Since their inception in 1996, the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards for Excellence in High School Musical Theater have ignited the careers of many notable performers, all of whom attended high school in New Jersey.  The 2021 Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards Presented by the Investors Foundation took place on Monday, June 7 featuring performances from schools representing all corners of the state of New Jersey. The Rising Star Awards were presented on Paper Mill’s YouTube and Facebook pages where they can be viewed on demand.

Top honors in the categories of Outstanding Solo Performances by an Actor an Actress went to Michael Bryant Kessie from Delaware Valley Regional High School for his performance selection “Joe” from the musical WORKING, and Yemie Woo from Pascack Hills High School for her performance selection “Fabulous Baby” from the musical SISTER ACT.  Summit High School took home the prize for Outstanding Performance by a Large Ensemble for the production number “Seize The Day” from NEWSIES, and Ridge High School won for Outstanding Performance by a Small Ensemble for the dance number “Macavity” from the musical CATS.

The recipients of the inaugural Rising Star Outstanding Educator Awards of $1,000 for their school’s theater programs, are John Giresi of Fair Lawn High School, Cindy Dwyer of Mater Dei High School and Anne Poyner of Summit High School.  Madison High School was selected as the recipient of the Rising Star Inclusion and Access Award of $1,000 for their work supporting students with disabilities in their production.  See below for a full list of award winners and scholarship recipients.

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 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.

"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.'"

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“We are very excited to celebrate excellence in high school musical theater with the students of New Jersey,” commented Mark S. HoebeePaper 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.” 

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 the 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.  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)

Students receiving final nominations and honorable mentions in the solo performance categories receive a scholarship to Paper Mill Playhouse's competitive Summer Musical Theater 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 presentation, "New Voices of 2021: Stand By Me” which will be filmed this summer and premiere on Paper Mill social media outlets in September.

2021 Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards Winners

Outstanding Solo Performance by an Actor and Actress

  • Michael Bryant Kessie, Delaware Valley Regional High School, “Joe” from the musical WORKING

  • Yemie Woo, Pascack Hills High School, “Fabulous Baby” from the musical SISTER ACT


Outstanding Performance by a Small Ensemble

  • Ridge High School “Macavity” from the musical CATS


Outstanding Performance by a Large Ensemble

  • Summit High School “Seize The Day” from the musical NEWSIES


Rising Star Scholarship Awards

  • Jace Pastras, Piscataway High School, The Investors Foundation Rising Star Awards Scholarship

  • Khadija Sankoh, Union High School, Douglas Michael Krueger Scholarship for the Rising Star Awards

  • Ivellisses Segovia, County Prep High School, Jane Grey Burgio Memorial Scholarship for the Rising Star Awards

  • Maya Slaughter, Morristown High School, Janet Sovey Scholarship for Rising Star Awards

  • Mark Squindo, Voorhees High School, Mickey McNany Theater Education Scholarship for Rising Star Awards

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Rising Star Student Achievement Awards

  • Dominic Roberts, Dance Captain, Atlantic County Institute of Technology

  • Sophia Pedroso, Stage Manager, Bridgewater Raritan High School

  • Simon Kinderman, Designer: Cinematography/Production/Pit, Delaware Valley Regional High School

  • Grace Capeless, Assistant Director/Film Editor, Immaculate Heart Academy

  • Clarisse Moreno, Kathy Bernal, Oliver Villalta, Writing Team José Martí STEM Academy

  • Melly Merida, Scenic Illustrations, Piscataway High School

  • Morgan Beatty, Student, Director, Ridge High School

  • Emma MacPherson, Costume Crew Head, Summit High School

  • Archie Bird, Tech Crew, Toms River High School North

  • Ben Zakharenko, Sound Designer, Westfield High School


Rising Star Awards - Presented by the 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 Theater for Everyone Inclusion and Access Award is supported by the New Jersey Theater Alliance. The Mickey McNany Theater Education Scholarship is provided by Paper Mill Playhouse.

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.

PAPER MILL PLAYHOUSE, recipient of the 2016 Regional Theatre Tony Award, is a nationally renowned, not-for-profit theater under the direction of Mark S. Hoebee (Producing Artistic Director) and Michael Stotts (Managing Director). A beloved NJ arts institution since 1938, Paper Mill creates and produces groundbreaking new musicals and reimagined classics. Several productions have gone on to Broadway and launched national tours, including Disney’s NewsiesLes MisérablesHoneymoon in VegasA Bronx Tale, and Bandstand. The theater is also the home of an award-winning center for musical theater education and artist training, with outreach programs that impact thousands of students each year. As one of the nation’s premier musical theaters, Paper Mill fosters a creative environment to advance the art form, educate students, develop future theater lovers, nurture inclusion, and provide access for all. 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.

originally published: 06/07/2021



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