Stop The Presses! Paper Mill Announces Slate of Musicals
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Paper Mill hosted its annual season announcement on Thursday morning at the theater. “Newsies,” the stage adaptation of Disney’s musical film, will kick off the season Sept. 15-Oct. 16. Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” will follow on Nov. 16-Dec. 18, then “Boeing Boeing” on Jan. 18-Feb. 12, “Damn Yankees” in time for spring training on March 7-April 1 and the season closes with “Once on this Island” on May 30-June 24.
Mark Hoebee, Paper Mill producing artistic director, said the Millburn theater has produced a number of productions that are now touring the country including the 25th anniversary production of “Les Miserables,” “Little House on the Prairie,” “Happy Days” and “Pirates!”
The big highlight of the 2011-12 season is the world premiere of “Newsies,” which was adapted from the film version for Paper Mill. Hoebee said the work to bring “Newsies” to the theater started with the partnership with Disney to bring “High School Musical” to Millburn. Conversations continued, he said, and it led to “Newsies.”
Alan Menken—who has composed for Disney’s “Beauty & the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin” among others—said he loves all of his musical scores because they are like his children, but he said “Newsies” is like his problem child. It didn’t do well in the theaters, but it became a cult classic once it hit video. “There is a generation of kids who became fans,” he said. “On its own, it attracted a whole generation of fans … I’m used to material falling away, but (“Newsies”) refused to go away.”
Menken said he received a call from his agent telling him there was work on a stage version of “Newsies,” but he wouldn’t need to be involved. “I said ‘no, no, no. It’s my baby,'” he said.
Jack Feldman wrote the lyrics for the musical, and Harvey Fierstein wrote the book. Menken said Firestein’s partnership helped bring out the youthful energy that was at the core of the original movie. “It was one of the best first readings I ever had,” he said of the first reading of “Newsies.”
Todd Schmidt, Paper Mill managing director, said it has been a strong year for the theater, citing the successes of “Hairspray,” “Les Miserables” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Curtains” still remain in Paper Mill’s 2010-11 season.
Eighty-five percent of “Les Miserables” performances were sold out, he said, and now the production is on tour and getting rave reviews. It will be on the road for the next four years, Schmidt said. “It’s out there showing New Jersey is a great place for art and theater,” he said.
“Spelling Bee” demonstrated another cornerstone to Paper Mill’s mission in access and theater for everyone, he said. The lead actress, Ali Stroker, is in a wheelchair, which may be the first time a lead in a theatrical performance was played by someone in a wheelchair, he said.
Paper Mill is “bucking the national trend” as ticket subscriptions continue to grow, he said. Plus the theater has met its first $100,000 challenge grant is working on a second $100,000 challenge grant in raising money, he said.