Columbia High School’s ‘Ragtime’ Nominated for 14 Paper Mill ‘Rising Star’ Awards

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CHS cast and crew of Ragtime with Brian Stokes Mitchell

CHS cast and crew of Ragtime with Brian Stokes Mitchell

Columbia High School’s production of Ragtime: School Edition — acclaimed by many as one of the best and most ambitious works the high school has ever tackled — has been nominated for 14 Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Stars Awards.

CHS ties Westfield High School for most nominations this year; only Union High School received more, at 16.

The show was named as a finalist for Outstanding Overall Musical and also for Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role. Schools nominated for Outstanding Overall Musical and Leading Actor/Actress nominees perform at the event, and award recipients are presented with an engraved crystal award from Tiffany & Co.

CHS was nominated as a finalist for Outstanding Overall Production of a Musical, Outstanding Performance by a Chorus, Outstanding Achievement by a Teacher or Outside Director for Tricia Benn and Bethany Pettigrew, Outstanding Achievement in Musical Direction for Jamie Bunce-Arraial and Peter F. Bauer, Outstanding Achievement in Choreography and Staging (Benn and Pettigrew), Outstanding Lighting Achievement for Tara Marie Abbondante, Outstanding Costuming Achievement for Barbara Canace, Carol Rutledge and Kathy Nye, and Outstanding Hair & Make-Up Achievement (Benn, Pettigrew and Nye).

Individual student finalists include: Ali Pease as “Mother” for Leading Role and Hannah Nye as “Evelyn Nesbit,” and Carolyn Leys as “Emma Goldman” for Featured Roles. Isaiah Thomas received an Honorable Mention for Leading Role as “Coalhouse Walker Jr.”

Ethan Gill, Assistant Technical Director, was nominated for a Student Achievement Award (there are 20 finalists and 10 will be announced as recipients).

Students receiving Leading Actor/Actress nominations receive a scholarship to Paper Mill Playhouse’s competitive Summer Musical Theatre Conservatory and perform in the season finale concert, “New Voices of 2015: Hooray for Hollywood!” on July 31 and August 1.

CHS also was nominated for the Educational Impact Award, the winner of which receives a $500 prize. This award 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.

The Ragtime production received accolades and standing ovations, and the cast was honored by a visit from Brian Stokes Mitchell, who originated the role of Coalhouse Walker, Jr. in the original Broadway production of Ragtime.

The awards ceremony will take place at Paper Mill Playhouse on Tuesday, June 2, at 7:30 pm, and will feature presenters from Broadway and beyond.

See a full list of nominees here and attached as a PDF.

Download (PDF, 193KB)

Modeled after The Tony Awards, The Rising Stars Awards were founded in 1996 to give schools the opportunity to showcase their musical arts programs on a statewide level. Presented by the Investors Foundation, the awards have given a number of current Broadway stars their start, including Anne Hathaway, Laura Benanti and Nikki M. James.

The musicals are judged by Paper Mill Playhouse throughout the spring by a group of 70 evaluators, with each school receiving four independent evaluations. Nearly 100 public, private and parochial schools in the state entered productions.

Here is more information from a press release:

As one of the nation’s leading regional theaters and producing partners for Broadway, Paper Mill Playhouse (Mark S. Hoebee-Producing Artistic Director, Todd Schmidt-Managing Director) has a well-earned reputation for launching both performers and shows for the Great White Way.

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), and UK Olivier Award nominee Jared Gertner (The Book of Mormon – West End).

“We are very excited to celebrate this 20-year milestone with the students of New Jersey,” commented Mark S. Hoebee, Paper Mill Playhouse’s Producing Artistic Director. “For many New Jersey high 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 on Broadway in Honeymoon in Vegas (Rob McClure), Aladdin (Josh Dela Cruz, Jonathan Schwartz, Kathryn Allison), The Radio City Musical Hall Spring Spectacular (Laura Benanti), Les Misérables (Tony winner Nikki James), Disney’s The Lion King (Jelani Remy), Jersey Boys (Russell Fisher), Phantom of the Opera (Julia Udine), London’s West End production of The Book of Mormon (Jared Gertner); the Public Theatre’s Grounded (Anne Hathaway) and 2009 Rising Star winner Julia Knitel recently returned to Broadway in Beautiful: The Carol King Musical to understudy for the role of Carol King.

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.” 

“Investors Foundation is proud to present the 20th Annual Rising Star Awards,” said Investors Bank President and CEO Kevin Cummings, who also serves on the Foundation’s Board of Directors. “New Jersey’s high school musical theatre students are incredibly talented, and we are grateful to be a part of an event that allows their accomplishments to be recognized.”

Paper Mill Playhouse also awards $5,000 in scholarships at the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards Presented by the Investors Foundation. Five $1,000 cash scholarships are given to outstanding individual students who plan to continue studying theater performance or technical theater in college.

The 2015 Rising Star Awards Presented by the Investors Foundation are also supported by The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, The Merck Company Foundation and MetLife 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 is supported by VSA New Jersey and the New Jersey Theatre Alliance.

Paper Mill Playhouse programs are made possible, in part, by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, A Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. Paper Mill Playhouse is grateful for generous contributions from numerous corporations, foundations, and individuals.

PAPER MILL PLAYHOUSE, a not-for-profit arts organization, 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/Department of State, 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.


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