Home LifestyleCareer Paper Mill Playhouse: A Piece of Broadway in Essex County

Paper Mill Playhouse: A Piece of Broadway in Essex County

by Gabriela Lachapel O'Brien
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The Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn has been an anchor in the theater community not just locally, but across the nation for almost 100 years. What began as a theater has turned into a producer of world-class talent, an advocate for inclusivity and fairness, and a cherished educator of the arts. Read on to learn more about the Paper Mill Playhouse based in Millburn.

The History 

Paper Mill Playhouse

(Photo credit: @papermillplayhouse)

The Ivy at Chatham

The location and namesake of the Paper Mill Playhouse can be attributed to the area’s first paper mill, the Thistle Paper Mill. It was opened in 1795 by Samuel Campbell and operated until 1934 when it was purchased by playwright and actress Antoinette Scudder. Under Scudder, the theater opened in 1938 with the production of The Kingdom of God. Over the next two years, alongside co-director Frank Carrington, Scudder produced, and sometimes even acted in, sixteen plays. The pair also delivered the state’s first Theater Festival and opened a theater school for children. Antoinette Scudder passed in 1958 leaving behind a legacy of philanthropy and education.

Under the leadership of Frank Carrington and associate producer, Angelo del Rossi, the 1960s and 1970s were full of star-packed performances from the likes of Jane Fonda, Betty White, Piper Laurie, Gene Wilder, Patrick Swayze, Bernadette Peters, and Mickey Rooney, just to name a few. In 1972, Governor William Cahill named the Paper Mill Playhouse the “State Theater of New Jersey.” Unfortunately, despite the theater’s winning streak, a fire burned down the building on January 14, 1980.

Paper Mill Playhouse

(Photo credit: @papermillplayhouse)

After taking two years to rebuild, the playhouse reopened with a gala and performance of You Can’t Take it With You, which ultimately made it to Broadway. In recognition of its hard work and years of success, The National Endowment for the Arts ranked the Paper Mill Playhouse second in the nation for artistic excellence in 1986. In 1989 television viewers around the country tuned in to a live broadcast of Showboat on the PBS series “Great Performances,” which received two Emmy Award nominations.

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The next decade showcased stars like Kristin Chenoweth in Animal Crackers, Christine Ebersole in Mame, and Laura Benanti in Man of La Mancha in addition to productions of Dreamgirls, Follies, and Crazy for You. In 2008, Millburn Township purchased the Paper Mill Playhouse;  the first transaction of its kind in New Jersey whereby a municipality had made a significant investment in the arts. Year after year, season after season, the Paper Mill Playhouse continued to produce award-winning performances and broadway-bound shows. 

Paper Mill Playhouse

(Photo credit: @papermillplayhouse)

The 2011-2012 season opened with the premiere of Newsies!, a byproduct of a one-of-a-kind partnership with Disney Theatrical Productions. 2013 marked the 75th Anniversary of the theater, which was celebrated with the debut of Honeymoon in Vegas starring Tony Danza. One of the most notable seasons in Paper Mill’s history was in 2016 when A Bronx Tale and The Bandstand, both headed to Broadway after premiering. The icing on the cake was winning the 2016 Regional Theater Tony Award.

Programs + Education

Paper Mill Playhouse

(Photo credit: @papermillplayhouse)

At the end of the 1980s, the Paper Mill Playhouse created its education department to provide an encouraging, nurturing, and fun environment where people can try new things and hone their crafts. The Summer Musical Theater Conservatory and New Voices Concert programs were established in 1996, where shortly thereafter, Millburn-native Anne Hathaway was featured in the concert. Today, Paper MIll runs or participates in numerous acclaimed programs including Adopt-A-School Project, Theater For Everyone, Rising Star Awards, and Broadway Show Choir.

  • – Adopt-A-School gives 600 high school and middle school students direct, personal access to professional theater artists, world-class musical productions, artist residencies, behind-the-scenes access, and theater workshops. 
  • – Theater for Everyone provides autism-friendly shows in a welcoming, stress-reducing environment with extensive support for all members of the community.
  • – The Rising Star Awards is a statewide competition that celebrates excellence in the performance, production, and educational impact of New Jersey high school musicals. The awards are held annually at the Paper Mill Playhouse. 
  • – Broadway Show Choir, which premiered in 2013, is a group of individuals traveling across New Jersey as Paper Mill’s ambassadors spreading the joy of theater. 

Paper Mill Playhouse

(Photo credit: @papermillplayhouse)

In addition to the programs, there are classes and intensive workshops for kids, teens, and adults held annually. Paper Mill prepares high school seniors and juniors for their college careers through informational seminars, assessment workshops, and private audition coaching. The Summer Conservatory consists of classes in singing, acting, auditioning, and dance as well as a series of guest artist workshops led by professional actors, directors, and casting agents. In Paper Mill’s summer camp, kids ages 9–15 are offered live training in acting, dance, and musical theater performance. 

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2021-2022 Season 

The Paper Mill Playhouse will wrap up its 2020-2021 virtual season this spring, but luckily will be welcoming back audiences in person this fall. Below are all the shows for the 2021-2022 season. 

Songs for a New World

Oct 13–Nov 7, 2021

From the deck of a Spanish sailing ship bound for a new land to the ledge of a Fifth Avenue penthouse, Songs for a New World transports audiences through time to meet a startling array of characters on the brink of a life-changing decision. 

A Jolly Holiday With Disney on Broadway

Dec 1, 2021–Jan 2, 2022

Celebrate the holidays with some of Broadway’s brightest stars performing hits from Disney’s biggest Broadway shows in this festive concert. 


Jan 26–Feb 20, 2022

Murder and blackmail are back on the menu when six mysterious guests assemble for a dinner party at Boddy Manor. Based on the cult 1985 Paramount movie and inspired by the classic Hasbro game, this farce-meets murder- mystery is bloody good fun. 

Paper Mill Playhouse

(Photo credit: @papermillplayhouse)

The Wanderer

Mar 24–Apr 24, 2022

An Italian-American kid from the Bronx, Dion DiMucci skyrocketed to fame as a teenage heartthrob in the 1950s and early ’60s with hits like “Runaround Sue,” “Teenager in Love,” and “I Wonder Why.” Now, his extraordinary journey comes to the stage in a moving and intimate new musical about a life lived in the glow of the spotlight and in the shadow of addiction.

Sister Act

Jun 1–26, 2022

Based on the 1992 hit film, this feel-good musical comedy smash sizzles with powerful music, spectacular dancing, and a story that’s guaranteed to lift your spirits. The madcap plot is set in motion when disco diva Deloris Van Cartier witnesses a murder and must go into hiding in a convent, where she helps her fellow sisters find their voices as she unexpectedly rediscovers her own. 

Grab your tickets today and support one of New Jersey’s most beloved arts and cultural establishments, the Paper Mill Playhouse

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