The Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J., hosted the fifth annual Rising Star awards ceremony June 13, recognizing outstanding students in high schools theatre productions statewide, as well as the teachers who supplied the productions' design and direction.
A minimum of four evaluators, comprising professionals from the New Jersey arts and educational communities, attended eligible shows and submitted performance reports to a nomination committee. A panel of 70 evaluators voted to select the winners.
Of the 56 New Jersey schools that earned nominations for the 2000 awards, Union High School's production of "Damn Yankees" led with 10 nominations. It was followed by three school productions with nine nominations each: a competing "Damn Yankees" at Linden High, "Big" at Northern Valley Regional, and "The Pirates of Penzance" at Governor Livingston High School. "Big" turned out to be the big winner of the night, copping seven awards including Outstanding Overall Production of a Musical.
The awards seem to be aptly named: 2000 Tony Award nominee Laura Benanti of "Swing!" won one of the first Rising Stars-crystal stars, actually, designed and supplied by Tiffany & Co.-for her performance in Kinnelon High's "Hello, Dolly!" not long ago.
"The Rising Star Award is a wonderful affirmation for young performers that, unfortunately, many do not receive from their own school," Benanti said recently. "The excitement that it generates among young and talented people is a valuable contribution to the arts."
"The Rising Star Awards has allowed Paper Mill to reach directly into New Jersey's high schools and recognize and reward student effort and achievement," said Paper Mill's Director of Education, Susan Speidel. "It has also been tremendously rewarding to meet and get to know some of our state's finest educators."