Paper Mill Playhouse announces 2017 Rising Star Award winners

Eastern Regional High School wins top prize

During a rehearsal, Gary Bowman, who plays Jean Valjean, looks over Vincent Melara, who plays Marius, in Eastern Regional High School’s ‘Les Misérables: School Edition.’ Eastern recently took home the top prize of Outstanding Overall Production of a Musical from the Paper Mill Playhouse. Bowman won for Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role.

As one of the nation’s leading professional theaters and recipient of the 2016 Regional Theatre Tony Award, Paper Mill Playhouse has a well-earned reputation for launching both performers and shows to Broadway. Since its 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.

The 2017 Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards Presented by the Investors Foundation ceremony took place at Paper Mill Playhouse on Tuesday, June 6, featuring presenters from Broadway and beyond.

Eastern Regional High School took home the top prize of Outstanding Overall Production of a Musical for its production of “Les Misérables: School Edition,” along with two other trophies. Eastern student Gary Bowman received the Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role award for his portrayel of Jean Valgean in “Les Misérables: School Edition.” Eastern’s Gregg Molotsky received an award for Outstanding Direction for “Les Misérables: School Edition.”

Several Eastern students in “Les Misérables: School Edition” also received nominations and honorable mentions, including: Bridgette Burton as Fantine, Chelsea Chaet as Cosette, and Primo Davis as The Bishop. Music directors Katy Akinskis and Jon Stanz also received a nomination, and Eastern received nods for its chorus, scenic achievement, lighting achievement and costuming achievement. In the Student Achievement Awards category, Eastern’s Christopher Childs and Cyrena Kokolis were finalists for production management, and Penelope Murzenski was a finalist for stage management.

“We are very excited to celebrate excellence in high school musical theater with the students of New Jersey,” Mark S. Hoebee, Paper Mill Playhouse’s Producing Artistic Director, said. “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.”

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 nearly 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. The musicals are adjudicated by Paper Mill Playhouse throughout the spring by a group of 70 evaluators, with each school receiving four independent evaluations. 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.