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Jersey Stage Milestone
Paper Mill Anniversary

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By Alan Branigan
Originally appeared in the Newark Sunday News on May 10, 1964

Co-stars in one of Paper Mill's many smash hits, Geraldine Page and Basil Rathbone are pictured in "Separate 'Tables" during the 1959-60 season
THE musical era that followed and occupied the years from 1940 to the mid-1950s had glamour galore. Paper Mill staff members like to recall some of the now famous personalities who got their start on the Millburn operetta stage.

Some names? There are plenty: Brenda Lewis, Metropolitan Opera soprano; Cornell MacNeil, New Jersey baritone, who took secondary parts in 1950 and is now an opera star; Calvin Marsh, once a chorus member and now a Metropolitan regular; Stephen Douglass and Anita Gillette, both famous on Broadway; Marguerite Piazza, who went to opera, television and the night clubs as a star vocalist; plus literally dozens who rose from chorus and ballet to positions of responsibility here and abroad.

With the death of Miss Scudder, whose enthusiasm and analytical mind had been of great assistance in seeing the Paper Mill through some rough times, the establishment entered a period of transition.

But the resilience was present and soon the Mill stage was alive again at the old pace. This has carried on in a kind of crescendo right up to the current spring season. A look at production figures may be of interest, especially of musicals. In this field, the Mill has achieved a flabbergasting 5,661 performances of works by 42 composers. There have been 165 productions of 87 different musicals. Works produced most often include "The Desert Song" (276 performances), "Student Prince" (265), "Blossom Time" (177), and "Merry Widow" (175). The total, by the way, includes the projected 64 performances of "My Fair Lady."

OF those not produced as often, perhaps we may be permitted to name a few favorites. There was a special tingle to the Mill's "Kiss Me Kate" and "Where's Charley?" We have a special fondness for such items as "Once Upon a Mattress" and "The Three-Penny Opera." "Fiorello" was enjoyable because of the waltzes.

One can contrast the naive satire, "Little Mary Sunshine," with the robust production of Bizet's "Carmen," which was given no less than 32 times. The list, in reality, constitutes a stirring live history of the American musical stage since the late 19th century.

A definitely new note was struck four years ago, when Mr. Carrington and the playhouse directorate engaged the Laurence Henry Company (Henry Weinstein and Laurence Feldman) to assist in the production schedule. Thus was introduced a new contact with Broadway which has had many interesting results. Most importantly, it brought the Paper Mill into a sharing arrangement in a circuit which includes the famous Westport Playhouse in Connecticut and the Mineola Playhouse on Long Island.

It has become a theatrical axiom that today's stage, stars are more likely to be interested in a tour of several theaters than in a week or two guest shot at one – and this is what the new setup offered. It also presented a cost-sharing plan that made it easier to deal with skyrocketing set and scene design costs.

THE recent Mill fare has alternated between recent hits on Broadway and hopeful entries that might – or might not – some day see the glare of a first night in Manhattan. Some of these have been less than satisfactory, but in the main the level has been pretty high, sometimes spellbindingly so.

Suburban audiences, at any rate, have been given a chance to view some of their favorites in good plays. We recall with pleasure Sam Levene in "Seidman and Son," Claudette Colbert and Cyril Ritchard in "The Irregular Verb to Love," Eva Gabor in "A Shot in the Dark," Carol ("Dolly") Channing in Shaw's "The Millionairess," the delightful Betsy Palmer in several lively musicals, Walter Pidgeon in "Lord Pengo" and- talented young Liza Minelli as Lili in "Carnival," Dane Clark, Teresa Wright and Menasha Skulnik in various splendid roles. Plus myriads of subsidiary players of great skill, including New Jersey's Dana Hardwyck, to add to the fun and prestige of New Jersey's theatrical landmark.

The week of May 10, 1964's "My Fair Lady" star, Margot Moser, is shown with her leading man, Dick Smart, in her 1953 Paper Mill debut in Irving Berlin's "Call Me Madam.


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