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See All The Red Carpet Action Here

The twinkling faces of the 2017 Paper Mill Playhouse’s Rising Stars

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Who will win at this year's Rising Star Awards?

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Find out why the NEA is essential

The Essentiality of the NEA

By Chance Friedman

nea sAVE

The following piece was written by Chance Friedman, a 16-year-old student who has participated in Paper Mill’s Arts Education Programs.

Youth arts classes and education. Works from emerging playwrights and artists. Community performances and concerts. Programs that support these aforementioned ideas are now facing substantial danger under the proposed federal budget. In recent years, the trend to discount arts education has become increasingly prevalent in school curricula throughout the United States. Regardless of the extensive research that explicitly states the need for such training, this issue has taken center stage yet again as our current administration seeks to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, otherwise known as the NEA. The National Endowment for the Arts is an organization that provides support and funding for projects exhibiting artistic excellence. This vital federal agency recognizes the impact that artistic fields including theatre and music have on society. It is essential to understand that the defunding of the NEA would not only be devastating to the arts community, but equally so to the youth of this country.

I’m sure you are all aware that public schools in the United States rely heavily on government funding to enhance the lives of students through various courses – not solely the arts. When schools struggle to stay within their budget, arts programs are typically the first to be cut despite their clear academic worth. Nonetheless, an arts education transforms unmotivated students into inspired learners while developing critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills. These attributes are imperative to lead a successful life, no matter what one may pursue in his or her future. Be that as it may, this argument is still not considered enough to protect the support of arts programs in public schools. Imagine a child who has begun to develop his or her artistic talents, finding a metaphorical home inside the arts community when he or she is suddenly robbed of this education. Imagine your brother or sister as this child. Imagine your friend as this child. Imagine your own future son or daughter as this child. The notion that fine and performing arts are deemed non-essential in today’s teaching cannot be accepted, and this is why we must defend the National Endowment for the Arts. Linda Moran, President and CEO of the Songwriters Hall of Fame best describes the indispensability of the NEA when she asserts,

“Music and arts are essential to life and our humanity and in the nurturing of our souls. Removing access to that which allows the exploration, discovery, and development of one’s talents would be a travesty of epic proportions. Our future songwriters, musicians, and artists must be fostered, not ignored” (Olson 1).

Policymakers and officials may falsely assume that cutting arts programs from schools will redirect children toward pursuits found more “worthy,” but this is extraordinarily inaccurate. Rather, the NEA conducted a study explaining that low-income students with access to arts programs tend to have better academic results, better workforce opportunities, and more civic engagement (Gifford 1). It may be difficult to comprehend the rapid decrease in arts prioritization as we are fortunate enough to live in Basking Ridge, but the NEA continues to provide highly needed resources and funding to low-income areas.

In absence of government support through the NEA, school districts would have to look to their community and local corporations for arts funding. Private donations would be the only feasible solution to continue arts education in a country that increasingly neglects the arts. Nearby theatres or performing arts centers could comparably contribute to arts programs in schools, and many already do. Paper Mill Playhouse, recipient of the 2016 Regional Theatre Tony Award, supports high school arts in a myriad of ways, including their annual “Rising Star Awards” and “Adopt a School” programs; both are designed to encourage the inclusion of arts as playing an integral role in New Jersey’s educational system.

Depending on private support and donations, however, is not the answer. This is in no way a substitute nor a replacement for the vital organization that is the National Endowment for the Arts. The administration may argue that the eradication of the NEA is necessary to strengthen our defense, but what exactly is there left to defend? The bottom line is that the NEA connects communities through arts and culture, and this is work that must be protected.

Preserving the National Endowment for the Arts is contingent on us, the students, the learners, the artists. We, the people, must raise awareness to this cause through petitions. We, the people, must reach out to adults who have succeeded in the creative world despite disadvantaged upbringings and allow for their stories to be told. We, the people, must contact our congressional representatives. This is how we can, should, and will protect the National Endowment for the Arts.

At a time of unprecedented division in our country, it is important that individuals unite through the arts and understand the essentiality of the NEA. Representing only 0.00004 percent (four hundred-thousandths) of the $3.9 trillion federal budget, the benefit to society far outweighs the negligible cost to our government; thus, it is unjustifiable for today’s administration to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts.


Works Cited
Olson, Cathy Applefeld. "What Could Happen If Trump Defunds National Endowment for the Arts? Experts Weigh In." Billboard. Billboard, 1 Feb. 2017. Web. 18 Mar. 2017.

Gifford, Sally. "National Endowment for the Arts."New NEA Research Report Shows Potential Benefits of Arts Education for At-Risk Youth | NEA. National Endowment for the Arts, 30 Mar. 2012. Web. 18 Mar. 2017.


 

The Bodyguard is not just another juke box musical

All the lady we need:
The gracious talent of Deborah Cox in The Bodyguard

Solo
Fans of the original 1992 film version of The Bodyguard know it is a romantic thriller about a vulnerable pop icon who places her life in the hands of a meticulous hired gun – a man diametrically opposed to the star in every way, yet nonetheless destined to become more than her mere “protector.”

So goes the story from the film in which so many of us are familiar – the film which spawned the best-selling movie soundtrack of all time and introduced Whitney Houston to a different kind of stage: the silver screen.  

But, Frank Thompson, the Associate Director of Paper Mill Playhouse’s most recent offering, The Bodyguard, want's you to know that this US premiere of the stage piece is not just another “jukebox musical.” 
Empty StageAt a recent gathering of press and industry notables at The New 42nd Street Studios in Manhattan, I had the auspicious opportunity to sit down with Mr. Thompson and other members of the cast and creative team – including the legendary performer, and current production star, Deborah Cox -- to discuss how this show is an opportunity to see a known quantity in a new way.

BG Chair“To quote Cameron Mackintosh,”

said Mr. Thompson,

“’Great shows aren’t written…they’re rewritten. This isn’t a cookie cutter version of the show. Every time we recast, (the new cast) has absolute ownership of the show.  And it is an absolute pleasure bringing The Bodyguard to the American market because we in the UK have been working on this American story. To bring it here – to its American home – with possibly the most talented Company I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with is a real thrill.”


Significant praise and enthusiasm from a trusted source: Mr. Thompson has been with Bodyguard since its original production on London’s West End, taking over directorial responsibility from the show’s original director, Thea Sharrock, and fostering it through several incarnations internationally. This production, premiering exclusively at Paper Mill Playhouse before touring the US in 2017, comes with much anticipation; and the energy in the rehearsal space that evening two weeks ago only confirmed that sense.

At the opening of the event, the cast sat around the perimeter of the bare stage before us as Mr. Thompson introduced several sneak peek selections from the show. As cast introductions were made, the enthusiasm with which each cast member recognized one another was inspiring. And then, the performances began – one stirring ballad (“Run to You”)  and a Company dance number that had the entire press corps breathless at its conclusion (“Queen of the Night”).

Both songs managed to highlight every individual performer in some way, but the obvious thread by which all of the excitement was tied together was the vocal prowess of the show’s resident star: Ms. Cox.  

And even before the performances began, the inimitable talent exhibited her star quality upon entering the room. Taking her grand entrance on Mr. Thompson’s cue, Ms. Cox alighted into our space with that rare grace which hushes rooms and the gravitas that attracts the eye. Wearing a simple black tank top and leggings accentuated with gold shoes and  scarf, anyone in attendance would agree: the woman entered the room on a cloud of allure. 

And then Heavens opened up.

First,  reclining in a simple easy chair,  Ms. Cox – assuming her role as main character, Rachel Marron – seduced costar Judson Mills (playing bodyguard, Frank Farmer)  with “Run to You.” Beautifully accompanied by costar Jasmin Richardson (Nicki Marron) near the end of the number, Ms. Cox captured the R&B sound soulful tune effortlessly. Further demonstrating her prowess in the genre, Ms. Cox followed up this number with an edgy, physical number, “Queen of the Night,” which showcased not only her wide vocal range, but her abilities as a dancer, as well. Sexy and edgy, the number captured what choreographer Karen Bruce shared with me as,

“We wanted ‘music video, MTV, Grammys’…we wanted to tap into that energy.”

Company danceBut what struck me was this: upon the conclusion of the latter number – a big Company piece – the dance ensemble, which proved itself to be a high-energy, exciting force in its own right, applauded their star. And in return, Ms. Cox approached each member of her fellow performers and thanked them individually. 

It was a gesture of mutual support from all parties; and it justified the warm and welcoming atmosphere of this room and its participants – even if this was a showcase about a relentless stalker and his prey.

Mr. Thompson told me,

“Deborah is not only one of the most talented women I’ve ever worked with in my life, but one of the nicest ladies I’ve ever come across in the business of theater.” 


Fellow actor Alex Corrado (Tony Scibelli) agreed,

“Deborah has been great from Day 1. She has been very hospitable and giving. Frankly, the whole cast has been giving. But she’s the real deal. “


However, the truest measure of Ms. Cox’s kindness was perhaps exhibited in providing this modest blogger with some time. In sitting down with me, Ms. Cox could not have been more gracious with her candor and insight. Echoing the sentiments of those around her,  she said,

“The synergy with this cast has been amazing.  We are all just rooting for each other as we go through this process because we know we’re all trying to find these characters.  You have an idea and a sense of your own character when you read the script, but when you get in rehearsal, it can change. We all help one another.”


Asked about her favorite moment in the play, Ms. Cox thought for a moment and then said definitively,

“My favorite moment in the show is when I sing ‘All the Man I Need.’ It’s where you see Rachel at her truest self -- just authentic and a girl in love.”


“All the Man I Need” is the number which Rachel sings at the top of Act II;  in the silence of her bedroom, she romances about the man she once loathed but now loves. Her protector...her lover…her savior:

I used to cry myself to sleep at night
But that was all before he came
I thought love had to hurt to turn out right
But now he's here
It's not the same, it's not the same

He fills me up
He gives me love
More love than I've ever seen
He's all I've got
He's all I've got in this world
But he's all the man that I need

And in the morning when I kiss his eyes
He takes me down and rocks me slow
And in the evening when the moon is high
He holds me close and won't let go
He won't let go

And what I know is this: Deborah Cox is all audiences need this holiday season to experience a truly entertaining evening.  Don’t miss out on this opportunity to see a living pop legend lend her talents to what Frank Thompson calls,

“…a production like no other thriller-type musical since Phantom of the Opera.”


The Bodyguard runs now through January 1. Tickets may be purchased by calling 973.376.4343 or by clicking here.
BG Cast
Pictures c/o author’s private collection / taken at The New 42nd Street Studios, Manhattan, NY



All photos c/o Rich Mcnanna
Richard McNanna

 

 

Having originally hailed from Newark and a graduate of Seton Hall University, Rich McNanna grew up a stone’s throw from Paper Mill Playhouse in Springfield, NJ. Now a teacher in and resident of Westfield, he and his wife and son experience theater, music, and art with the same vigor as they do baseball. Paper Mill Playhouse is one of their favorite destinations.


 

 

Citation:
Siegel, Naomi. “Despite an Arduous Start, ‘1776’ Educates and Entertains.” The New York Times. N.p.,23 Apr.2009.Web.9 Oct.2016.
CITE: NYT

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