New Work in Progress: Paper Mill Playhouse & The Sting

Next, we chatted with Mark Hoebee, the Producing Artistic Director  at NAMT member Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ about the theatre’s upcoming world premiere of The Sting, by Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone, Fest ’04), Mark Hollmann (The Girl, The Grouch, and The Goat; Fest ’91) and Greg Kotis. The musical is based on the 1973 film of the same name.
New musicals are the key focus of Paper Mill Playhouse’s mission; tell us a little more about that mission, and what makes Paper Mill such a special place to develop new work.

A key part of our mission is to foster a creative environment for advancing the art form. We strive to be as supportive and collaborative as possible during the arduous process of premiering a new work. That means committing all of the resources of our organization including a skilled and dedicated staff, a state-of-the-art facility, and the best stage crew in the business. It’s also an advantage to be so close to New York City, which enables the artists involved in our productions to maintain a “home base.”  Our mission also stresses developing future theater lovers, and what better way to do that than to present new work.  Our audience becomes part of that birthing processthey get to see it first!

How did The Sting first find its way to Paper Mill, and what makes it a great show for your audiences?
Jen Bender, who is now a key player for the Araca Group (our commercial producing partner), was on the artistic team for our world premiere production of Honeymoon in Vegas a few seasons ago, so she had been through the process of mounting a new musical at Paper Mill and immediately thought of us when Araca secured the rights to the property.

Our audiences have become truly excited about the opportunity to see new work and The Sting is no exception. It’s a fantastic, gripping story based on an Academy Award-winning Best Film, with an outstanding cast and creative team that will bring this powerful piece to new life on our stage. It is filled with danger and tension, not to mention humor, great music and fabulous tap dancing. I think our audiences will so enjoy being immersed in the underbelly of the jazz-age world of Chicago grifters.

Paper Mill has put together an excellent team to support the new musical’s development. Can you tell us about who’s in the room for The Sting and how your process is helping shape the show?
As I am writing this we have yet to begin rehearsals (February 19), but Paper Mill has been involved with the project for the last several years which has included attending at least three developmental workshops, so we are confident that this next rehearsal phase will take another giant step. The “show-shapers” are an embarrassment of Tony Award-winning riches helmed by director John Rando and choreographer Warren Carlyle, book writer Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone, Fest ’04), with music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis (Urinetown). Both John and Warren are Paper Mill alums and we are so thrilled to have them back! And finally, we are so very fortunate to have a rather well known entertainment superstar leading the acting company and contributing some new material to the showyou may have heard of himhe’s the charismatic, piano-playing, all-around talented nice guy Harry Connick, Jr.

How does the new works development process change when you’re working on a show based on a known property?
I think the key is to breathe some fresh life into what people already know.  Everyone remembers the Scott Joplin ragtime theme from the movie, and its stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The creators have wisely woven the Joplin melodies throughout the piece. They have also re-conceived the Redford character to be African-American (J. Harrison Ghee), which allows for not only increased diversity but some interesting observations on race and class during the period. The basics of the film story are intact, but through music, dance and diversity the entire experience is heightened and new. The hope is that anyone who is familiar with the film will enjoy the familiarity, but embrace this live musical version as something equally special. And I might add that not knowing the film will not detract from a great new musical theater experience.

Why should folks put The Sting on their “must see” list for the spring?
It’s a compelling story with a great score and spectacular dancing created by some of the truly great artists of our time, and it is only a short train ride away from Manhattan with an incredibly affordable ticket price. There’s no question The Sting is a “must see”not to mention Harry, Harry, Harry!

For more information about Paper Mill Playhouse and The Sting, visit the Paper Mill website.


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