New Voices 2018: From Sea to Shining Sea

Directed and choreographed by Paper Mill Playhouse professional artistic staff

Performance of Summer Musical Theater Conservatory students
Friday, July 27, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, July 28, 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Montclair State University 1 Normal Ave., 973-408-5600

For Montclair Local

Actress Anne Hathaway gained fame through her portrayal of Mia Thermopolis in Disney’s “The Princess Diaries.” She can currently be seen starring alongside Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett in “Oceans 8” as airhead celebrity Daphne Kluger, and is set to collaborate with Ben Affleck and Willem Dafoe for a Netflix film.

Many don’t know her theater days began at the Paper Mill Playhouse Summer Musical Theatre Conservatory.

Young Montclair students Bobby Axelrod, Abraham Deitz-Green, Ambrose Amory and Justin


Comini now follow in her footsteps, as they are among the 115 participants in this year’s program. They are preparing for the patriotic-themed “New Voices 2018: From Sea to Shining Sea,” a concert set to take place at Montclair State University on July 27 and 28. The show features songs representing different states and places in America.


“Our storyline is pretty much any song that has to do with America that’s going from east to west. So it’s pretty much starting at east and you’re moving along the country with us like on a road trip,” said Comini.

Students audition in January and February. Those accepted into the program began a rigorous five-week program in June designed to enhance performance skills, while instilling the technique, discipline and professionalism needed to excel in the performing arts.

The end of the month is devoted to rehearsals for the New Voices concert, which is performed annually. And this year’s performances will reflect the times.

“It’s all about equality in America and how that’s been conveyed through musical theater; and how everyone deserves a love song,” said Axelrod.

Based on skill, experience and the quality of their audition, students are grouped into three companies, allowing them to develop at their own pace, while working on age and skill-appropriate material.

The conservatory provides extensive training for singing, acting and dancing Mondays through Fridays for three different age groups: the Junior Company (10-12), the Junior Plus Company (12-14) and the Senior Company (15-18). “From the first day of class all the way until the final curtain comes down at New Voices, we require our students to rise to the demands of this rigorous program,” said Lisa Cooney, who has been Paper Mill Playhouse’s director of education for 11 seasons now.“We ask them to work harder than they ever have before as young performers. We strive to build an incredible ensemble company, while each student hones their own individual performance skills. Our faculty pushes the students to believe in themselves as professional artists.”



One such faculty member is Montclair State Associate Professor Clay James, who runs a musical theatre performance and audition class. In his class, students present two of their own song choices from the Golden Age, with contrasting voice requirements, to the class, as if auditioning. After the student finishes, James opens the floor for the other students to critique the performance. The feedback varies — notes on facial expressions, posture and when to take breaths during the song. James also provides direction as well, even advising one student not to use his particular choice for an audition because it did not showcase him well.

Clay’s students will incorporate some Irish jig choreography into their act.

Montclair High School sophomore Deitz-Green appreciates how the conservatory treats the students as professionals.

“This musical theatre performance audition class is really focused. Everyone has a different skill set. So it levels the playing field and allows us to know what to work on. They’re not just focusing on the things we’re really good at. You build your repertoire and your skill set, so you have all of those tools that you need in the professional world,” Deitz-Green said after his set.

Not all students taking the summer session will go on to theater. But the hopes are that the students will use what they learn in whatever field they chose.

“When they move on to college or the professional world, they are ready for the challenges they’ll face, and time and again, they thrive and ultimately live their dream of being a professional performer. We are thrilled when students make a name for themselves on Broadway or in Hollywood, but even if they don’t, the skills they learn and the discipline


they develop will serve them in any field,” said Cooney.

This is the case for Montclair High School student Axelrod. Although he loves the performing arts, he aims to pursue other interests.

“I definitely will in some way keep it in my life. I always want to be involved with theater. It’s a really great outlet,” said Axelrod, who is pursuing a field in engineering.

Due to Paper Mill Playhouse renovations, this year’s conservatory takes place at Life Hall, the College of the Arts building on Montclair State University’s campus.