‘Benny and Joon’ comes to Paper Mill Playhouse

Paper Mill Playhouse presents the East Coast premiere of “Benny & Joon” with book by Kirsten Guenther, music by Nolan Gasser, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, and based on the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture written by Barry Berman and Leslie McNeil.

“Benny & Joon” is presented by special arrangement with Larry Hirschhorn and will be running through May 5 at the theater that is located in Millburn.

Directed by Jack Cummings III, with choreography by Scott Rink and music direction by J. Oconer Navarro, the principal cast features Claybourne Elder (“Sunday in the Park with George”) as Benny, Hannah Elless (Paper Mill’s “The Other Josh Cohen”) as Joon, Bryce Pinkham (“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”) as Sam, Conor Ryan (Paper Mill’s “My Very Own British Invasion”) as Sam at certain performances, and Tatiana Wechsler (“Oklahoma”) as Ruthie, with Colin Hanlon (“Falsettos”) as Mike, Paolo Montalban (Paper Mill’s “The King and I”) as Larry, Natalie Toro (“A Tale of Two Cities”) as Dr. Cortez/Mrs. Smail, Jacob Keith Watson (“Carousel”) as Waldo/Video Store Owner and Belinda Allyn (Paper Mill’s “West Side Story”).

Based on the 1993 film starring Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Masterson, this new musical is a smart, funny and tender-hearted celebration of love: between children and parents; romantic partners; friends; and, most of all, siblings.

The pair at the heart of the show are Joon, a young woman dealing with mental illness, and Benny, the big brother who’s determined to take care of her. When a charmingly eccentric stranger comes into their lives, he throws their carefully calibrated world off-kilter — maybe for the better. Large in emotional scope and artistic ambition, “Benny & Joon” embraces a difficult subject with warmth, honesty and wit.

The production team includes scenic and costume design by Dane Laffrey, lighting design by R. Lee Kennedy, sound design by Kai Harada, flying by Foy, movement coordinator Lorenzo Pisoni and orchestrations by Michael Starobin. The production stage manager is Victoria Navarro. Casting by Nora Brennan, CSA.

“Benny & Joon” will be performed at Paper Mill Playhouse eight times a week, Wednesday through Sunday. Performance schedule: Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 1:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Tickets are on sale now starting at $34. Tickets may be purchased by calling 973-376-4343, at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn or online at PaperMill.org.

Groups of 10 or more may receive up to a 40% discount on tickets and should call 973-315-1680. Season subscriptions are on sale now and are available by calling 973-379-3717. Students may order $23-$28 rush tickets over the phone or in person at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office on the day of the performance.

Belinda Allyn (Standby for Joon, Ruthie, Dr. Cortez/Mrs. Smail) is thrilled to be back at Paper Mill Playhouse. She was previously seen at Paper Mill as Maria in “West Side Story.” Other credits include “Allegiance” (Broadway), understudy Imelda in “Here Lies Love” (Seattle Rep), Maria in “West Side Story” (Riverside Theatre) and Mrs. Claus in the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” (NYC). She is a graduate of Oklahoma City University.

Claybourne Elder (Benny). Broadway: “Sunday in the Park with George” (Soldier, George standby), “Bonnie and Clyde” (Buck), “Torch Song.” London: “You and Me and Sondheim” (Arts Theatre). Off-Broadway: Sondheim’s “Road Show” (Hollis, Public Theater), “One Arm” (Ollie—Drama Desk nomination), “Allegro” (Joseph — Lortel nomination), “Two by Two” with Jason Alexander (Japheth), “Do I Hear A Waltz?” (City Center Encores!), “Venice” (Public Theater). Regional: “Sondheim on Sondheim” at the Hollywood Bowl, “Passion” (Giorgio) at Signature Theatre, “Angels in America” (dir. David Cromer), “Into the Woods” (dir. Moisés Kaufman, Kansas City Rep). Film/TV: “Flatbush Luck,” “The Carrie Diaries” (Pete).

Hannah Elless (Joon) returns to Paper Mill Playhouse, where she was last seen originating the musical comedy “The Other Josh Cohen.” Ms. Elless’s Broadway credits include Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s “Bright Star” and the revival of “Godspell.” Off-Broadway: “Summer and Smoke;” “Come Back, Little Sheba;” “Picnic;” “The Other Josh Cohen.” Regional: Ophelia in “Hamlet,” Aricia in “Phaedra,” Katherine in “Henry V,” Hermia in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Elise McKenna in “Somewhere in Time,” Joon in “Benny & Joon” (Craig Noel Award nominee). TV/Film: “The Deuce,” “Glee,” “The Lake Effect,” “Nora Ephron Goes to Prison.”

Colin Hanlon (Mike) has a recurring role on “Modern Family” as Steven. He has had guest starring roles on “Difficult People,” “The Sinner,” “The Good Fight,” and in the upcoming film “Yes.” Co-producer and star of the web series “Submissions Only.”  The New York premiere of “Dot” (Vineyard, dir. Susan Stroman) and A. R. Gurney’s last play “Final Follies” (Cherry Lane, dir. David Saint). Broadway: “Falsettos,” “Rent,” “Wicked” (tour), “In Transit.” Four shows at George Street Playhouse: most recently, “The Nerd “(dir. Kevin Cahoon); four seasons at NYS&F and the O’Neill; “Next Fall” (St. Louis Rep). Off-Broadway includes “I Love You Because” and “Pirates of Penzance.”

Paolo Montalban (Larry) returns to Paper Mill with his fourth production. He appeared in “The King and I,” R&H’s “Cinderella,” and “Nine.” He is most recognized as the Prince in ABC/Disney’s TV musical movie of “Cinderella “(with Brandy and Whitney Houston). Broadway: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Pacific Overtures,” “The King and I.” Off-Broadway: “Bella: An American Tall Tale” (Playwrights Horizons — Lortel nomination), “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (Delacorte). Regional: “Mamma Mia!” (5th Avenue), “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” (Denver Center). TV: “Mortal Kombat: Conquest” as Kung Lao, “Madam Secretary,” “The Blacklist.” Film: “Just Wright,” “The Great Raid.”

Bryce Pinkham (Sam) originated the role of Monty Navarro in the Broadway production of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” where he played more than 700 performances. Broadway: “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” (Tony, Drama Desk, Grammy nominations), “The Heidi Chronicles” (Outer Critics Circle nomination), “Ghost,” “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” “Holiday Inn.”  TV: “Mercy Street,” “Blindspot,” “The Good Wife,” “Person of Interest,” “God in America,” “The Get Down,” “Instinct.” Upcoming: “Proven Innocent” on Fox. Countries visited: 22 and counting. Cofounder of zaraaina.org. BA, Boston College; MFA in Acting and bio writing, Yale School of Drama.

Conor Ryan (Sam at certain performances) is thrilled to return to Paper Mill after playing Trip in the world premiere of “My Very Own British Invasion.” Television: “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert” on NBC. Broadway: “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella.” Off-Broadway: Johnny Blood in “Desperate Measures” at New World Stages (Outer Critics Circle nomination for outstanding actor in a musical) and previously at York Theatre Company; Keen Company’s revival of “John & Jen” (with Kate Baldwin); Second Stage’s “Invisible Thread;” Public Theater’s “The Fortress of Solitude.” Developmental: Charles Bingley in “Austen’s Pride” (5th Avenue Theatre), Chris McCandless in “Into the Wild” (The Encore Musical Theatre Company).

Natalie Toro (Dr. Cortez/Mrs. Smail). Paper Mill debut. Broadway: “A Tale of Two Cities” (Madame Defarge), “A Christmas Carol “(Sally), “Les Misérables” (Eponine). Tours: “Evita” (Eva Perón), “Jesus Christ Superstar” (Mary Magdalene), “Cats” (Grizabella), “In the Heights” (Camila). Off-Broadway: “The Yellow Brick Road,” “Zombie Prom,” “The Audience,” “Pedro Pan.” Regional: “Benny & Joon” (Old Globe), “Snow Child” (Arena Stage), “The Bikinis,” “Zorba,” “Blood Brothers,” “Frances of Guernica,” “Everything’s Ducky,” “Fame,” “The Fix.” Television: “Law & Order,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Elementary,” “Person of Interest,” “Black Box,” “Unforgettable.” Soloist with symphony orchestras (Carnegie Hall, Dublin’s National Concert Hall), headliner on major cruise lines around the world and recording artist.

Jacob Keith Watson (Waldo/Video Store Owner). Broadway: “Carousel” (Enoch Snow), “Hello, Dolly!,” “Violet,” “The Phantom of the Opera” (Joseph Buquet), “Amélie.” New York/Tour/Regional: “1776” at Encores! (Robert Livingston); the national tour of “Chicago” (Amos Hart), “Bye, Bye, Birdie” (Albert), “Seussical” (Horton), “As You Like It” (Corin), “Twelfth Night” (Feste). Symphony: “The Music Man” (Marcellus Washburn);”New York, New York!” at the Kurt Weill Festival in Dessau, Germany; “Kurt Weill on Broadway” at Symphony Space. Jacob is a past winner of the prestigious Lotte Lenya Competition and the NATS National Music Theater Competition, as well as a regional finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

Tatiana Wechsler (Ruthie). Paper Mill debut First woman to play Curly in “Oklahoma!” (Oregon Shakespeare Festival). Off-Broadway: “X: Or, Betty Shabazz vs. The Nation” (Acting Company, Theatre at St. Clement’s/New Victory Theater), “Julius Caesar” (Acting Company, New Victory Theater), “The Golden Bride” (National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene). NYC: “Othello” (Acting Company). Regional: “The Legend of Georgia McBride” (Marin Theatre Company), “Love’s Labor’s Lost” (OSF). Tour: “X” and “Julius Caesar” (Acting Company). Many concert and reading appearances in major venues around NYC. Big thanks to Nora, the B&J team, and the most supportive family and friends. Proud graduate of NYU Tisch’s New Studio.

Kirsten Guenther (Book) is the recipient of a Richard Rodgers Award, Rockefeller Grant, Dramatists Guild Fellowship and a Lincoln Center Honorarium. Current projects include Universal’s “Heart and Souls,” “Measure of Success” (Amanda Lipitz Productions), “Mrs. Sharp” (Richard Rodgers Award workshop; Playwrights Horizons, starring Jane Krakowski, dir. Michael Greif) and writing a new book to Paramount’s “Roman Holiday.” She wrote the book and lyrics for “Little Miss Fix-it” (as seen on NBC), among others. Previously, Kirsten lived in Paris, where she worked as a Paris correspondent for usatoday.com. MFA, NYU Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program. ASCAP and Dramatists Guild.

Nolan Gasser (Music) is a critically acclaimed composer, pianist and musicologist — notably, the architect of Pandora Radio’s Music Genome Project. He holds a PhD in Musicology from Stanford University. His original compositions have been performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, among others. Theatrical projects include the musicals “Benny & Joon” and “Start Me Up” and the opera “The Secret Garden.” His book, “Why You Like It: The Science and Culture of Musical Taste” (Macmillan), will be released on April 30, followed by his rock/world CD “Border Crossing” in June. His TEDx Talk, “Empowering Your Musical Taste,” is available on YouTube.

Mindi Dickstein (Lyrics) wrote the lyrics for the Broadway musical “Little Women” (MTI; Ghostlight/Sh-k-boom). “Benny & Joon,” based on the MGM film, was a NAMT selection (2016) and had its world premiere at The Old Globe (2017). Mindi’s work has been commissioned, produced, and developed widely, including by Disney (“Toy Story: The Musical”), Second Stage (“Snow in August”), Playwrights Horizons (Steinberg Commission), ASCAP Workshop, and Lincoln Center (“Hear and Now: Contemporary Lyricists”). Honors include a Larson Foundation Award and a Constance Klinsky Award from Second Stage. MFA and current faculty: NYU Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program. Dramatists Guild and ASCAP.

Jack Cummings III (Director) is the artistic director of Transport Group, where his select credits include “Summer and Smoke” (coproduction with Classic Stage Company), “Renascence” (codirected with Dick Scanlan), “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine,” “Queen of the Mist,” “The Audience,” “Strange Interlude,” “I Remember Mama,” “Normal,” “Once Upon a Mattress,” “Picnic,” “The Boys in the Band,” and “Our Town.” Other New York credits: Terrence McNally’s “And Away We Go,” “A Thousand Words Come to Mind,” “Arlington.” Regional credits: “Benny & Joon” (Old Globe), “I Remember Mama” (Two River). BA, The College of William & Mary; MFA, University of Virginia. He is married to Barbara Walsh.

Accessibility performances for “Benny & Joon”

Paper Mill Playhouse, a leader in accessibility, will offer audio-described performances for “Benny & Joon” on Sunday, April 28, at 1:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 4, at 1:30 p.m. Prior to these performances at noon, the theater will offer free sensory seminars. Sensory seminars offer an opportunity for patrons with vision loss to hear a live, in-depth description of the production elements of the show and hands-on interaction with key sets, props and costumes. There will be a sign-interpreted and open-captioned performance on Sunday, May 5, at 7 p.m.

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