In anticipation of my critical review, and of my video interviews with the generous cast and crew, enjoy my photo recap from the opening night performance of Benny & Joon in its East Coast premiere at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey!
The big-hearted musical, based on the 1993 MGM romantic comedy film, is about the life of Joon, a high-functioning schizophrenic, under the guidance of her older brother/caretaker, Benny. The siblings have a major reckoning after an unstoppable force comes into their lives, an eccentric young man named Sam, who redefines the meaning of family, strengthens the unconditional bonds of love, and heals past traumas such as abandonment and rejection.
Director Jack Cummings III’s stagecraft was well-paced and intelligent, while the creative team addressed some tough issues such as mental illness and abandonment in a strong book by Kirsten Guenther, a balanced orchestral score by Nolan Gasser, and the inspired lyrics of Mindi Dickstein—but please stay close for my full review coming shortly!
The play highlighted generous performances from a talented, well-matched, intimate principal cast starring Claybourne Elder as Benny, Hannah Elless as Joon, and Bryce Pinkham as Sam. Rounding-out the star trio was Tatiana Wechsler as Ruthie, Colin Hanlon as Mike, Paolo Montalban as Larry, Jacob Keith Watson as Waldo/Video Store Owner, and Natalie Toro as Dr. Cortez/Mrs. Smail. Belinda Allyn is a standby for Joon, Ruthie and Dr. Cortez/Mrs. Smail, and Conor Ryan plays Sam in certain performances.
The musical is the penultimate production of the Tony Award-winning regional theater’s 80th anniversary season under Mark S. Hoebee-Producing Artistic Director and Mike Stotts- Managing Director. Presented by special arrangement with Larry Hirschhorn, it plays through May 5, so grab your tickets while you can!
(Above: the poster had a nice design!)
(Above and below: the gift shop was selling some quirky items inspired by the musical’s themes.)
(Above: all smiles during intermission!)
(Above: the intimate cast takes its exuberant curtain call!)
(Above and below: BRYCE PINKHAM as Sam stayed true to his character’s identity in laid-back separates and a black bowler!)
(Above and below: HANNAH ELLESS as Joon packs a lot of charm and presence on and off stage!)
(Above and below: CLAYBOURNE ELDER as Benny brings a natural wholesomeness and earnestness to his big role.)
(Above and below: director Jack Cummings III tackled all of the biggest challenges and rewards of adapting the 1993 MGM romantic comedy to musical theater!)