One of the nation's most esteemed Shakespeare outfits, the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey has brought the playwright's work to life for the past half-century. But the troupe takes its name more as an inspiration than a strict limit, also mounting productions of other classics by writers such as Thornton Wilder and Noël Coward. Once a summer, the company takes to the College of Saint Elizabeth's outdoor amphitheater—modeled after Athens' Theater of Dionysius, a favorite venue for Shakespeare performances in Greece—to present the bard's work in the way he intended: alive under the open sky.
Playwrights Theatre stages productions of up-and-coming plays each year through its New Play Development program. The 2010–2011 season keeps the theatre's long-standing commitment to fresh ars theatrica with three works: Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods by Tammy Ryan, MoM A Rock Concert Musical by Richard Caliban, and Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie by Julie Jensen. Your season subscription to Playwrights Theatre entitles you to view all three performances, receive a 50% discount on two tickets for family or friends, gain admittance to opening-night parties, and attend post-show talkbacks about new-play development and the inside story on plays. You'll also receive a pass to the FORUM staged reading series, enough to attend a reading of each of the series' 13 new plays and discuss the material with artists in an intimate setting.
Nestled in the Morris Museum, the Bickford Theatre's cast of canny actors transmits theatrics directly to each of the auditorium's 312 house seats. Their latest production, the Tony-nominated I Hate Hamlet, charts the comedic trials of protagonist Andrew Rally, a successful actor offered the chance to play Hamlet in Central Park. The leading character is haunted by his eponymous hatred for the show, and he inadvertently summons the ghost of John Barrymore, history's greatest Hamlet. The play's multifaceted plot incorporates madcap antics to generate bellowing laughter—maintaining a replay value comparable to a YouTube video of a koala sneezing and falling into a vat of flour. The Bickford Theatre produces four plays every season and hosts jazz concerts, children's theater, and performing-arts classes.
Winner of the JerseyArts.com 2009 People's Choice Award for favorite Professional Theater, Paper Mill Playhouse has been opening the curtain on top-quality musical theater and plays since its debut in 1938. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a Tony Award-winning musical comedy, follows the travails of a group of young students participating in their countywide spell off. With hilarious tunes and frequent fourth wall demolition, the musical expertly tickles audience funny femurs while filling their ears with the harmonious euphony of the Tony-nominated score. Groupon buyers will leave the theater with a Paper Mill Playhouse cup (a $5 value), allowing patrons of the arts to signal their theater affiliation to rival gangs of symphony and museum cup holders.
During Hollywood's Golden Age, The Community Theatre was the crowning achievement of Walter Reade's chain of New Jersey movie palaces. By the 1980s, after five decades of movie screenings and catastrophic popcorn wars, the theater sat in disrepair. Concerned citizens banded together in 1994 to save the historic building from a sad end, and in May 2011, after a series of renovations, the theater officially changed its name to the Mayo Performing Arts Center. The venue currently hosts more than 200 performances a year, occasional art showings, and performance-arts education classes for adults and children.