Paper Mill Playhouse Expands its Theater for Everyone Offerings through Partnership with Shining Stars Network

Millburn Theater to Co-Produce Showcase for Young Artists with Disabilities on its Mainstage on August 8, 2020.

Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, NJ

Paper Mill Playhouse (Mark S. Hoebee-Producing Artistic Director, Michael Stotts- Managing Director), recipient of the Tony Award for Regional Theatre, has joined forces with the Cranford, New Jersey based non-profit Shining Stars Network to co-produce a performance featuring young artists with disabilities entitled “An Evening of Shining Stars.”  The showcase will offer audiences a Broadway spectacular featuring your favorite music, dance and production numbers from the Great White Way and will take place on Saturday, August 8, 2020 at Paper Mill Playhouse (22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ). Tickets will go on sale March 2020 starting at just $25 and may be purchased by calling 973.376.4343 or online at www.PaperMill.org. This event marks an expansion of Paper Mill Playhouse’s Theater for Everyone program, an award-winning initiative founded in 2011 that includes performances and classes for people with autism and other developmental disabilities and their families. Paper Mill’s Theater for Everyone program strives to weave inclusion throughout the fabric of the institution, creating opportunities for people of all abilities to learn, perform and attend performances with independence and dignity. 

Shining Stars Network’s Greatest Show performance May, 2018.

Shining Stars Network was created to put a spotlight on the special needs community and showcase their talents.  By producing inclusive entertainment, opportunities are provided for people with and without disabilities to work together to create experiences that enhance lives. Shining Stars performers are individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities who perform in inclusive events that build self-esteem and friendships.  Performers are shadowed by Shining Star buddies, neurotypical high school students who help Shining Star performers learn new things and develop strong friendships.  Founded in 2012 and initially serving Union County, New Jersey, there are now Shining Stars performers from seven different New Jersey counties. 

The Shining Stars Performers and their buddies.

“Prepare to be amazed as our special needs performers and their high school buddies take the stage in front of an audience of over 1,000,” shared Shining Stars Director Sally Curci.  “When the lights go up, the stars always shine, entertaining with solo acts and full-cast dance choreography.  The audience is wonderful, and our performers are amazing. Each and every year our audience has grown along with our cast. They continue to inspire us every day.  We are so excited to give our special cast the chance to perform at such a great venue as Paper Mill Playhouse.”

Paper Mill Playhouse holds up to 1,200 people.

“We are thrilled and honored to create this partnership with the legendary Paper Mill Playhouse,” noted Shining Stars Network Co-Founder and CEO Mike Curci. “From our special needs cast members, buddies, parents and our entire team, everyone is very excited for our stars to have the opportunity to perform on the iconic Paper Mill stage. It will be like performing on Broadway and we look forward to co-producing this show with their incredibly talented team.”

“An Evening of Shining Stars is an amazing opportunity to foster a love for performing for these young artists whose gifts are many,” remarked Paper Mill Playhouse Producing Artistic Director Mark S. Hoebee.  “We’re very pleased to be working with Shining Stars to make this event come to life on the historic Paper Mill stage.  When the New Jersey legislature-designated Paper Mill as the State Theater of New Jersey in 1972, we made it our mission to ensure that the art and cultural experiences at Paper Mill were available and meaningful to the entire population.  This event speaks to that core mission in a meaningful way.”   

An Evening of Shining Stars highlights the many talents of the local special needs community.

A national leader in cultural accessibility, Paper Mill Playhouse offers a myriad of award-winning access programs and services, including audio description, sensory seminars, Braille and large-print programs for the visually impaired, American Sign Language interpretation, open-captioning and assistive listening devices for those with hearing loss.In addition, Paper Mill offers classes for adults and adolescents with developmental disabilities to study creative drama and improvisation, and provides autism-friendly performances of both mainstage and children’s shows throughout the season. Upcoming autism-friendly performances are the one-hour performance of Dog Man: The Musical on Sunday, December 8, at 10:00AM, and the mainstage production of  Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella on Thursday, December 26, at 1:30PM. Tickets may be purchased by calling 973.376.4343, or at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, or online at www.PaperMill.org.  The Goren Family and the Harmony Helper App, and Merck are the major sponsors of the autism friendly performance of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella.

Shining Stars Network focuses on building self-confidence through the performing arts.

SHINING STARS NETWORK is a non-profit organization founded by Sally and Mike Curci that shines the light on the special needs community by creating opportunities in the performing arts, with the goal of building self-confidence and self-esteem while enjoying the experience of performing on stage. In addition, their Shining Stars Ambassadors basketball team travels to play local first responders and organizations while building friendship and understanding. Now entering its 4th year, Camp Shine, a two-week intensive special needs performing arts summer camp, will take place the last two weeks of August 2020. For more information on Shining Stars Network or any of their programs, please visit  www.ShiningStarsNetwork.org.

Paper Mill Playhouse was recently renovated for the 80th anniversary season.

PAPER MILL PLAYHOUSE, a not-for-profit arts organization under the direction of Mark S. Hoebee (Producing Artistic Director) and Michael Stotts (Managing Director), recipient of the Regional Theatre Tony Award, is one of the country’s leading regional theaters. Paper Mill Playhouse programs are made possible, in part, by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Paper Mill Playhouse is a member of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, the Council of Stock Theatres, and the New Jersey Theatre Alliance.  Paper Mill Playhouse Education and Outreach are proudly sponsored by The Goren Family and The Harmony Helper App.  Major funding for autism-friendly programs is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and Wells Fargo. Additional support includes Autism Speaks, BD, The Thomas & Agnes Carvel Foundation, The Karma Foundation, Merck, MetLife Foundation, Nordstrom, and Summit Area Public Foundation.

Paper Mill pioneered the Theater for Everyone in 2011.

Shining Stars are Spectacular in “The Greatest Show”

For the second straight year, an audience of more than 1,000 packed the historic Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway for the annual “Evening of Shining Stars Spectacular” which features 40 special needs cast members and their buddy/mentors.

This year’s theme — “The Greatest Show” — featured music from Broadway and movies, including several songs from “The Greatest Showman.” If you missed it, or if you want to relive the night’s magical moments, here is the opening number from the 8th annual “Evening of Shining Stars special needs talent show!

Ambassadors and Cranford PBA Enjoy Basketball, Friendship

It was another night to remember, as the Shining Stars Ambassadors special needs basketball team and the Cranford PBA Local 52 played to a smiling crowd at the Cranford High School gym.

With members of the boys varsity basketball team and  cheerleading squad on hand to cheer the teams on, the Ambassadors delighted the crowd with their basketball skills and personality.“It was another fun and exciting night,” noted Shining Stars Network’s Mike Curci. “Many members of Shining Stars are from Cranford, so it’s always special to play here. I can’t thank the Cranford PBA Local 52 enough for helping to make this such a special event for our players. It was truly a great night.”

The Shining Stars Ambassadors special needs basketball team promotes inclusion, friendship and understanding while playing first responders and other organizations in a fun environment. Ambassador Brian McAuliffe sang the National Anthem and members of the Shining Stars performing arts cast rocked the crowd at halftime while showing off their choreography to the song “Raise You Up” — which will be part of the “8th Annual Evening of Shining Stars” talent show set for May 3rd at the Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway. The cast also had members of the audience dancing and singing to “Can’t Stop the Feeling” which put everyone in a great mood.

  • Cranford PBA Local 52
  • Police Chief Ryan Greco
  • Lt. Chris Polito 
  • Officer Greg Federici
  • Dr. Scott Rubin, Cranford Superintendent
  • CHS Athletic Director Darren Torsone 
  • The Cranford Board of Education
  • Lori Zullo
  • Sean Trotter & the CHS Basketball Team
  • The Cranford cheerleaders
  • Rotary Club of Cranford
  • Bill Ilaria & the Cranford Municipal Alliance
  • Referees Ray Dodd, Brian  and Jim Ulacky
  • Coaches Bob McAuliffe & Travis Johnson
  • Vinny’s Pizza & Pasta 
  • All the parents, relatives and fans who attended the game

Shining Stars 8th annual “Evening of Shining Stars Talent Show” will be held at UCPAC on Friday, May 3rd with showtime at 7:00pm. This year’s spectacular — titled “The Greatest Show” — will feature songs from Broadway, movies and more. Tickets are on sale now for this must-see event at www.UCPAC.org/events. Shining Stars Network is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to shining a light on the special needs community through the performing arts, sports and other inclusive  events that provide opportunities for people with and without special needs to come together. Everyone at Shining Stars Network would like to send a very special thank you to the following:

Ambassadors “Spread the Word” in New Providence

For the third straight year, the Shining Stars Ambassadors special needs basketball team traveled to New Providence High School to take part in their Spread the Word to End the Word night.

The Ambassadors once again showed their basketball skills at halftime of the Gov. Livingston-New Providence boys varsity game — thrilling a crowd of close to 1,000 spectators, who lavished several standing ovations for the Ambassador players. The evening began with a pizza dinner with the varsity girls basketball team — hosted by New Providence High School Director of Athletics Vinny Corangelo and Guidance Counselor Christine Noppenberger — who were again instrumental in making this a great night for everyone involved. 

“We enjoy it every time we come to New Providence,” said Shining Stars Network’s Mike Curci. “The energy from the crowd during our halftime game was amazing, and our players definitely fed off of that. They had a great time.  A big thank you to everyone at New Providence High School for continuing to spread the word and highlighting the special needs community on this very special night.”

“Tonight is always our favorite night of the year,” noted Director of Athletics Vinny Corangelo. “Spread the Word is such a phenomenal movement and we’re happy just to be a small part of it, and getting to share it three straight years with the Shining Stars is really special for the New Providence community and the Berkeley Heights community.” The Shining Stars Ambassadors then enjoyed the incredible varsity game —  a five-overtime thriller won by New Providence to clinch the conference championship. It capped an an amazing night of basketball, inclusion, friendship and good will. “There were hot shooters all over the floor tonight,” added Corangelo. “Certainly the Shining Stars Ambassadors were no exception at halftime. In a five overtime game, I think it was loudest at halftime getting to watch the Shining Stars play, which was great. The talent on the floor of the Ambassadors is always jaw-dropping. The fans absolutely love it.” 

Cranford Rotary Club Golf Outing to Raise Funds for Shining Stars

Cranford Rotary President Jamie Miller with Shining Stars President Mike Curci

Shining Stars Network has been named by the Cranford Rotary Club as the primary beneficiary of their annual golf fundraiser for 2019 to be held on Monday, May 20, 2019 at the Echo Lake Country Club in Westfield “We are honored that the Rotary Club of Cranford has selected our organization to be their main recipient this year,” said Shining Stars President Mike Curci.

The Rotary is a wonderful organization that does so many great things for the community. This will help us to continue  our mission of creating opportunities for the special needs community in our area.” The outing will also benefit the Cranford Rotary Scholarship fund, which provides scholarships to Cranford residents graduating high school based upon their service to the community. 

Shining Stars Network is a 501(c)(3) non profit that shine the light on the special needs community through the performing arts, sports and other events. Their annual “Evening of Shining Stars” talent show will be held for the second consecutive year at the Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway on Friday, May 3, 2019 at 7:00pm. Tickets are on sale now at www.UCPAC.org/events

Ambassadors vs. Cranford PBA March 15

One of the most exciting basketball games of the season is coming to Cranford on Friday night, March 15th, when the Shining Stars Ambassadors special needs basketball team takes on the Cranford PBA in a charity fundraiser.

The fun and excitement will begin at 7:00 pm at the Cranford High School lower gym. Suggested admission fee is $5. Admission is free for all special needs individuals. 

The Ambassadors are part of Shining Stars Network, a registered 501(c)3 non profit which creates events to shine the light on the special needs community. Shining Stars is well-known for their annual “Evening of Shining Stars” talent show. Now in its 8th year, the 2019 show — which will take place on Friday, May 3rd — will feature music from Broadway and movies. Rehearsals are in full swing for “The Greatest Show” and the cast is as excited as ever to perform for the second time at the beautiful and historic Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway, where over 1,000 audience members watched last year’s extravaganza.

To buy your tickets to “An Evening of Shining Stars”, go to UCPAC.org/events, find the Shining Stars logo and select your seats.

To advertise in the show program, email shiningstarsnetwork@gmail.com. And you can get a sneak peak of the show when the “stars” perform at halftime of the Ambassadors game.

For more information on Shining Stars Network, email shiningstarsnetwork@gmail.com

Ambassadors and Oceanport PBA Enjoy Great Night

The Shining Stars Ambassadors —  a special needs traveling basketball team that plays area first responders were in town to play the Oceanport PBA — not only to have some fun on the court, but to build friendship and understanding. Presented by Shining Stars Network — a non profit dedicated to shining the light on the special needs community through the performing arts and sports — those in attendance were treated to a game that featured some great plays and teamwork.

The Ambassadors faced the PBA in the first half, before both teams were combined in the second half so everyone could get to know each other better. “Everyone had a wonderful time,” noted Shining Stars Network President and Monmouth Park  television host Mike Curci, who along with his wife Sally, are the driving force behind the organization. “The Oceanport police were amazing, immediately making our team feel at home. Our thanks to Mayor Jay Coffey the Oceanport Boro Council, Police chief Mike Kelly and the Oceanport PBA for making this such a memorable event.” 

The players took the floor after a stirring rendition of The Star Spangled Banner by Ambassador Brian McAuliffe. Mayor Coffey, an avid basketball fan and referee, officiated the contest and once again came away impressed with the impact the night had on everyone involved. “I had the privilege of reffing the game that the Super Bowl and World Series have and then some,” said Mayor Coffey. “I can’t imagine a more rewarding, uplifting and illuminating game has ever been played on that court. Our police officers are actually pretty good basketball players, but their hardwood skills pale in comparison to their collective compassion, grace and humanity. We are blessed to have them protecting our boro. The Shining Stars Ambassadors played their hearts out from the opening whistle and both teams played the game with ear-to-ear smiles on their faces.” 

At halftime, there was also a dance party that got the crowd involved. There are plans already in the works for the Ambassadors to return for another game. “Everybody who watched the game from the stands (including, incredibly, Monmouth Beach legends Ernie Brina and Dickie Keller) couldn’t help but smile and be uplifted by what was happening on and off the court. We’re going to schedule another game in the near future and Oceanport should turn out in great numbers to support the next one. Big thank you’s to Mike Curci of Shining Stars Network for allowing us all to be part of this. Chief Mike “3 seconds” Kelly and P.O. John “Gimme the Damn Ball” Weir for coordinating everything. and Mike Fagliarone, Micky Perulli, Greg Lauretta, Dan Petrocelli, Nike Chenoweth and Chuck Svenson for playing so well and giving the Shining Stars Ambassadors a night they will never forget.” 

“This was great for not only us and the police department but the community as a whole in Oceanport to have the Shining Stars Ambassadors come here and show their stuff,” noted Oceanport Police Chief Mike Kelly. “They’re a great team, great athleticism. It brought the community together, very special.” 

“It was a great experience, can’t wait to do it again,” said police officer John Weir, who was instrumental in organizing the event. “Amazing athletes and amazing people with the organization. It was just a great time. You get so much out of it knowing how much joy they get out of the game.” 

“It was awesome, It was unbelievable, a lot of fun.” said police officer Mike Fagliarone. “I can’t even put into words. I think it helps bring awareness, it helps bring understanding and cameraderie. It helps build team and friendships.” 

All proceeds go to Shining Stars Network, a 501(c)(3) non profit that shines the light on the special needs community by creating events in the performing arts, sports and more. One of their big events is “An Evening of Shining Stars” — an annual talent show which features 35 special needs cast members — and last year, drew an audience of more than 1,000. This year’s show will take place on Friday May 3, 2019 at the Union County Performing Arts Center.  

“The show will feature our cast singing and dancing to songs from Broadway and movies,” added Curci, “Their performances are truly amazing and we are inspired every day by their talent and preparation. We hope to bring our talent show to the Monmouth County area sometime this year.” 

As for the Ambassadors, they can’t wait for a return match against the PBA.  “As soon as the final buzzer sounded, we were making plans for another game,” added Mike Curci. “Inclusion is a big part of what Shining Stars is about, and we can’t thank Oceanport enough for allowing us to share our mission.” 

3rd annual Camp Shine Set for August

Camp Shine — a performing arts special needs camp for ages 10 and up  — is set for August 19-30 at the Fanwood Presbyterian Church in Fanwood. Camp Shine is a theater camp for individuals with special needs which  increases self-confidence through the performing arts. It is a two week camp which shines a spotlight on the special needs community and is culminated with a performance showcase. The camp focuses on team building, social skills and positivity though acting, singing and dancing. “The camp is designed to not only teach the performing arts, but to also build self esteem and self confidence,” noted founder and co-director Sally Curci. “All campers have individual acts as well as being a part of the group numbers, which promotes teamwork. It’s a fun two weeks.” The camp culminates with a show — where the performers take the stage in front of an audience.  For more information, email shiningstarsnetwork@gmail.com


NJ Hawks Play at Rutgers

The New Jersey Hawks Special Olympics basketball team — representing the High Expectations organization — had the honor of playing at halftime of the Rutgers-Nebraska men’s basketball game at the Rutgers Athletic Center. The Hawks entertained the crowd and took photos with the Scarlet Knight mascot. It was a great “knight” for all!!