Plays-in-the-Park is a government sponsored outdoor amphitheater located in Edison, New Jersey. Middlesex County’s Plays-in-the-Park has been in existence since 1963. Generally, three full-scale musical productions run in the summer, from June to August. In the fall, the theater is transformed into a black box where the annual children’s show takes place; the indoor children’s musical tradition began in 1992. In the winter, Plays-in-the-Park uses the State Theater in New Brunswick, NJ to put on their final show of the season. Plays-in-the-Park has been using the State Theater for their annual production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat since 1994.
In 1963, community theater volunteers contacted the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders asking for financial support in their endeavor to find a space to produce shows in the summer months. With only enough funding budgeted to construct a storage shed, a compromise was met. In the summer, the shed would be used as a theater, and in the winter it would be used for storage. A grove in Roosevelt Park was chosen as the site, and Plays-in-the-Park opened in 1963. Since then, the theater has become an integral part of the community, especially during the summer months. It is now a permanent structure with dressing rooms and a scenic shop.
However, on July 24, 1975, a garbage can fire destroyed the theater during the run of Man of La Mancha. The next day reconstruction began, and mobile trailers were brought in to finish the run of the show and the rest of the season. A new amphitheater, the Stephen J. Capestro Theatre, was opened in 1978 thanks to funding from the County and the Green Acres Commission.
The theater is staffed by working theater professionals and features some of the latest sound and lighting equipment. Since 1978, it is estimated that over one million people have attended Plays-in-the-Park performances.
2017: Legally Blonde, West Side Story, Mary Poppins
2016: The Little Mermaid, Sister Act, South Pacific (musical)
2015: Oklahoma!, Young Frankenstein, Jesus Christ Superstar
2014: Sunset Boulevard (musical), Shrek The Musical, Bye Bye Birdie
Community and Accessibility
Plays-in-the-Park has received attention and praise for its uncharacteristically high quality production values in a community theater setting. It also provides the community with the children’s theater camp, Kids-in-the-Park, every summer. Children ages 8 through 11, generally grades 2 through 5, can participate. In a small-scale amphitheater located in Warren Park, NJ, a total of 250 children attend two workshops and put on performances at the end of the sessions for family and friends. Plays-in-the-Park also has a venerable relationship with the Cerebral Palsy Institute. Before the federal legislation made wheel-chair access mandatory, Plays-in-the-Park’s outdoor setting offered barrier-free entry. Local Senior Citizens and Veterans’ homes are frequent visitors, as are many local families due children being admitted free and to the senior citizen discount. Sign Language Interpretation, Audio Description, Sensory Seminars and Open Captioning are all used at specific performances for every run of a show.
Plays-in-the-Park is located in Roosevelt Park (Edison), at 1 Pine Drive, Edison, NJ, 08837.
Performers and Staff
Many people who got their start at Plays-in-the-Park have gone on to have successful careers in entertainment. Some notable alumni include: Brittany Murphy, Michael Schweikardt (set design for the James Taylor Tour), Timothy Gleason (Phantom of the Opera (1986 musical), Broadway), Amy Toporek (Hairspray (musical), the National Tour), Lorinda Haver (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Broadway), Andrew Hodge (Cats (musical), Tour), Russell Fischer (Jersey Boys, Broadway), Billy Piscopo (Jesus Christ Superstar, Tour), Veronica Kuehn (Mamma Mia (musical), Broadway, Xanadu (musical), Broadway), Susan Santoro (Cats, Broadway, A Chorus Line, Broadway), Coleen Sexton (Jekyll & Hyde, video), Casey Muha (Chicago (musical), Tour, On the Town, Paper Mill Playhouse), and Jenny Hill (Seussical, Broadway, Spamalot, Broadway).
The Producing Director is Gary P. Cohen who has held the position since 1991. Cohen directs the opening show every summer as well as all the October children's musicals, three of which he was authored. Production manager is Michelle Massa who has choreographed the first show each summer since the early 90's and has directed JOSEPH AND THE DREAMCOAT for 17 years. Other permanent staff include David Gridfin, Mike D'Arcy, Roman Klima, Gabby Komleski and Chris Anderson.