Almost any late summer afternoon (except for Sunday), you’ll find a line of people carrying lawn chairs waiting to get into the theater in Roosevelt Park, Edison, home of Plays in the Park (PIP). For a $5 admission (free for children under 12, and $4 for senior citizens) they get treated to performances of musicals from the finest community theater group in New Jersey. The performances are so good that on two nights last year, almost the whole audience of 2,000 sat in a steady rain to watch the second act of "Footloose."
PIP is a division of the Middlesex County Department of Recreation and since 1963 it has been presenting shows in Roosevelt Park. Since 1978 shows have been performed in the Capestro Amphitheater, which has a covered stage. Renovations starting at the end of this summer will add a covered area for the musicians, professional quality dressing rooms, rehearsal space, costumes and scenery building space, and a new sound system, and eliminate the lighting towers, which obscure sight lines in some places.
Although the actors are volunteers, the musicians and production staff are professional. As with professional productions, rehearsals start only six weeks before the show opens and are held for five or six days a week. PIP’s reputation attracts actors from all over the state. In last summer’s production of "Footloose" actors commuted to Edison for rehearsals from Clinton, Wayne, Succasunna, Colts Neck, Hightstown, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. The casts often feature young aspiring professionals and recent graduates of such prominent schools as the Boston Conservatory and the Westminster Conservatory.
PIP is easy to find, a scant 20 miles north of Princeton, just off Route 1. performances start at 8:30 p.m, and patrons (with their chairs, which are necessary) are admitted starting at 5:30 p.m. It’s first come first served (there are a small number of reserved seats for handicapped patrons). There are concession stands with food and merchandise, and a large building with restrooms. Large parking areas are adjacent to the theater (though there can be parking problems if there have been heavy rains, in which case patrons can park in the adjacent Menlo Park Mall). As with any summer outdoor activity after dark, protection against mosquitoes (and other annoying bugs) is recommended.
In the fall PIP presents a children’s musical in its black box theater/rehearsal space, and in December they present a winter show (for the last nine years it has been "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat") at the State Theater in New Brunswick.
This summer’s season concludes with "Aida," the Tim Rice/Elton John musical, July 20 through 30; and "Dreamgirls," August 10 through August 20. "Aida" is a contemporary pop-rock musical take on the classic tale of the love between a soldier and an enslaved princess, which ultimately trnascends the vast cultural differences between two warring nations. "Dreamgirls", loosely based on the history of the Motown group, The Supremes, follows the story of an African American, all-girl singing trio from Chicago called the Dream, who become music superstars. For more information on PIP visit www.playsinthepark.com.
Victor Miller, a research mathematician working in Princeton,is very active in Community theater, having appeared in 17 productions. In the summer of 2004 he appeared as "Principal Clark" in the PIP production of "Footloose."