State Theatre New Jersey

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Share Your Story: Eileen Harkins

Pictured above: Eileen Harkins (at right) with State Theatre Executive Assistant Marlene Canavera at the State Theatre New Jersey 2019 Benefit Gala. ©Jeffrey Auger

Throughout its long history, State Theatre New Jersey has become not only a landmark in the city of New Brunswick, but also a landmark in the lives of Middlesex County residents. Their memories of the theatre stretch back many years and even decades—encompassing memorable shows and matinees; friendships made backstage and among the audience; and the pure delight that live performance can bring.

Eileen Harkins grew up in New Brunswick in the 1960s and fondly recalls joining her friends at STNJ for the noon matinee. The cost? Fifty cents.

“Seeing a movie on a big screen with so many kids around was really fun, and of course, the popcorn made the movies so much better,” Harkins remembered.

At that time, the State Theatre was operated by the film distribution company Radio-Keith Orpheum, as RKO State Theatre, and showed many hits of the 1960s, including That Touch of Mink (1962) starring Cary Grant and Doris Day; West Side Story (1961), starring Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer; and Planet of the Apes (1968), starring Charlton Heston.

Newspaper ad for West Side Story
Ad from 1968 issue of The Daily Home News
 

As an adult, Harkins continues to attend the theatre, making friends with audience and staff members alike. Several performances she attended at STNJ hearkened back to the shows and music of her teenage years, including the 2010 performance of Jesus Christ Superstar. Harkins saw the original rock opera on Broadway in 1971, and the STNJ performance was "just as good as it was in 1971, if not better," she said. "The State Theatre does a fantastic job of ensuring their audience reaps the full benefit of a play that is based on history. You actually felt like you were part of the cast at the end of the performance."

She felt the same after the STNJ performance of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical in November 2019. "For any girl that was a teenager in the 1970s, rest assured, she knew all of the words to Carole’s album, Tapestry," Harkins remembered. "My friends and I all agreed that at the end of the show, we felt like Carole King was standing on stage and singing her songs directly to each one of us individually."

The 2018 touring performance of The Wizard of Oz was a particular standout. When Dorothy uttered her famous line—“There’s no place like home”—Harkins was moved to tears. She thought back on her many visits to the State Theatre and remembered the delightful hours she'd spent in the auditorium, enjoying performances with friends. “At that particular moment," she explained, "I felt that the State Theatre was home and family to me as well."

Group of poeple standing in front of a State Theatre banner
Eileen is pictured above second from left at The Wizard of Oz Pride Night Party in 2018
 

Across all these experiences, what stands out most is the “Cloud 9 feeling” in the air after the curtain call and inevitable standing ovation: “Once a show has ended, the audience is filled with sheer and utter delight,” especially since the shows at the State Theatre are of “Broadway caliber,” she recalled. “It simply means: Another job well done by the State Theatre.”

What’s more, Harkins feels confident that the audiences of the next 50 years at State Theatre will feel the same way. “People will look back at today’s performances at the State and will agree—there’s no place like the State Theatre.”

Do you have a State Theatre memory or story you'd like to share? We'd love to hear it! As we commemorate State Theatre's 100th anniversary in 2021, we're collecting personal stories related to STNJ—share your State Theatre story here.
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