We are kicking off our yearlong celebration by collecting and sharing personal stories related to the State Theatre from patrons, donors, staff, community leaders, and more.
You can share your own story by submitting it using the form below. You can also upload photos—and you might see your story featured on our social media channels, in commemoration of State Theatre's anniversary in 2021! You can also share your story on social media directly using #STNJ100
I am proud to say that I am now in my seventh decade of involvement with the State Theatre. In the 1960s, I remember paying only 25 cents to see a movie, and I was always wowed by the experience. I will never forget coming back to State Theatre in 1975 to see a closed-circuit presentation of Muhammad Ali fighting Joe Frazier. Not only was the “Thrilla from Manila” memorable, but even more so was my profound disappointment in seeing how the once glorious movie palace had fallen into such a state of disrepair. I’m sure that there was discussion of tearing the building down at that time. In the 1990s, I was a part of around 20 enthusiastic young adults volunteering to raise awareness of STNJ, organize events like foot races, and raise money for renovations. Most recently, as a member of the Next Stage Campaign Committee, I am thrilled to be able to help State Theatre achieve this important round of renovations. It was with great pride that I spoke with my dear friend Betty Wold Johnson about the project, and I am so happy that she was able to contribute generously before she passed away last year.
Pictured from left: Micky Landis, Betty Wold Johnson, and Bob Campbell
—Ann Marie Briscese
One of my fondest memories of having been a patron of the State Theatre was when Patti LuPone performed on stage. She was and is a luminous star. No matter where you sat in the theater, she reached out to you. She is a phenomenal performer. Hopefully she'll be back again soon. It will be a wonderful thing to see her again in person at the State Theatre, once COVID 19 is no longer among us.
Having been a supporting photographer for the State Theatre for many years, I have been fortunate to have been able to capture some truly amazing shows. Many times I have to remind myself to peek out from behind the camera to fully appreciate everything what is going on around me. There are shows I may not have chosen to see and then was blown away by what I saw. There have been shows that just reminded you of music from past generations that just never gets old. Then there are the moments that you have to pause and say to yourself….WOW! When I read that the legend himself, Tony Bennett, was going to be performing and that I was going to get the chance to photograph him…that was definitely one of those moments. After an incredible show of just taking over the theater and mesmerizing the audience I went backstage for a quick meet and greet with some of the theater’s staff and donors. Standing in the green room feeling a little nervous because it’s….TONY BENNETT. As the donors and staff gathered, Tony entered the room with that smile we have all become accustomed to seeing. One by one introductions were made and handshakes exchanged. In moments like this, I try to blend into the background and let those in the room enjoy the moment. But just at that moment, Mr. Bennett made his way through the group and reached out to me and said, “I just want to make sure I say hello to the photographer.” It was a brief moment but such a classy gesture from one of true legends of our time. So many highlights during my time at STNJ but that certainly will be one that always stands out above the rest. Photo © Jeffrey Auger
The Busch family has been attending events at the State Theatre for over 70 years. Born in New Brunswick, my husband Mark Busch saw films like South Pacific at the theater in the '50s. Later, as a married couple, we attended classical music concerts and many more evenings of memorable performances. For 17 years, the Smart Talk series presented more than 85 remarkable women who led unique lives to largely female, sold-out and chattering audiences. The Education Department offers fantastic theater experiences to New Jersey school students from around the state. We loved meeting Benefit Gala celebrities in the Green Room after their standing ovations. In March 1996, the Smothers Brothers brought laughter and witty songs to 1700 people. The majority of the crowd wore tuxedos and evening dresses to the theater and to the Hyatt Regency dinner-dance after the show. We are proud and grateful that our community supports a nationally-ranked, known and respected cultural institution in our own backyard.
I saw tons of great movies and shows and heard great music from 1970 through 1990 at State Theatre New Jersey. I also worked off-duty Police details, one where an officer from a different department brought his son to a performance of Sesame Street Live. The kid was wild, so he bought him a Sesame banner. The boy ripped off the banner and ran around waving the stick that the banner had been attached to. (Most recently, I’ve been to concerts featuring The Beach Boys and The Temptations and The Four Tops.)
Pictured above: The Temptations in 2018 at the State Theatre. Photo © Mary A. Brown
The first stage show I ever saw was Fiddler on the Roof at State Theatre New Jersey in 2004. I saw it for my 6th birthday with my mom, grandparents, and cousins. I really don’t remember much from that day, but I know seeing that show began my lifelong love of theater, and of Fiddler on the Roof. If I had a nickel for every time I watched the 1971 movie after seeing the live performance, I’d surely be “a rich man!” Seventeen years later, I will be graduating college with a B.F.A. in production design for themed entertainment and finishing my internship at State Theatre. I am so grateful for State Theatre’s influence on my life, and I can’t wait to see how it will continue to grow and enrich even more lives in its next 100 years!
Student prices for movies back in the '60s were 30 cents. I remember going to see The Absent Minded Professor. The line was down the block and around the corner about 150 kids in line. My dad double-parked the car, folded up a dollar bill small, and took us right past the line on the other side to where the young teen ticket taker stood, handed him the bill and said "Is this the right ticket?" Teen looked at it, took the dollar, nodded and said "yes sir" to my dad and let me and my buddy Greg right in ahead of the line. (He used to be a ticket-taker.) Smooth move, Dad.
—John Heldrich, Jr.
—Anne Otterbein Lyman
St. Peter's High School Class of '74 performed their musical Mame at the State Theatre. I remember backstage in the tiny dressing rooms, and singing and dancing on the huge stage! It is a wonderful memory after all these years. Even though we didn't get to finish out the 2019-2020 Broadway series, the shows we were able to attend were spectacular! I invited my friend that I've know since we met in college in the 1970s to see Beautiful. My co-teacher joined me for Jersey Boys. It was his first time at the State Theatre, and he was thoroughly impressed, as was I.
I enjoyed serving on State Theatre New Jersey’s Board of Trustees from its earliest days as a non-profit through to 2016. My wife Betty and I attended many performances over the years. We enjoyed all genres: classical music, popular music, Broadway shows, dance, comedy, and family programming with our children and grandchildren. It was a favorite tradition of ours to attend Salute to Vienna every New Year’s Eve from 2012 to 2015. We would always go with at least one other couple, having dinner at an area restaurant before the show, and then attending the show and still getting home at a reasonable hour, avoiding any New Year’s Eve shenanigans on the roads. It was a very pleasant way to spend the evening. One of my funniest memories was seeing Tom Jones in 2009. More than a few women threw their panties onto the stage at him! They didn’t do that for Johnny Mathis in 2008 or 2012, Frankie Valli in 2014, Brian Wilson in 2015, or Martin Short in 2016!
Pictured above: Andy and Betty Markey in the Green Room with Johnny Mathis in 2008.
April 16, 2019 was a special time to photograph the enthusiastic crowd waiting in line to see The Price is Right at the State Theatre. Theater goers were filled with excitement and high hopes of being selected to go on stage. Special messages of “Spin to Win,” “ I’m Not Always Right, but I’m Never Wrong,” “Here with the Crew, to See Drew,” and “Pick Me, Pick Me, It’s My Birthday,” were a few of the many slogans printed on colorful t-shirts. One of the most touching moments was being able to capture the excitement of Maria and Claire and theater goers in the background. When Claire learned that I was photographing the event, she ran from the front of the crowd to be in the picture and was hugging strangers along the way.
—John Heldrich, Jr.
My parents, John and Regina Heldrich, were always passionate about improving and providing for the New Brunswick area before they passed in 2014. Over the course of many decades, they generously supported Rutgers University (my dad’s alma mater), Douglass College (my mom’s alma mater), Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, The Heldrich Center, St. Paul the Apostle Church, St. Peter's University Hospital and other worthy organizations in the area. There was a special place in their hearts for State Theatre New Jersey. Witnessing State Theatre evolve provided enormous pleasure to both of them, and I know they experienced great satisfaction seeing their vision of making State Theatre New Jersey THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN of New Brunswick a reality.
Pictured above: John and Regina Heldrich in State Theatre's Heldrich Room for the 2006 Gala.
—John Heldrich, Jr.
State Theatre New Jersey has been a cherished part of my life for over 30 years. My late husband, Mike, and I attended many galas with our dear friends, the Paszamants. We always enjoyed dressing up and honoring the theater. My favorite event ever was the 2017 Women's History Month Tea catered by Teaberry’s on stage. I loved the musical program and The Tea (a veritable feast), and I have been to Teaberry’s a few times since then with my lady friends. When my granddaughters were young (they are now 30 and 32), we attended ALL the children's performances. What a marvelous introduction to the theater. I was actually sad when they outgrew the shows, although we continue to enjoy the State Theatre as a family. Attending musicals with my daughter, her husband and my dear friend Rita P. has been a lovely experience: a night out, dinner and a show...what could be better? My all-time favorite shows are Jesus Christ Superstar and Fiddler on the Roof. We thought Jersey Boys was better at the State Theatre than in New York City! I have been a member of the President's Council for many years. Since I have lived in New Brunswick since 1964, I also remember attending movies at the theater.
Pictured clockwise from left: Rona Solberg, Frankie Busch, Susan Darien, and State Theatre Poet-in-Residence Glenis Redmond at the 2017 Women's Tea. ©Nancy Swolensky
I have enjoyed working in security for State Theatre since 2014, and was stunned to discover that my great grandfather, a vaudevillian named George Cunningham, performed here in December 1922 with his troupe, The Come Backs. My personal favorite story took place on May 13, 2015, at the Crosby, Stills and Nash concert. I was posted in front of the stage, at the end of the aisle, facing the audience. The instructions were for me to stay there until the last three songs, at which time the audience would be invited to dance in front of the stage, and I could move aside. After the second or third song, though, a co-worker rushed down to me and instructed me to quickly move to the side. “Move, Move, Move!” he said urgently. Apparently, stage lights, reflecting off my bald head (a family trait that I share with my great grandfather), was distracting Stephen Stills. He requested that I be moved immediately. After the show, when our head (no pun intended) of security spoke to Mr. Stills, it was determined my dome “was shining like a beacon.”
After seeing it many times as a child, I got to perform in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the State Theatre for the last four years (2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019). Those years were filled with so many joyful memories. Performing at STNJ was an amazing experience I will never forget. I made this video in 2019 to celebrate Joseph’s 25th Anniversary »
Pictured above: Kaitlin (center) with Emma McGahan (left) and Neha Patel (right).
March 17, 2019—"My introduction to the State Theatre was in the late 1990's, when longtime supporters Ralph and Barbara Voorhees graciously invited my husband and me to join them at the Benefit Gala. Learning the history of the theatre through their eyes gave me an understanding of the need for and importance of philanthropy, no matter how big or small the gifts. I will be eternally grateful for their guidance and friendship. Through the years, we have been financially able to increase our support, not only through direct donations, but also by introducing our children, and now grandson, to the wonders of the live performing arts. (The Theatre was even a part of our daughter's wedding celebration in 2011.) State Theatre's performances are wonderfully diverse and exciting. We have enjoyed so many entertainers and shows, from Tony Bennett, to celebrating Veteran's Day 2018 with the USAF Heritage Band, to the Monkees, to St. Patrick's Day 2019 with Sir James Galway, to Itzhak Perlman, to my favorite: Diana Ross in 2016. We look forward to enjoying the 'New' State Theatre in 2021!"
My daughter and I love to go to the ballet, just us. We try to catch as many ballets as we can at STNJ—it’s our tradition. I will never forget the first time we saw the Nutcracker together when she was in kindergarten, her first live ballet—she was obviously enthralled but, about 15 minutes in, she asked “Mama, when are they going to start talking?”! Ever since, she has delighted in the volumes spoken by the dance itself.
My daughter Audrey and I love State Theatre New Jersey’s Broadway series and also the classical music presentations. We love visiting NJSO musicians during intermissions! After the Broadway musicals, Audrey insists on meeting the performers in front of the theater. She is non-verbal, but she can say, “Where are the actors?” She is not very patient while we are waiting. During the pandemic, she is desperate to see shows again. Pictured here with cast members from Jersey Boys in 2019.
My motivation to become a Silver Circle member, back in in 2010, was to secure “good” seats to take my then 9-year-old nephew to his first rock concert: Ringo Starr. My nephew was obsessed with The Beatles and had just gotten his first guitar. Imagine the expression on his face when I was able to lead him to our seats in the THIRD ROW!!! We had a great time and it is a special memory I will never forget, thanks to you! I have remained a donor all these years and still love to bring family and friends to the wonderful shows at State Theatre New Jersey.
When I moved to New Jersey 10 years ago I immediately started looking for local theaters. I love plays but not of fan of traveling to Manhattan. I was thrilled to find the State Theatre and have been to many shows. I am also a season ticket holder. When I thought my granddaughter was old enough I bought tickets to take her to her first play. Cinderella, one of my favorites. She was so very excited. We planned it all out. We wore fancy flowing dresses, tiaras, and my husband dropped us off right in front of the theater. He came around and took us out of the car as if he was one of Cinderella's coachman. People weren't sure if we were part of the show. They were curiously watching us. It was a blast and you can see the excitement in her eyes in this picture. And I am happy to say that she's become a lover of the theater like her Nana. We go to plays regularly and cannot wait for this pandemic to be over so we can come back again.
I grew up in New Brunswick, and during the 1960s, I went to the State Theatre almost every Saturday with friends to see the 12:00 matinees for 50 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. Watching a theatrical production of The Wizard of Oz almost 50 years later definitely brought me back to my happy place from my childhood, which is the State Theatre. (Eileen is pictured above second from left at The Wizard of Oz Pride Night Party in 2018.)
Over the years, I’ve met such wonderful people from STNJ, not only staff, but audience members as well. Many people have the same interests in shows, so the chances you will see the same people at future performances are pretty good. Once a show has ended, after the applause and standing ovation, the audience is filled with sheer and utter delight. Because the shows are of Broadway caliber, there is a Cloud 9 feeling as the audience exits the theater. This adds to the overall enjoyment of the whole evening’s experience, and it simply means: Another job well done by the State Theatre.
I am a firm believer of history repeating itself. And I would be willing to bet whether it’s next year or in another 50 years, people will look back at today’s performances here and will agree, “There’s no place like the State Theatre.” And whether it’s The Wizard of Oz or the State Theatre, you know there will always be a happy ending. I am so grateful and thankful to be able to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of this legendary and iconic venue.
For me, the State Theatre means so many things. It started in 2008, when my employer Magyar Bank purchased tickets for families from a local Mexican organization to attend a performance by the State Symphony Orchestra of Mexico. Since then, I have enjoyed many events at the State Theatre including concerts like Thalia and the Mambo Kings, receptions, networking events, community events for a good cause, as well as our annual Magyar shareholder meeting. In 2013, my boss gifted the bank branch managers tickets so that we could accompany him to the The Price is Right live event. That was such a great Christmas gift, we had so much fun. Now, I am on the State Theatre’s Latino Community Engagement Committee and the theater has become like a second home to me.
I was 11-years-old in 1968 when the original Planet of the Apes film with Charlton Heston played at the State Theatre. I went with a few of my friends and knew nothing about the film except for the previews I had seen on TV. The ending caught me completely off guard. Being a big fan of The Twilight Zone, the Planet of the Apes ending felt eerily familiar as we exited the darkened theater with eyes squinting against the bright afternoon sun. It wasn't until years later that I discovered that Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame wrote the screenplay for this Planet of the Apes film. Years later I now enjoy going to the State Theatre to see popular rock bands. Every time I go there for an event I still reminisce about that Saturday afternoon seeing Planet of the Apes, one of my all time favorite movies.
In December of 2011 when The Beach Boys performed at the State Theatre, I was lucky enough to receive front row tickets to this especially exciting performance because John Stamos joined The Beach Boys for the show! As part of my front row ticket experience, I was invited to attend a pre-show Meet & Greet. While all the band members were very gracious and nice, I particularly had a wonderful conversation with Mike Love. During the performance while singing "Barbara Ann," a few audience members were invited on-stage to sing backup, and when Mike Love saw me sitting in the front row, he pointed at me and gestured for me to come onstage too. I was hoisted onto the stage by one of the security guards, and the guitarist then proceeded to place his guitar over my shoulders and play while I danced in front of him. It was completely unexpected, but a memory that I will forever cherish. I love that STNJ is able to make so many unforgettable experiences possible for so many people!
Since as early as I can remember, I always loved live theater. I am thankful that my parents have always taken me to see shows. Since I live in Monmouth County, the State Theatre is where I have gone to see shows like Sesame Street Live and Joseph the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. As a professional child actor, I was lucky to be cast in the Broadway national tour of The King and I, playing Louis. I was so happy to learn that the tour would stop so close to my home at the State Theatre! In December of 2018, I had my “homecoming” after being on the road. It was great to know the audience was filled with my friends and family! It was so special to be performing on a stage so close to my house that I have visited to see other shows since I was a little kid.
—Bob and Joan Campbell
For many families, State Theatre New Jersey is a beloved venue and the location of traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation. Longtime State Theatre patrons Bob and Joan Campbell are a testament to that. Joan grew up in the area, and in 1952, the Campbells had their first unchaperoned date at a Friday Night Movie at State Theatre, where they sat in the balcony. More dates followed, and they always returned to the balcony. They married in 1956. As they built their family, they brought their children to State Theatre New Jersey to the enjoy live performances through the years. Their youngest, Kathleen, even performed on the State Theatre stage, playing the role of the Narrator in the beloved annual production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat from 1999-2004. Bob and Joan’s devotion to the State Theatre New Jersey has never waned, and upon the Theatre’s 100th anniversary in 2021, the balcony of the newly renovated State Theatre will be named The Joan and Robert Campbell Balcony in their honor.
As a child, I actually performed at the State Theatre! I remember: it was 1972 and I was 12 years old. I was in the baton twirling club and we performed in an arts festival on the State Theatre stage. I wore a full white leotard. Years later, when I worked for Johnson & Johnson, I found myself organizing the annual J&J stockholders meeting. I was backstage, near the dressing rooms, and I had a flashback to 1972 and my baton twirling instructor telling me where to stand and what to do. It was a déjà vu moment. I'll always remember that day. (Linda Piscadlo and Bob Tami pictured backstage with Kool & The Gang at the State Theatre New Jersey 2018 Benefit Gala. ©Jeffrey Auger)
I’ve been bringing my daughter, Liz, to State Theatre New Jersey ever since she was three-years-old, and now she’s 27. I remember distinctly the first show we saw together. It was an adaptation of Winnie the Pooh on January 12, 1997 performed by a theater for the Deaf, and it was mesmerizing. Every character signed his or her lines, and also had a counterpart on stage who spoke the lines for those of us who did not understand American Sign Language. The only character who did not have any spoken lines was Pooh. Seeing the characters sign never even phased little Liz. She, my husband, and I were sitting in the balcony, house left, just behind the balcony rail. Liz sat transfixed, almost leaning over the rail. We had to hold on to her, to make sure she didn’t fall. When the show was over, all Liz could do was say, “Again!” I had to explain to her that this was not a video that I could just play over again! It was an inspiring introduction to the performing arts that neither of us will ever forget. We return to the State Theatre every chance we get.
—Evelyn Rosa, Director of the Middlesex County College New Brunswick Center and member of State Theatre’s Latino Community Engagement Program
The first time that I brought the Middlesex County College E.M.P.O.W.E.R. students to the State Theatre was for the Scientists Exploring the Arts program. It was the first year we started the college mentoring program and it was great to bring both college and high school students—who were science majors or considering a science—to an arts experience with dinner and a show. After that, our students began volunteering each year for STNJ’s big Family Day, which was a lot of fun for them. One of the most heartfelt experiences for me because of the collective work, was working in partnership with State Theatre, the city of New Brunswick and PRAB, the lead agency organizing the Juntos Together initiative. It was a documentary screening at the State Theatre and a community fundraiser to support the rebuilding of homes of first responders in Puerto Rico after the damage from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
For years, I have been attending the Broadway tours that play at State Theatre New Jersey. I've noticed that members of the creative teams of the musicals that come to New Brunswick will often take a trip out to State Theatre to see the show in action; in some cases, this is the first time they may be seeing the tour's cast that we are seeing. One day in March 2017, when the national tour of the Broadway revival of Pippin was playing at State Theatre, I was sitting on the bench in front of the theater, as I often do, and I noticed someone with a familiar face walk past, but I couldn't place him. It was only later, while we were both seated in the orchestra waiting for the show to start, that I realized that face belonged to Stephen Schwartz, who in 1972 wrote the music and lyrics to Pippin, along with a host of Disney films and numerous other Broadway musicals during his long career, including the 2003 hit Wicked. He seemed to be really enjoying the show, and I couldn't help but ask him for a photo at intermission. He seemed genuinely surprised that he was recognized on a night out at the theater in New Jersey, but he gladly posed for a photo.
I met my husband Joshua in October 1999 at an historic theater in Columbus, Georgia, where I was the Marketing Assistant. He was an actor from New York performing at the theater. After dating for several months, I found myself job hunting in New Jersey and soon moved north to be closer to him. In 2001, I was hired as a Marketing Communications Specialist by the State Theatre and fell in love with the beautiful building. It reminded me so much of the theater where Josh and I had met, that when he proposed, we knew exactly where we would be married. The ceremony was held in the second-floor Heldrich Room on November 3, 2002. Since then, I have been lucky enough to work at this wonderful theater that I consider my home. Our two sons were born in New Brunswick and have been raised here, from enjoying Milk & Cookies events and seeing Thomas the Tank Engine Live to programming such as RENT and Chicago. I've loved watching the theater change through the years and can't wait to see what it has in store for my family in the future.
Immediately following his first performance at State Theatre New Jersey in 2013, Peter Noone from the popular '60s band Herman’s Hermits was scheduled to sign autographs in the lobby, where I was a volunteer usher. However, once he was in position, he realized that he had no pen, and a crowd was gathering. His manager asked me if I had a pen. I got so excited that I put my arms straight out with my palms facing him and yelled, “Stay there!” I then ran like a maniac upstairs to the ushers’ room, dumped out the contents of my purse, grabbed a pen and ran downstairs. (From left: Toni Unger and Diane Palmer at Boyz II Men in February, 2020)
Donna Walcott's most memorable symphony experience was a concert at the State Theatre on April 25, 2001. It was the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conducted by Yuri Teminkanov. The soloist was an unknown 17 year old Chinese pianist named Lang Lang playing Grieg's Piano Concert. When he finished, the entire audience leapt to their feet as if there were springs in their seats. Lang Lang was very shy and spoke little English. He took curtain calls but kept trying to leave the stage. The conductor stayed in the background but kept pushing Lang Lang back for additional curtain calls. (From left: Midge Golin, Donna Walcott, and Joan Campbell at the 2018 President's Council Dinner ©Mary Brown)
State Theatre was built in 1921 as a silent film and vaudeville palace. Recognizing the historic significance of the theater, PBS honored State Theatre New Jersey by featuring it in its documentary series, Treasures of New Jersey, in the fall of 2018. Treasures of New Jersey: State Theatre New Jersey can be streamed here. Today, State Theatre is the largest performing arts center in Central New Jersey and has welcomed over 5.9 million people through its doors since reopening as a non-profit performing arts center in 1988. The State Theatre is a cornerstone of the cultural vitality of Middlesex County, and averages a total economic impact on New Brunswick and the surrounding area of more than $18 million a year. The mainstage programs have featured high-caliber artists such as Diana Ross, Tony Bennett, Kevin Hart, Ringo Starr, Melissa Etheridge, John Leguizamo, Harry Connick, Jr., Diana Krall, and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Program offerings include Broadway, orchestra, family, dance, comedy, rock/pop, jazz, Performances for Schools, and Sensory-Friendly Performances.
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At State Theatre New Jersey