In the 1920s, vaudevillian theaters were all the rage in the United States, and numerous theaters popped up throughout the country. These theaters were the home of cultural performances and community events, yet many of them suffered during the rise of talking pictures and again with the competition of cinema multiplexes. However, those that have survived or have been rejuvenated are seeing an influx of visitors interested in watching and learning about the performing arts. These are New Jersey’s most notable venues to watch plays, musicals, and live performances.
The Edison Valley Playhouse was first established in 1895, and is a beautiful red building with striking historic architecture. It has served as a venue for live entertainment as well as performing arts education. It continues to show performances including frequent Coffee House Comedy variety shows.
The State Theatre is a vaudevillian and silent film theater opened in 1921. In 2004, this already beautiful theater underwent renovations and restorations to improve New Jersey’s second largest theater. Enter the gilded interior, sit down on a red velvet seat, and enjoy a concert, musical, ballet, or children’s theater.
This French Revival theater was opened in May 1926 to showcase vaudeville theater to local visitors. The front features eye-catching neon lights and the interior is intricately designed with murals and red velvet curtains. Still in-use today, it features concerts and children’s performances.
This historic theater was opened in 1922 and has had numerous stars gracing its stage since. Its fantastic design encouraged Broadway producers to test performances here prior to their release in New York City and it is still appreciated for its excellent acoustics. Due to its great preservation, The Strand has been included on the National Register of Historic Places and has recently been restored. The schedule is packed with numerous events and activities.
Established in 1926, the Count Basie Theatre has seen numerous stars, such as Art Garfunkel, praise the stage. Though originally opened as Reade’s Carlton, the name of the theater was changed to honor a famous local musician, Count Basie, who performed at JFK’s inauguration. This theatre is also on the National Register of Historic Places. Count Basie Theatre currently runs as a non-profit performing arts venue and educational center.
The Brook Arts is the oldest theater in the county and originally opened in 1927 during the height of the popularity of movie palaces. The Brook Arts has remained unchanged (though it has been restored) from its time as a vaudevillian theater and has great acoustics, brilliant chandeliers, and intricate carvings. The theater still shows several original plays and musical performances throughout the year.
The Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theater opened in 1929 and featured stunning interiors with intricately designed carvings and frescoes. The theater was completely refurbished and restored in the 1990s from its severely neglected state. Now, you can see the resorted original chandeliers and the brilliant marquee when shows are performed. The Landmark Loew’s Theater is currently battling to stay open, but their enthusiastic supporters are working to keep the historic theater alive.
The Paper Mill Playhouse’s first life was as a paper mill, but in 1934, the building was purchased and repurposed as a theater. “The Kingdom of God” was the first play to appear on its stage and numerous other plays and musicals were performed for several decades. A fire damaged much of the playhouse in 1980, but it was quickly rebuilt and continues to feature excellent performances today.
Though not originally a theater, the building that houses the Cape May Stage is a beautiful venue and has a long history dating back to 1853, when it was built as a Presbyterian church. In the 1980s, the building was taken over by a theater company and its first play was “The Dorothy Parker Story.” The Cape May Stage still holds numerous plays and the venue creates an intimate atmosphere for viewers.
The McCarter Theatre Center at Princeton University features three gorgeous theaters that are all notable in their own right. But the oldest theatre—opened in 1930—is definitely one to visit, with its 1,000 seats. The Matthews Theater is the main performance hall for the Princeton University Triangle Club.