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Paper Mill Playhouse unveils season

Schedule includes 'Happy Days,' 'Miracle Worker'

Paper Mill Playhouse, the New Jersey regional that teetered on the verge of shuttering throughout the spring, has recovered enough to announce a 2007-08 season.

Slate, heavy on familiar crowd-pleasers plus a tuner that capitalizes on a well-known TV show, aims to attract the auds that had been turned off in recent seasons by newer, untested offerings such as “Romance/Romance” and “Harold & Maude.”

Sked for 2007-08 kicks off with “Happy Days: The Musical” (Sept. 26-Oct. 28), the tuner version of the 1970s sitcom adapted by skein creator Garry Marshall. Tuner played Chi in 2006; new production will bow in August at the Goodspeed in Connecticut before it hits Paper Mill.

Season continues with legit stalwarts “Meet Me in St. Louis” (Nov. 7-Dec. 16), “The Miracle Worker” (Jan. 23-Feb. 24), “Steel Magnolias” (March 5-April 6), “Kiss Me, Kate” (April 16-May 18) and “Little Shop of Horrors” (June 4-July 6).

Located about half an hour’s drive from Gotham in Millburn, N.J., Paper Mill went public in April with financial woes brought about in part by a longstanding shortage of contributed income. In addition, season subscribers had fallen to 19,500, down from 40,000 in 1990.

In recent weeks aid came in the form of a $3.5 million loan from Investors Savings Bank, as well as the donation of costumes, props and other production items from the Goodspeed to keep Paper Mill’s current offering “Pirates!” on its performance schedule.

According to managing director Diane Claussen, the theater’s leadership is working on a plan for survival that includes partnerships with other nonprofits and community orgs, as well as production enhancement from commercial producers. “Happy Days” is eyeing a commercial tour for 2008.

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