Remembering Angelo Del Rossi, Paper Mill Playhouse’s Gentleman Executive Producer
By: Ellis Nassour
Beloved gentleman regional theater producer Angelo Del Rossi, who helmed Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ, for 40 years, where he brought it back from a disastrous fire to one of the nation’s largest, most successful, and most respected theatres, died August 30. A star-studded memorial and musical tribute was hosted October 20 on the main stage of the Playhouse by Mr. Del Rossi’s partner husband Per Rasmussen. Hundreds of dedicated subscribers and a roster of theater stars attended to celebrate Mr. Del Rossi’s life and legacy.
Among the Paper Mill veterans of numerous shows paying tribute were Kelli Rabke Agresta, Mary Ellen Ashley, Glory Crampton, Anita Gillette, Judy McLane, Le Roy Reams, Jana Robbins, and Susan Powell. Mark York was music director.
Mr. Del Rossi, who was 80 and a NJ native, studied acting following graduation from Rutgers at NY’s prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse School. Tall and dashing, he appeared in film and TV and Broadway in the early 60s. Switching careers to the other side of the footlights, he joined Paper Mill in 1963. Under his administration, the theater became one of the country’s most acclaimed and successful non-profit regional theatres.
"I was an actor for a number of years," Mr. Del Rossi said in a 1979 New York Times interview, "but acting wasn’t creative enough for me, and so I got a job as casting director and an assistant to Frank Harrington, the Playhouse co-founder."
He quickly moved up the ranks to associate producer. On Mr. Harrington’s death in 1975 he became executive producer, as position he held until 2003. In 2010, the Playhouse belatedly honored him the President Emeritus Award for his years of tireless financial and personal support.
"Angelo was a kind and empathetic leader and a friend to everyone," said Mark. Hoebee, Paper Mill’s producing artistic director. "He was the driving force behind the rebuilding of the playhouse after it was destroyed by a 1980 fire. From there, he continued to capture the attention of leading theater luminaries such as George Abbott, Stephen Sondheim, Maury Yeston, Stephen Schwartz, and Jerry Herman."
Hobee was joined by former NJ Governor Thomas Kean and other dignitaries in paying tribute to Mr. Del Rossi at the memorial.
Mr. Del Rossi’s greatest challenge was rebuilding the Paper Mill. It reopened in 1982, at a cost of $4.5-million pieced together from numerous sources including support from New Jersey, which christened it as "The State Theatre of New Jersey," as a state-of-the-art facility that even Broadway could envy.
Among the lavish hits during Mr. Del Rossi’s time as executive producer were A Chorus Line, Anything Goes, The Baker’s Wife, Carousel, Children of Eden, Crazy for You, Follies, Funny Girl, Gypsy, Jesus Christ Superstar, The King and I, My Fair Lady, Showboat, Victor/Victoria, and You Can’t Take It With You.
The Paper Mill’s proximity to New York helped attract star power. Headliners have included June Allyson, Dana Andrews, Eve Arden, Constance Bennett, Laura Benanti, Betty Buckley, Carol Channing, Kristin Chenoweth, Claudette Colbert, Barbara Cook, , Dom DeLuise, Christine Ebersole, Fabian, Jane Fonda, Arlene Francis, Celeste Holm, George S. Irving, Nick Jonas, Bert Lahr, Beatrice Lillie, Dorothy Louden, Myrna Loy, Lorna Luft, Ann Miller, Liza Minnelli, Estelle Parsons, Bernadette Peters, Lynn Redgrave, Alice Ripley, Cyril Ritchard, Chita Rivera, Tony Roberts, Maureen Stapleton, Patrick Swayze, Betty White, Shelley Winters, and Karen Ziemba.
One of Mr. Del Rossi’s proudest accomplishments was the Paper Mill’s STAR program Susan Speidel as director of education. It was attended by such up and coming stars as Anne Hathaway who went on to appear in New Voices Concerts and mainstage productions of Gigi and, Jane Eyre. Mr. Del Rossi also founded the Theater School at Paper Mill, which now includes programs for children with autism.
In the late 1980s, he started the New Works Initiative, a program that produced new musicals, including Rhythm Ranch, which tells the story of the early years of choreographer/director Susan Stroman, who began her career at Paper Mill.
Del Rossi was a founding member of the National Alliance for Musical Theater and served on the panels of the Opera-Musical Theater program of the National Endowment for the Arts and on its policy and planning committee. A recipient of numerous awards, he was honored by a special resolution by the New Jersey Senate.