Rahway Adds to Its Resume as Hub for the Arts

The arts have been central to Rahway's revitalization plans, and the new Hamilton Stage for the Performing Arts is the newest addition to the city's performing arts scene.

Hamilton Stage, the newest addition to Rahway’s performing arts scene, plans to feature 100 music, dance and dramatic presentations in its first season.
Photo by Camara Edwards/Visual Manifest Media.

In its heyday, the city of Rahway manufactured everything from carriages to chemicals. But after World War II, the factories started to shut down, jobs were lost and the town struggled for decades to find its economic footing.

In recent years, the arts have been central to the city’s revitalization plans, as highlighted by the 2008 launch of the Union County Performing Arts Center in the renovated Rahway Theater. Now as an extension of UC PAC, comes the sparkling new Hamilton Stage for the Performing Arts, which will open its doors in September.
“[Rahway] is quickly becoming a performing arts hub, and Hamilton Stage is a continuation of the city’s coming of age in this new form,” says Richard T. Bryant, president of Front of House Services, the Madison-based firm overseeing the new theater’s planning and launch.

Jim Kennedy, a chief visionary of the city’s Arts District, who served as Rahway’s mayor for 20 years, sees the effort as a “stimulus model for small towns that have lost retail revenue.” Kennedy says artistic endeavors like Hamilton Stage help boost commerce and allow struggling downtowns to reinvent themselves.

Plans call for Hamilton Stage’s ambitious first year to feature 100 original and re-imagined music, dance and dramatic performances. The theater has signed deals with six artistic affiliates, including the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, American Repertory Ballet and the American Theater Group, its resident company. Each affiliate will be on the schedule at least two weeks per year. The initial performance schedule was not available at deadline.

For the opening season, the American Theater Group—newly launched by veteran New Jersey theatrical producer James N. Vagias—will present three plays as well as the New American Musical Reading Series; artistic advisor for the series is the Tony Award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz, whose Broadway credits include Godspell, Pippin and Wicked.

Once a plain-vanilla Bell Telephone manufacturing building, the $9 million Hamilton Stage, funded in part by a grant from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, will welcome patrons to a 199-seat mainstage, as well as a 60-seat front room theater/rehearsal hall, designed by Farewell Mills Gatsch of Princeton. These spaces are intended to complement UC PAC’s three existing performance venues.

“Combined, all five of these theaters and concert spaces will make UC PAC one of the most versatile performing arts centers in New Jersey,” Bryant says.

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