The show was stopped and some 838 theatregoers were evacuated from the Paper Mill Playhouse on June 7, when pryotechnics used in the finale of Pippin caused a fire alarm to go off at 10:25 PM.
Though there was no threat from fire and the crowd remained calm throughout the evacuation, the event was taken seriously: Twenty years ago, an arsonist caused the original Paper Mill Playhouse theatre to burn to the ground on Jan. 14, 1980. Today's Paper Mill was reopened in 1982 after a major fundraising and reconstruction effort.
The fire alarm sounded shortly after the use of pyrotechnics during the finale of Pippin. "It was the first time they had used all the smoke, but there was no fire," a theatre spokesperson told Playbill On-Line.
The professional reaction of the cast inspired calm and was so matter of fact that it appeared to be a surprise ending to the show by some in the audience. "Well, it's interesting, but I don't think it works for the show," one audience member remarked during the evacuation.
The theatre was cleared quickly, within a few minutes, although three disabled patrons were still making their way out of the orchestra long after the house was emptied. Actor Jack Noseworthy, starring in the title role, managed an impromptu apology to the audience as he led the cast offstage via the wings.
In the lobby and outside on the theatre patios, patrons mingled for several minutes, but the majority soon left the theatre assuming that the show was over.
At the scene, a Millburn Fire Department official told Playbill On-Line that there had not been an actual fire and that patrons would be allowed to return to the theatre. The reseating began by 10:40 PM. The cast had returned to the stage, picked up the finale and finished the show by 11 PM.
-- By Murdoch McBride