The original Hunterdon Hills Playhouse was built in 1939 from a renovated barn on the 300-acre dairy farm of Mortimer T. Steuart, back in the woods about midway between Baptist Church Road and Mechlin’s Corner Road in Union Township, NJ. Later expanding to include a restaurant on the property, the Playhouse provided summer stock tryouts for new productions, as well as hit shows, with a resident acting company augmented by big names like Pat O’Brien, Joan Fontaine, Ed Wynn, Gloria Swanson, Bert Lahr, Maureen O’Sullivan, David Wayne, Lillian Roth, Elaine Stritch and William Bendix to name a few. After achieving limited and sporadic success, the Playhouse closed in 1962.
Our company (Sunset Productions) founder and president, Jack O'Brien, started in the dinner theatre business on January 15, 1975, producing and staging afternoon plays in rented banquet rooms at the Watchung View Inn and Summit Suburban Hotel. At the time, luncheon theatres were virtually non-existent, yet our young company grew at an astounding rate, going from one Wednesday matinee a week to sold-out performances almost every day of the week—all within two years!
We soon realized however, that in order to provide the kind of quality and service we believed in, we would have to own our own facility. So, in 1979, with a renovation plan in place, we purchased the historic Hunterdon Hills Playhouse. But before the renovations got underway, the Playhouse was destroyed by fire. Since the property was now designated as a residential zone, we could not obtain a permit to rebuild there.
Undaunted, we searched for a new location and soon found the perfect spot—an enclosed 90-acre oasis of beautiful countryside, easily accessible, and approximately only a mile from the original site. On March 9, 1981, we finally realized our dream and opened our doors with the comedy Harvey, our first production at the new HHP.
Since that time—over 140 productions later, and thanks to the loyal patronage and enthusiastic word-of-mouth endorsements of our customers, we have continued to grow, expanding our services and facilities (the Atrium Lobby addition, doubling the size of our kitchen and ladies room, the creation of our Dessert Buffet, and installing a state-of-the-art theatre Sound System, to name a few) in an effort to better serve our audiences. These efforts have earned us positive recognition from a host of prominent newspapers, magazines and television stations in the tri-state area.
We take pride in our commitment to the quality of the plays and musicals we produce, and feel that that quality is reflected in the fact that many of the performers who have appeared in our shows over the years, have gone on to land roles in major Broadway shows, motion pictures and television programs. In recent years, such celebrated stars as Mickey Rooney, Jamie Farr, Pat Cooper, The Drifters, Lucie Arnaz, Charlie Prose, The Incomparable Hildegarde, The Duprees, Myron Floren and Julius LaRosa have also entertained on our stage—bringing the colorful history of Hunterdon Hills Playhouse full circle.
Our success has been due to the support of our customers and the word-of-mouth advertising generated by their enthusiasm. We pledge to continue our history of providing excellence in everything we do. We assure you that every possible effort will be expended to guarantee you a wonderful time when you visit the Playhouse!