Although miles from the bright lights of Broadway, the Herbert and Evelyn Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal has become a popular destination for a roster of stars and a wealth of other Jewish programming and youth theater workshops.
Axelrod PAC CEO Jess Levy said that singer/songwriter Noa will be among the “top Israeli stars” the theater is drawing this year. “There is no other theater presenting this high level of Jewish and Israeli programming.”
Noa, who will appear Saturday, May 13, has performed with such superstars as Sting, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, and in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square with Andrea Bocelli.
“She’s performed for the pope, the Clintons, on American national TV, [and in] the White House,” said Levy, speaking in the center, which is located at the JCC Jersey Shore in Deal. “I think it’s our obligation to try to connect Israel with the American public by bringing its culture to our community.”
Featuring a performer like Noa, who is of Yemenite descent, and other Israelis who have performed, showcases Israel as a multi-cultural society, Levy said.
“A lot of people don’t know much about Israel if they haven’t been there,” he said. “They don’t realize the diverse talent. I think it changes people’s perception of Israel when they’re exposed to its culture.”
The 11-year-old, 520-seat facility has also hosted myriad programs reflecting the general culture, including award-winning musicals, jazz and pop concerts, film festivals, and children’s entertainment. Axelrod PAC received a prestigious Perry Award from the New Jersey Association of Community Theaters in two recent years.
On May 21, TranscenDanceGroup, a New York dance ensemble led by Argentinean-born Jew Gabriel Chajnik, will perform G*D, A Family Story of Survival During the Holocaust.
Chajnik created the dance play and multi-media event based on his family’s experience during the Holocaust, said Levy. The story revolves around the experiences of Chajnik’s uncle Haim Tzvi Rosmarin, a Polish Holocaust survivor who after liberation settled in Argentina.
The program will include a film by Joseph Rodman, lighting design by Yuriy Nayer, and an original score. It will also feature renowned Israeli violinist Niv Ashkenazi, winner of the 2010 American Protege International Piano and Strings Competition, who, said Levy, is “one of the rising violinists in the world.”
Among other events coming up is an appearance on Sunday, April 23, by New York cabaret artist Andrea Marcovicci, who will recreate her acclaimed Lincoln Center performance of I Am Anne Frank based on the famed diary, with music by Michael Cohen and lyrics by Enid Futterman. “She will be accompanied by a live chamber orchestra and a performance by a children’s ensemble in connection with Yom Hashoa,” said Levy.
Another general culture program will be offered on Sunday, Feb. 26, when Tony- and Golden Globe-winning singer/actress Linda Lavin will present a concert accompanied by the Aaron Weinstein Trio. Lavin, best known for her role in the TV series Alice, has been a Broadway star for decades. She appeared this month in the New York City Opera production of Candide.
The Axelrod also runs an annual week-long Israeli film festival, with screenings held at the center and in Freehold and Monroe. Last year saw the premiere of A Tale of Love and Darkness, based on the novel by Israeli writer Amos Oz, starring and directed by Natalie Portman, who also wrote the screenplay.
The center’s Shabbat-observant Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts program for youngsters eight-18 receives funding from the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey to put on two musical performances a year. Auditions will be held Feb. 12, 13, 15, and 16 for The Little Mermaid, which will be staged Sundays, May 7 and 14.
The recently launched APAC Players, an all-teen ensemble overseen by professional theater mentors, will stage its first musical production, Runaways, Feb. 10, 11, and 12.
APAC has thrived despite a rocky period, ceasing operations for a year, while the former Ruth Hyman JCC went through bankruptcy proceedings and the building received court-ordered repairs. A re-organized JCC resumed operations in June 2015.