A gala concert celebrating “marriage” will mark the 10th anniversary of the Axelrod Performing Arts Center at the JCC Jersey Shore.
On Saturday, Oct. 17, at the theater in Deal, Broadway stars Jarrod Spector and Kelli Barrett — real-life husband and wife — will sing songs celebrating the themes of matrimony — fitting, perhaps, for a 520-seat facility that has wedded Jewish/Israeli cultural programs with performances of award-winning musicals, jazz and pop concerts, film festivals, children’s entertainment, and more. Among the headliners who have appeared are David Broza, Idan Raichel, and Rita, as well as Moshe Bonen, Miki Gavrielev, and Mattan Klein.
Funding for much of the Israel and Jewish programming as well as the Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts Program comes from Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ and the support of the community.
“Since its opening in 2005, APAC has become one of the Jersey Shore’s most popular venues for quality entertainment,” said APAC CEO Jess Levy, noting that Discover NJ designated APAC “one of the best small theaters in NJ.”
The concept of building an arts center at the JCC developed over decades, according to Levy. “Many of the founders of the original JCC in Long Branch as well as the JCC on Grant Avenue in Deal were involved in the arts and theatrical programs,” said Levy.
Herbert and Evelyn Axelrod provided major funding for construction. The Vogel Auditorium was made possible in the original JCC through the support of Sheldon and Anne Vogel, in honor of their uncle Abe, “who gave great time and effort to the original theater program — called Center Drama,” Levy said.
The APAC CEO also praised the contributions of Harold Arm, musical director and show producer for many decades; Marlyn Michaels, who led a youth performing arts center for almost 20 years; and Matrix Development Group and Donald Epstein, who provided critical support.
“The first performance was a concert by Dr. Art Topilow and the Metro Jazz Allstars,” Levy recalled. “The capacity audience was amazed by the high quality of the theater and the performance.”
An “official concert” and gala came somewhat later, in 2006, he said. That event honored the Axelrods and featured world-famous violinist Elmar Oliveira.
The anniversary gala also caps a tumultuous period. When the theater was beginning operations in 2005, Herbert Axelrod, the publisher and philanthropist for whom the center is named, was in prison for tax fraud. Later, the theater was dark 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.)
While the closing in November 2012 “was a very sad day,” Levy said, many programs persevered at other sites.
The reopening in November 2013 was a triumph, he said, and an early production of Les Miserables received rave reviews.