The theater went dark at Axelrod Performing Arts Center last November, when its home, the Ruth Hyman JCC in Deal, was shut following a bankruptcy ruling.
But this spring, the spotlights will shine again on the young members of the Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts Program as they get set to present their first musical production since the JCC’s closing.
For the Rising Stars, Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr. will mark the group’s new beginning. The show will run May 2-5 at the Jersey Shore Arts Center in Ocean Grove, featuring a cast of 20 local children — several of them experienced performers — ranging in age from six to 16.
Rising Stars director Lisa Goldfarb said she was “heartbroken when the theater closed. It was just a shame to see a gorgeous, thriving performing arts theater being forced to shut down.”
So when the decision was made to move forward, said Goldfarb, “I was thrilled to know I could continue Rising Stars” — now a program of the JCC of Western Monmouth County, with assistance from APAC.
But that’s not to say it has been easy. “It’s been a battle every step of the way,” said Goldfarb, who said she had to contend with a host of problems she hadn’t dealt with before. “Finding a venue was difficult,” she said, but fortunately, the Jersey Shore Arts Center managers said they “would love the opportunity” to host the production.
With the change in venue, she found it “tricky working with a brand-new, state-of-the-art theater, making adjustments to work in a different type of facility, without certain things we were used to before.” But, she said, the Jersey Shore Arts Center has been “very accommodating, very helpful — just wonderful.”
She also had to make the program work “with kids from all over Monmouth County, when the program had previously been centered in Deal,” said Goldfarb. Half the cast of 20 are new and come from throughout the county; the rest are returning Rising Stars, allaying concerns that the group veterans might have to travel too far to participate.
Among the Little Mermaid players who have previous performing credentials are Jacqie Wycoff (Ariel), who has been accepted into the Ocean County Performing Arts Academy High School; Brett Kaminsky (King Triton), who has appeared in commercials; and Carlie Goldfarb (Sebastian), who has performed in youth community theater productions throughout Monmouth County. Ensemble players Brooke Levine and Sophia Friedenberg are members of competitive dance teams.
Fred Sorrentino, the set designer, has worked at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, and costume designer Lee Loo is wardrobe mistress and studio manager at The Wardrobe Trunk, a costume design studio in Ocean Grove.
Goldfarb is serving as the musical’s director/choreographer, and Andy Edison of Jackson is the musical director and accompanist.
“We are working like crazy to make sure we put a top-quality production on the stage,” said Goldfarb.
Most rehearsals are being held at the JCC of Western Monmouth headquarters in Freehold Jewish Center; some are taking place at the arts center.
The Ocean Grove venue is a renovated 600-seat theater located at 66 Main St., in a building that once housed the old Neptune High School.
While acknowledging assistance from Axelrod and the JCC of Western Monmouth, Goldfarb said, “Rising Stars is not funded or sponsored financially by any organization. Our only funding is from cast participation fees and money raised through parent fund-raising and playbill ads.”
Axelrod has continued to operate out of its new office at the Freehold Jewish Center, putting into the works a full schedule of events — often in conjunction with other community organizations — at area venues.
Deep in the middle of production preparations, prop assembly, and rehearsals, Goldfarb was confident enough to be looking forward to planning another musical production for the fall, and perhaps to revive other Rising Star musical theater programs that were run at the Axelrod theater in the Deal JCC.