Usually this column reviews both non-fiction and fiction books. Today I would like to digress and inform you about a true New Jersey gem, the Axelrod Performing Arts Center, located at 100 Grant Avenue, Deal Park, NJ. Nestled in a suburban area, just a couple of miles from the Atlantic Ocean, this stunning venue is housed in a JCC building. Its easy to access location, just off Route 35, ample parking, and modern theater makes it a perfect place to hold outstanding concerts and Broadway quality theatrical performances.
` I found out about the Axelrod Performing Arts Center through a newspaper advertisement announcing a production of In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda's precursor to the astonishingly successful Hamilton. Having missed In the Heights (it played at the Richard Rogers Theater from 2008-2011), I was tickled to learn that orchestra seats at the Axelrod were a whopping $38 per person, with senior and student discounts available.
Of the production, Director-Choreographer Luis Salgado wrote in the Playbill, “In the Heights is a story that must be told at this moment when many are being forced to question their belonging in our society within the United States. Exploring this idea grounded the work and the importance of the “why” to every actor's commitment to the truth of not only their characters but themselves. I could not be prouder of this cast and every person who has contributed to telling this story.” Salgado credits his friend, Lin-Manuel Miranda for “his incredible example as it serves as a key of possibility to us all,” and to choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler who created the dances in the Broadway production. Salgado was the Latin dance choreographer for the Broadway production and also performed the role of Jose in the original cast of the show.
In the Heights won the Tony Award for Best Musical, Best Score, Best Choreograpy and Best Orchestrations. The Broadway cast scored a Grammy for Best Album as well.
Everything about the production at the Axelrod was Broadway quality. The talented cast was assembled from around the globe. Jonathan Mousset, who starred as Usnavi, the narrator of the tale, sounded eerily like Lin-Manuel Miranda, as he sang about longing for the Dominican Republic, where he had immigrated from as a young child. Maite Uzal, a native of Spain, played Abuela Claudia, the matriarch of the piece. Her rich voice was positively haunting. The willowy and gorgeous Laura Lebron played Vanessa, love interest of Usnavi.
The Latina dancing in the show is so hot that the stage sizzles, and the performers managed the free style rap with ease and grace. Despite the intensity and rapidity with which the raps are delivered, no lines are lost and the rich and meaningful themes are conveyed with passion. Everything about this production reflects the commitment of the musicians, actors, dancers, and crew to delivering a thrilling theatrical experience. In fact, the Axelrod had to add extra performances due to the sell-out crowds clamoring to see the production.
Upcoming events at the Axelrod include a Pop concert series with a Bob Dylan Tribute, Jay Siegel's Tokens and the Shirelles' Shirley Alston Reeves, and The Hit Men---Leendary Performerw with Frankie Valli, Carole King, and Cat Stevens.
A Broadway and Jazz Concert Series include a concert commemorating Ella Gitzgerald's 100th Birthday, Over the Rainbow with Art Topilow and Ann Hampton Calloway celebrating the music of Harold Arlin, and Carmen Cusack and Jeff Blumenkrantz.
Tony Award winner, Kelli O'Hara, will be performing a special gala concert on Saturday, October 28. Tickets for this performance begin at $75 and go up to $180. The top seats include a pre-show reception and post-show artist meet and greet.
The next show to grace the stage at the Deal location is La Cage Aux Folles, followed by the world premier of Time and Change, a new play by written Mark Medoff, who won the Tony for Children of a Lesser God. This would be a unique opportunity to witness the launch of a new play by this distinguished playwright.
The Axelrod offers a Youth Performing Arts Program, whose next production will be Disney's The Little Mermaid, coming in May. The Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts production is directed by Lisa Goldfarb and choreographed by Wendy Roman with musical direction by Randy Hurst.
Finally, coming in November is the Jersey Shore premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a musical based on the Victor Hugo novel with songs from the Disney film. I was fortunate enough to see this haunting show when it appeared at the renowned Paper Mill Playhouse two years ago. I have already ordered nine tickets to take my entire family to see the November 19th production at the Axelrod. The Hunchback has not made it to Broadway yet, but when it does, and it will, the price per ticket will be quadrupled. If you are a musical theater devotee, do not miss the opportunity to enjoy this production.
To see the entire upcoming events list and to order tickets, visit www.axelrodartscenter.com or call 732-532-9106. You will not be sorry that you did.