Palisades Players take the stage
search

Palisades Players take the stage

Tenafly JCC hopes to build semi-professional theater company

Susan Vardy, Rebecca Lopkin, and Sarah Feinmark rehearse for “Broadway: A Jewish Experience.”
Susan Vardy, Rebecca Lopkin, and Sarah Feinmark rehearse for “Broadway: A Jewish Experience.”

“Anything that happens in life/can happen in a show./You can make ’em laugh/You can make ’em cry/Anything, anything goes.”

So said Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz in their great song “That’s Entertainment,” which they wrote for “The Band Wagon.” And so say Deb Roberts and Julian Millstein, as they dream of building a semi-professional community theater company at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly. Their initial production this weekend will tell them and the audience if they are on the right track. “Broadway, A Jewish Experience” will also serve as a benefit for the new company, the Palisades Players.

Tim Connell coaching a scene from the show with cast member Ariel Abergel, as he is about to sing “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway,” a song Tim sang in “Spamalot” on the Broadway Tour.
Tim Connell coaching a scene from the show with cast member Ariel Abergel, as he is about to sing “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway,” a song Tim sang in “Spamalot” on the Broadway Tour.

The musical revue showcases the works of Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, and many other songwriters, reflecting what was going on in the lives of American Jews at the time the songs were popular. Using a play-within-a-play structure, “Broadway: A Jewish Experience” covers decades of great theater music, most of it written by Jews. The cast of 39 includes actors with years of professional experience on and off Broadway, as well as the best local talent. The show has been conceived and directed by Deborah Murad Nesser, who has played lead roles such as Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl,” Hodel in “Fiddler on the Roof,” and Marion in “The Music Man.”

Jay Greenspan practices his number.
Jay Greenspan practices his number.

While the JCC has a successful youth theater program that has trained several Broadway newcomers, it has not offered a full adult performance slate. Ms. Roberts, who lives in Tenafly and is the director of the JCC School of Performing Arts, explained that for a long time she has wanted to launch a high-quality theater on “this side of the river.”

Perhaps she needed the right partner. As Mr. Millstein, a technology lawyer who lives in Teaneck, began to think about making the transition into retirement, he remembered how much he had enjoyed acting as a student at Brandeis University, where he was the president of the Gilbert & Sullivan Society. After graduation, he had taken classes at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. “I acted with Tyne Daly and Josh Mostel,” Mr. Millstein recalled, before practical needs took him to law school.

When he signed up for some play-reading classes at the JCC with Ms. Roberts, that dimmed theatrical light was reignited. He loved the feeling of becoming different people. It was a “new experience through another character” every time he read another role, Mr. Millstein said.

Saraya Angbazo and Shayne Goldstein
Saraya Angbazo and Shayne Goldstein

After long discussions about the possibility of a community theater with a Jewish focus, Mr. Millstein and Ms. Roberts took the plunge last June. They put notices in the local papers, inviting anyone interested to come to a meeting. About 20 people, ranging in age from 15 to over 70, showed up. Some had performed professionally, several were from the scene-reading class, and others were amateurs with a desire to perform.

The company’s mission is to produce musicals, plays, and comedies that illustrate Jewish culture and tradition, and to highlight the work of Jewish playwrights. Ms. Roberts is interested in introducing new work by Jewish writers as well, and she and Mr. Millstein are toying with ways of doing that. “Maybe we can get someone to fund a prize,” Ms. Roberts mused.

Tim Connell, Ariel Abergel, and Curt Buckler
Tim Connell, Ariel Abergel, and Curt Buckler

Ms. Roberts believes that Palisades Players has the potential to bring something new to the local community theater scene. “Because we have the possibility of having Equity actors” on stage, she said, the productions can be of very high quality. Mr. Millstein agrees that the northern Bergen County community boasts a wealth of performing talent. “We are close to Broadway and we can attract some great talent,” he said. “We want to be the center of Jewish theater in the New York area.”

Save the date

What: “Broadway: A Jewish Experience”

When: Saturday, November 7, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, November 8, 2:30 p.m.

Where: Kaplen JCC on the Palisades

How much: $18

Broadway: A Jewish Experience

read more:
comments