|The “Cabaret for a Cause” company takes time out for a photo.|
Talk about doing things on short notice. How about putting together a cabaret?
It’s not impossible, if you put a lot of work into it.
That’s according to Edie Epstein, whose son Mitchell did exactly that last year.
Among other things, Mitchell, then 16, “recruited and auditioned the performers, chose the theme, and wrote the entire show,” Ms. Epstein said.
The teen – whose grandmother, Carole Epstein, lives in Tenafly – dubbed the venture “Cabaret for a Cause,” raising thousands of dollars for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing and tornadoes in Oklahoma.
Last summer, Mitchell had been preparing to attend the Wagner College Summer Music Theatre Institute when he fell ill. “We didn’t have a diagnosis, but we found out this year that he has Lyme disease,” his mother said.
Though he still had hoped to join the program, circumstances made that impossible, so Mitchell was left without summer plans. “I had always wanted the chance to direct, and thanks to the suggestion of my voice teacher, Adrienne Blossey, I decided that it was time to give it a shot and do what I had always wanted,” Mitchell said in an email. In addition, wanting to help somehow in the wake of the Boston bombings and Oklahoma tornadoes, “I realized that I could combine my musical theater skills and my desire to give back to those in need.”
Ultimately, Mitchell brought together two dozen performers, some of whom he knew from Millburn’s Paper Mill Playhouse and other venues, and some of whom, including two teens from Bergen County, he met through word of mouth. The sold-out show, which raised more than $6,000, focused on “growing up and changing the world.”
The director was extremely pleased with the result.
“That night, I literally saw my vision for this production come to life on stage, something that I had never experienced before,” Mitchell said. “I knew that all the hard work had paid off, and the audience reactions were great. I really believe that we had accomplished our goal in inspiring our audience and leaving them with a powerful message of optimism. And to top it off, we raised over $6,000 for One Fund Boston and the Oklahoma Strong Disaster Relief Fund.”
Mitchell, who lives in North Caldwell, is no stranger to musical theater.
“When he was not quite 4, he told me he wanted to take an acting class,” his mother said. While her first thought was could there be no class available for such a young child, she ultimately found a program in Montclair that was willing to take him. “He did very well, and he was hooked.”
“He was really born to do this,” Ms. Epstein, who is the behind-the-scenes producer for Mitchell’s shows, said. “I gave him a guitar and puppet theater at age 2, and right away he started putting on shows. After he attended the Essex Youth Theater for a few years, he wanted to take dance and voice.”
It is therefore not surprising, she said, that he has won lead roles in all the shows produced at his summer camp, Willow Lake Day Camp. It was there that someone suggested he audition for the Paper Mill Playhouse’s summer program.
“That’s where he got the huge bulk of his training,” she said. “He went for six summers.” In addition, he takes private voice lessons, dance lessons, and acting lessons.
“He’s really dedicated and diligent about this,” said Ms. Epstein, who admitted to doing a lot of driving to facilitate these activities. “I didn’t have a choice,” she said. “He was born to do this and thankfully he’s very talented and good at what he does. He loves it. It’s his passion.”
She said he recently attended the Rider University and Berklee College of Music’s Summer Musical Theater Intensives, playing leading roles in several productions. He also is a member of the Paper Mill Broadway Show Choir and performed in the Paper Mill New Voices Concert for six years.
Ms. Epstein added that her younger son, Jason, also is talented and recently appeared in “Avenue Q” at the Wayne Y. In addition, following in his brother’s footsteps, he has taken over the lead roles at Willow Lake.
Ms. Epstein said that Mitchell, a member of Congregation Agudas Israel in Caldwell, has a very strong Jewish identity. So impressed was his rabbi with the teen’s charitable concert that “Rabbi [Alan] Silverstein and education director Susan Werk both said they would nominate him for a Diller Foundation teen tikkun olam award, given to 10 teens across the nation for repairing the world.” While he didn’t receive the award this year, his mother hopes that he will receive one in the future.
Now incorporated as a 501(c) 3 charitable organization, Mitchell’s group, Stars in the Making, a musical theater production company, will hold a second Cabaret for a Cause this year at the YMCA in Wayne. Once again, Ms. Epstein said, there will be two teen performers from Bergen County, Alexander Dorf and Julia Gebhardt.
“I’m amazed at the generosity of the businesses I’ve approached,” she said. The Wayne Y’s Rosen Performing Arts Center “has generously offered to host us for the entire process, including auditions, rehearsals, call backs, and performances. Everyone is working on a volunteer basis, including a professional band. We’ve had a lot of support and help.”
Proceeds this year will go to the Y’s annual community support campaign, which enables local families to send their children to summer camps and afterschool programs, and to Habitat for Humanity’s Newark chapter. The theme of the production is “Building Communities Through Strength in Diversity.”
Mitchell has advice for other teens who want to do something for the community.
They should “put all of their devotion and effort into whatever they are doing and use their passion to create an incredible outcome,” he said. “Be ready to be thrown curve balls and to be put in positions where you have to think on your feet and make firm decisions fast.”
Mitchell is a high school senior and will be applying and auditioning this fall for admission into college musical theater programs. He knows what he wants to do. “Directing, performing, and giving back to the community are what I love to do more than anything, and I can’t imagine a future without those things,” he said.
Performances will take place on August 16 at 8 p.m. and on August 17 at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at www.starsinthemakinginc.org, or at the door.