DEAL PARK – The Axelrod Performing Arts Center aims to grow from a community to a regional theater. That goal was evident with the recent production of “In the Heights,” directed and choreographed by Luis Salgado, who served as assistant choreographer in the show’s Broadway production.
The Axelrod’s current show, “La Cage aux Folles,” takes it one step further. Nat Chandler, who played the title character in the Broadway musical “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” takes on the lead role of Georges.
“I am thrilled to join the Axelrod’s production of ‘La Cage aux Folles,’ ” said Chandler. “This musical has an extraordinarily brilliant script and is absolutely hilarious. I’m proud to be a part of a story about love, joy and family.”
Joe Necci, who has performed in the Jersey Shore area for more than 25 years, is taking on the dual role of Albin and his alter ego, the drag queen Zaza.
“What I love most about this role is that at the end of the performance, I’m absolutely exhausted,” he said. “It takes everything out of me. I give everything I have to the audience. There’s no better feeling than that.”
The story of La Cage involves two gay men who have their lives turned upside down when the son of one of the men announces he is getting married. They try to conceal their lifestyle and their ownership of the drag club downstairs from their home when the fiancée and her conservative parents come for dinner. The show features a score by Jerry Herman and a book by Harvey Fierstein. Axelrod’s artistic director, Andrew DePrisco, who produced the successful run of “In the Heights,” is also producing La Cage.
“After producing community theater here for the past five-plus years and winning awards for many of our productions, we are upping our game,” he said. “Our audiences demand the best possible performances, and our new production of La Cage has an all-professional cast led by a Broadway vet and some terrific triple threats from New York City. We believe that we are currently offering the best entertainment value in the state – professional theater at community theater prices.”
Chandler praised DePrisco’s efforts at establishing Axelrod as a regional theater.
““The Axelrod is a gorgeous theater and the acoustics are fantastic,” he said. “It has beautiful producing by Andrew and (CEO) Jess (Levy). As a director, Kathryn Markey is very skilled at blending different levels of professionals from New York and community theater actors.”
Chandler was always involved in community theater near his hometown of Greenwood, South Carolina. He studied music at Northwestern University and sang professionally in Chicago, where an agent recognized his talent. Not long after, Chandler landed the role of Lun Tha in touring company of “The King and I,” working alongside Yul Brynner. It was his first professional acting job.
“They gave me an equity card and put me on a plane,” he said.
He moved to New York and performed in numerous musicals and operettas throughout the country, including “Man of La Mancha,” “Kiss Me Kate,” “Carousel” with Shirley Jones and “South Pacific” with Howard Keel. He performed as Raoul in “The Phantom of the Opera,” directed by Hal Prince, more than 1,000 times and has been twice nominated for the Barrymore Award for best actor in a musical.
“This is a very talented cast,” he said of La Cage. “I love working opposite Joe Necci. He brings a lot of new energy, enthusiasm and joy. I’m reminded why I got into show business in the first place.”
The cast also includes Nathan Richardson as their son, Jean-Michel; Chara Kirkland as his fiancé, Anne; Alex Orthwein and Alexa Poller as Anne’s straight-laced parents; Miguel Flores as the flamboyant maid, Jacob; Lisa Monde as Jacqueline and Thomas Ryan Ward as Francis, the stage manager. Ryan Blackson, Vinny Celeiro, David Dines, James DuChateau, Atsushi Eda, Zach Letty, Corey Price and Dyllan Vallier portray the drag club performers.
“La Cage aux Folles,” which runs through June 18, is choreographed by Todd Labron Underwood, with Joseph Elefante leading an on-stage band.
The Axelrod Performing Arts Center is located at 100 Grant Ave. in the Deal Park section of Ocean Township. Tickets range from $31 to $36. For more information, visit www.axelrodartscenter.com.
Arts and entertainment writer Mary Ann Bourbeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published in the June 8-June 15, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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