Axelrod theater closing, but the show may go on
From the Axelrod center’s final production, Cabaret.
November 29, 2012
Bankruptcy proceedings at the Ruth Hyman JCC in Deal Park have led to the closing of the theater at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center.
The final performance, a presentation of the musical Cabaret, closed the house on Nov. 18, said Jess Levy, APAC’s CEO and the former executive director of the JCC.
He also reported the cancellation of two scheduled productions — a mid-November presentation of Downtown Express, a film and concert program featuring classical violinist Philippe Quint, and a full-scale production of the musical Peter Pan, which was set for five performances in December.
According to an announcement by the APAC board of directors, the decision to close the theater was reached Nov. 7, following an order from Ocean Township and the court-appointed trustee citing violations and needed repairs.
A buyer is now being sought, according to Paramus-based attorney Catherine Youngman, the trustee.
The announcement noted that, after opening in 2005, the 520-seat center and adjacent art gallery was responsible for “producing award-winning community musicals and much-needed programming, including outstanding film festivals, jazz concerts, classical music events, Jewish community commemorations, Israeli culture, youth programming, and so much more.”
In recent years, said the board, the Axelrod Center offered a wide-ranging diversity of talent, including Broadway stars Brian Stokes Mitchell, Marin Mazzie, Liz Callaway, and Christine Ebersole; popular jazz musicians like Dick Hyman and John Pizzarelli; Israeli stars Idan Raichel and Rami Kleinstein; and luminaries of classical music like Elmar Olivera.
The board lauded Center Drama, an element of the JCC for more than 70 years, for its productions of South Pacific, The Wedding Singer, and 42nd Street. All received recognition from the New Jersey Association of Community Theatres, and in 2012 42nd Street received five “Perry Awards” and 13 nominations from NJACT.
Lamenting the loss of the Axelrod Center, Keith Krivitzky, executive director of Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, praised it for having provided “a wonderful service for the local Jewish community.”
He said the federation had directly sponsored a number of Axelrod activities, including efforts aimed at involving participants and audiences in Jewish and Israeli cultural life.
Levy held out hope for the future of center programs in Monmouth, saying there are two different entities named the Axelrod Performing Arts Center. One, the building, is part of the JCC complex and must be sold in accord with the ruling of the bankruptcy court.
The other APAC is a nonprofit 501c3 organization. Established less than three years ago, the nonprofit produces APAC activities and is not a part of the bankruptcy proceedings.
Levy declined to offer any details on progress being made toward a new home for APAC, but emphasized the board’s intention to remain within Monmouth County.
“The theater at the JCC was one of the top performing arts centers in the state,” he said. “Moving forward, we want to be able to assure our patrons that they will see the same level of quality. That means we need an appropriate venue.”
In announcing the closing, Levy praised Herbert and Evelyn Axelrod, the Deal couple “whose generosity and continued support made the Axelrod Performing Arts Center possible.” Herbert Axelrod, a publisher of pet-care manuals, contributed “significant capital campaign donations” and “ongoing annual support.”
Levy also gave “special thanks” to Colts Neck philanthropists Sheldon and Anne Vogel for their support of Center Drama, and Donald Epstein and Matrix Corporation for the theater’s design and construction.
The CEO also had kind words for the volunteer members of the board, the performers, and backstage people who created the Axelrod productions, and “every member of our audience.”
Longtime patrons of the center also mourned the Center’s closing. Levy said one loyal theatergoer wrote him, saying, “I wish I was a wealthy individual so that I could save the Center. Alas, I am not. I have great hopes that, through your efforts and the board’s, some resolution will be at hand, so that great performances will once again grace our community.”
Another sent Levy a message offering “my heartfelt thanks for your work over the years and that of your entire staff.… I offer my Shabbat prayers for the future reopening of this fine facility.
“Surely, with all the suffering our community has been through lately, with the storm and the loss of so many beachfront summer locations for recreation and artistic expression, someplace, somehow, we usually very smart, resourceful people should be able to come up with a plan to reopen in some capacity.”
Sunset for a JCC
The Ruth Hyman JCC in Deal Park filed for bankruptcy on Dec. 5, 2011, more than six months after TD Bank initiated foreclosure on the facility. A Monmouth County Sheriff’s sale of the property was scheduled for the end of October 2011 and then postponed. Under chapter 11 of the bankruptcy law, the struggling JCC was allowed to operate while reorganizing its finances.
Its preschool closed last December, and in April of this year the JCC shut down its fitness area and two gyms. Programming also was suspended, and a tenant, the Yeshiva of the Jersey Shore, was moved to new quarters in the old Deal Yeshiva on Logan Road in Ocean.
At a hearing early in August, JCC leadership presented its reorganization plan. The court also heard a counter proposal by TD Bank, asking the court to change the status of the community center to Chapter 7 and force liquidation.
The most recent developments in what has been a long, unwinding story are the closing of the Axelrod Center and the announcement that a buyer is being sought.
Trustee Catherine Youngman told New Jersey Jewish News, “We are actively marketing the property. Anyone interested should contact me at 201-845-1000, ext. 396.” — ALAN RICHMAN