JCA 25TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION

by DICK KEREKES
The Jacksonville Jewish Community Alliance held a delightful musical celebration on Saturday February 9th to acknowledge its 25th Birthday. It was in 1988 that the doors opened at 8505 San Jose Boulevard, offering an array of opportunities to the community. Everything did not happen at once. It wasn’t until 1997 that the theatre program was started with Shelly Hughes as the Director and the Theatre of Youth presented “Snow White” as their first production. Since then the theatre program has grown and grown and last year 25,000 kids were involved; that is not a misprint, it was 25,000!
Today, JCA has an unparalleled range of programs addressing physical, recreational, educational, social and cultural interests. The musical journey last Saturday was a gift to the members; about 200 were present and were treated to an exceptional evening of songs from some of Broadway’s all time best shows.
Co-hosts Shelly Hughes and Matt Flagler introduced each of the eighteen acts which represented various years between1988 and 2012, and featured the songs that were popular during those years. Between several of the songs, the hosts provided information about the background and history of JCA. Videos with birthday wishes from former JCA participants were projected on a screen between acts.
As a critic I have reviewed a number of musical revues but I can’t recall ever experiencing such a variety of interesting voices and vocal styles. All of the singers had appeared in past JCA programs, many starting as children in the theatre program. Many of the performers are active on the local community theatre stages; others, while still retaining their musical talents, have gone on to other endeavors.
Amy Allen Farmer added excitement with “Diva’s Lament” from “Spamalot” and “Somebody like Me” from “Jekyll and Hyde.” Katie Swider brought along her adopted puppet from her “Avenue Q” performance and presented “There’s a Fine, Fine Line.” Katie has spread her talented wings toward directing, and following a very successful “Fiddler on the Roof” last summer , will direct “In The Next Room” opening March 8th at Players by the Sea. Cody Russell, fresh from “Forever Plaid” at Limelight Theatre, delivered a very funny “I’m Not That Smart” from the “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
I had forgotten that Sam Fisher could sing, since he is a very much in demand director locally, but sing he did and well with “One More Angel in Heaven” from “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Sam is currently directing “Amadeus” which will be presented by the Jacksonville Symphony in March.
Mitchell Wohl sang one of the most popular songs of the evening , “If I Were I Rich Man” from “Fiddler on the Roof.” Many in the audience remembered when Mitchell was much younger and was the skinniest Tevye ever in “Fiddler on the Roof” on this very same stage.
A current member of the theatre program, 12 year old Cassidy Kinsman impressed everyone with her remarkable voice in two moving songs, “Candle on the Water” and “Someone Like Me,” from “Jekyll and Hyde.” All her on-stage performances have been at JCA; she is in the 7th grade at a school that only recently started a theatre program. I am looking forward to seeing her in a community theatre production one of these days.
“Rock of Ages” is a musical that is coming to Jacksonville with the Artist Series, and having heard JCA ‘graduate’ Craig Wickless sing “Don’t Stop Believing” from that show, I definitely will be in the audience. Another of my favorite songs in the show had the entire cast doing “Seasons of Love” from “Rent.” Katie Kight, who works with Ms. Hughes in the theatre program, gave us a rousing “Freddie My Love” from “Grease,” assisted by Katie, Amy and Nicole as her backup chorus.
Nicole Allen, another of JCA’s alumni, entertained us with the funny “Adelaide’s Lament” from “Guy and Dolls” and closed the show with “Tomorrow” from “Annie” in which she was joined by the entire cast.
This very festive evening came to a close after about two hours and a good time was had by all; the cast, the audience and the many volunteers who assisted with the food and beverages. Thanks to JCA Executive Director Myron Flagler and JCA Theatre Director Shelly Hughes for making JCA a gathering place for everyone where good things happen all the time.

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