As I left the theatre, my face was sore. I simply couldn’t stop smiling throughout the performance of Xanadu, Jr. This production by Jerry’s Habima Theatre at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta is pure joy for performers and audience members alike.
Jerry’s Habima Theatre is Georgia’s only theatrical company directed and produced by professionals and featuring actors with special needs. All shows are held at the MJCCA’s Morris & Rae Frank Theater, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody. As these players perform, they radiate their sheer happiness in performing before an audience, and the feeling infects everyone in the room.
For 26 years, Jerry’s Habima Theater has brought together local professional actors and directors from the community and paired them with talented actors with special needs (ages 18-plus), to present a musical theatrical production to sell-out audiences and much acclaim. Jerry’s Habima Theater, a program of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA), is produced under the auspices of the MJCCA’s Blonder Family Department for Special Needs, and the MJCCA’s Arts + Culture Department.
Xanadu, Jr. is a version of the Broadway musical for younger players, meaning its filled with 1980s nostalgia—Electric Light Orchestra music, memories of Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly in the film version, and lots of good jokes aimed at a knowing audience. The script follows the trials of Sonny Malone, a street artist in Southern California, and his quest to unite art, music, and dance in the abandoned Xanadu Theatre.
Inspired by the Greek muse, Clio, who disguises herself as Kira—a Newton-John-like Australian in leg warmers—Sonny convinces real-estate mogul Danny Maguire to allow him to open the theater and bring art into the blighted neighborhood, thereby driving up real estate values. But art, as well as true love, isn’t always so simple, especially when Greek mythological characters become involved.
Xanadu, Jr. is directed by Mary Nye Bennett, who is currently serving as Artistic Director of the Atlanta Lyric Theatre. This is her fourth time directing at Jerry’s Habima. “I love being able to sneak away and come back to work with the wonderful actors of Jerry’s Habima. The experience gets better each year as I get to know them better and hear their stories. They are a remarkable group, and they make me a better person,” says Bennett.
When asked what she hopes the actors will take away from their involvement with Jerry’s Habima, Bennett responded, “Pride! Not everyone can get on a stage and put themselves out there in front of an audience. It takes a lot of courage. They should all be very proud.”
Anyone can see how true that is. This group of amazing performers has logged numerous hours in rehearsals learning lines, blocking, music, and dance steps. They put on a first-class show, and they share the joy they feel in a way few performers can. You don’t want to miss this unique opportunity right in our backyard.
The cast of Xanadu, Jr. includes Patrick Robinson (Sonny Malone), Jesse Thomas-Durden (Muse Clio/Kira/Kitty), Mark Wallam (Danny), Bess Winebarger (Muse Melpomene), Michelle Cristal (Muse Calliope), Martha Haythorn (Muse Erato), Cynthia Outman (Muse Euterpe), Googie Uterhardt (Muse Polyhymnia), Courtney Jones (Muse Terpischore/Siren), Philip Flores (Muse Thalia/Cyclops), Margaret Whitley (Muse Urania), Luke Davis (Zeus), Ali Sims (Hera), Jula Ervin (Thetis/Young Woman/Andrews Sister), Katie Rouille (Aphrodite/Andrews Sister), Sean Wyatt (Hermes), Jared Brodie (Centaur), and Linda Danzig (Medusa), Taryn Janelle (Andrews Sister), Bayley Bristow (Siren), Hannah Keen (Siren), Mark Boehm (Tubes), Bill Connell (Tubes), Evan Nodvin (Tubes), and Michael Silver (Tubes).
Ensemble members include Mark Benator, Todd Besmertnik, Thomas Blackwell, Evan Dewey, Jennifer Fluker, Robert Grollman, Davey Kilbourne, Sadie Levy, Emery Matthews, Michael Morie, Mike Pelta, and Carmine Vara.
In addition to Director Mary Nye Bennett, the production showcases the talents of the following, directors, technicians, and producers: Bethany Irby (Musical Director), Jude Futral (Stage Manager), Amy Rosenberg Schwartz (Assistant Stage Manager), Jennifer Smiles Plumley (Choreographer), Billie Nye Muller (Costume Design), Kathy Ellsworth (Properties Design), Harley Gould (Set Design/Technical Director), Philip Wray (Lighting Design), Sadie Levy (Assistant Choreographer), Robert Hannon (Sound Engineer), Amanda Westheimer (Costume Lead), Janice Nodvin (Mark-up Lead), Phillip Butler (Carpenter), Margaret Phillips Wyatt (Backstage Crew), Kim Goodfriend (Producer), and Mitch Marcus (Production Manager).
Xanadu, Jr. continues thru March 17 with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday and Saturday, and at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $25 for MJCCA members, $10 for MJCCA children 12 an under, $35 for community members, and $15 for community children 12 and under. To purchase tickets, call 678-812-4002, or visit atlantajcc.org/ habima.