(OCEAN, NJ) -- The Axelrod Performing Arts Center, in conjunction with its sponsors, local non-profit Cabaret for Life [CFL] and Kearny Bank, has announced the winners of the inaugural NJ High School AXE Awards. The awards were created to shine a light on students whose high school musicals were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jersey girl, Tony Award winner and Axelrod performer Laura Benanti personally announced and congratulated the winners in a special video. She had previously expressed her shared disappointment for all the high school musical cancellations around the country and launched #SunshineSongs on Twitter so high school musical performers could share their videos with her.
The AXE award provides talented, young student actors a chance to shine by providing much-needed scholarship money. Seventy-two students from 32 high schools throughout Monmouth, Middlesex and Ocean counties submitted for the awards, and a panel of theater professionals selected the finalists in each of six categories. Preliminary online voting was conducted for two weeks with over 5,000 ballots.
Four winning seniors were awarded $1000, while a top male and female underclassman each received $500. The award money provided by Cabaret for Life was in memory of Amy Fredericks, a local music director and teacher who frequently volunteered for the organization.
Winners include: Anna Thorensen, Red Bank Catholic HS - Supporting Actress in a Musical for her role as Paulette Buonafonte in “Legally Blonde the Musical.” Ben Hahn, Red Bank Regional HS – Supporting Actor in a Musical for his role as Lumiere in “Beauty & The Beast.” Asia Feratovic, Long Branch, HS – Best Actress in a Musical for her role of Cathy in “The Last Five Years.” Ryan Jasaitis, Point Pleasant Borough HS – Best Actor in a Musical for his role as Tony in “West Side Story.”
All four seniors will pursue theater studies in the fall. Thorensen (Colts Neck) plans to major in theater arts at the University of Arizona and said, “I’m so grateful to have been a part of the very first Axe awards and to have won!”
Hahn (Millstone Township), who will major in musical theater at the Manhattan School of Music said, “This was such an amazing opportunity and a great way to end my senior year!”
Feratovic (Long Branch), who plans to major in entertainment and arts management at Drexel University noted, “It really made my year special,” while Jasaitis (Point Pleasant), who will major in musical theater at Point Park University commented, “I would like to thank everyone involved in making this competition happen, this made my year!”
The two underclassmen who received awards were: Stefanie Worton, Monmouth Regional HS (Tinton Falls) – Non-Senior Actress in a Musical for the role of Sophie in “Mamma Mia!” Donny Nikola, Wall HS (Wall Twp) – Non-Senior Actor in a musical for the role of Beast in “Beauty and the Beast.”
“Creating rewarding, educational opportunities is a critical component of our work at the Axelrod,” says Axelrod Artistic Director Andrew DePrisco, who spearheaded the AXE Awards.
“We continue our mission this summer through our new Axelrod Performing Arts Academy, which is an online arts program offering young people the chance to work with Tony Award winners and leading dancers from the New York stage.”
The Axelrod Performing Arts Center is one of New Jersey's newest professional theaters, a regional theater located on the Jersey Shore that focuses on musicals, original concerts, ballet, film, arts education, and more. The Axelrod is the home of the Axelrod Contemporary Ballet Theater, Monmouth County's only professional ballet company, and the Axelrod Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts Program, which presents fully staged musicals and workshops and classes throughout the year. As one of Central Jersey’s fastest-growing cultural hubs, bolstered by artistic excellence and an eye toward educating and developing tomorrow's talent, the Axelrod continually works to create original programming for a variety of diverse communities. The Axelrod PAC is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization that relies on community support for its continued success.