Photo: The renovated auditorium today and the Show Choir performing with Tony Award winner Kristin Chenoweth Dec. 2017
The Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood reopens its doors this week with plenty to celebrate. Not only is the venue set to host its first full season of live events in three years, but also guests also notice that the venue has undergone substantial renovations and its Performing Arts School students can again perform among professionals on its stage.
Audiences will have plenty of live experiences to savor at Bergen PAC, including comedy acts such as Tracy Morgan (Oct. 21), Lewis Black (Nov. 19) and Jay Leno (April 8); an appearance by William Shatner for a screening of the 1982 film “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” followed by a talk with the famously entertaining actor (Feb. 11); a focus on children’s programming, including “Blue’s Clues & You!” (Dec. 10); and music acts like Yes (Nov. 17), Art Garfunkel (Dec. 15), Dru Hill (Jan. 28), Patti LuPone (March 23) and salsa stars Victor Manuelle (Nov. 12) and Gilberto Santa Rosa (Feb. 24).
Improvements costing approximately $10 million include a new LED marquee, new seats and carpeting throughout the 1,367-seat auditorium, additional restroom stalls and concession locations, an expanded lobby, a new bar, enhanced lighting and sound systems and a will-call window accessible from the street, among other upgrades.
Theater today from balcony (photo by Jeremy Lebled)
Renovations are expected to be completed by the end of October.
Providing virtual programming and school instruction for a year and a half, as well as socially distanced offerings such as their Sunset Drive-In Concert Series, was “noble and an opportunity for innovation,” says Alexander Diaz, who was appointed executive director of Bergen PAC in August and who’s been with the 96-year-old venue in various capacities since 2010, “but people want the live experience.”
Among Bergen PAC’s other offerings this year is a slate of tributes to legendary music groups, among them, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, Luther Vandross and, on Oct. 28, Swedish supergroup ABBA.
“MANIA: The ABBA Tribute” will feature approximately 15 members of Bergen PAC’s Performing Arts School Show Choir, an audition-only ensemble of vocalists ranging in age from 13 to 18. The choir has performed at Bergen PAC with Tony Award-winning Broadway actresses Kristin Chenoweth and LuPone, as well as Foreigner and Jersey’s own Dionne Warwick.
The Show Choir is part of Bergen PAC’s Performing Arts School. The school launched in 2005 as a dance program tucked into a studio on the third floor of the theater on North Van Brunt Street. In 2013, the school moved into its own facility on nearby Depot Square. Now, according to Performing Arts School director Becky Serico, they train approximately 1,000 students from age three months to 21 years at all skill levels in dance, theater and music, in person, and now, virtually, as well. Serico says their educational initiatives extend to approximately 15,000 students off site in school programs throughout Bergen and into Passaic, Essex, Hudson and Monmouth counties.
And plenty of students seem to forge lasting connections with the school: Look for Performing Arts School alum — and current faculty member — Gianna Grosso singing alongside Broadway star Linda Eder (“Jekyll & Hyde”) Nov. 6 at Bergen PAC.
And an event such as the ABBA tribute, which places Performing Arts School students in the spotlight alongside heavy hitters from Broadway and beyond is precisely the point, says Diaz, who served for several years as Bergen PAC’s director of education and outreach.
“MANIA: The ABBA Tribute” comes to Bergen PAC Oct. 28, 2022 (photo by Mark Senior)
“It’s part of The Performing Arts School’s mission to provide students with professional, hands-on training and rewarding opportunities to perform publicly in front of large audiences,” he says. “It gives these kids incredible confidence boosts and lifetime memories.”
“For these kids to take the stage with professionals is a dream come true,” Serico says. “It gives them a true taste of what it is like to be a star.”
Not only that, Serico says, but she sees how the school instills crucial life lessons that serve young artists long after they exit the stage—lessons about the value of collaboration, tenacity and discipline.
Suzanne Joshi’s daughter Maya, 13, has been studying singing since she was 6 years old and will perform with the choir as part of the ABBA tribute. Joshi says she was grateful to find The Performing Arts School for Maya when the family moved to Cresskill in 2019.
The school “has a wonderful reputation for training young voices,” Joshi says. “We were particularly interested in the classical singing program, which is not easy to find…. The teachers at the school have helped Maya develop her voice as well as her confidence and expose her to a whole new world of opportunities.”
Besides, Maya says, “Performing is just so fun — we do so many different things, and it’s just an awesome community.”
In addition, Joshi says, she’s noticed that singing with the Show Choir has nudged Maya to find her voice in more ways than one, as a member of her middle school debate club, as goalie on the soccer team and as an active participant in classroom discussions.
“I’ve seen her really take control over her own talent and make decisions about her future,” Joshi says.
Diaz, too, is looking to the future—and looking forward to getting back to business.
“This [season] marks a whole new beginning,” he says, “while keeping with traditions that have made us a sustainable performing arts center.”