The Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Ocean Township, in conjunction with its sponsors, local nonprofit Cabaret for Life 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 2020 coronavirus pandemic, according to a press release.
Jersey girl, Tony Award winner and Axelrod performer Laura Benanti announced and congratulated the winners in a special video.
Benanti 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, according to the press release.
The AXE award provides talented young student-actors a chance to shine by providing scholarship money.
Seventy-two students from 32 high schools throughout Monmouth, Middlesex and Ocean counties submitted entries 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 more than 5,000 ballots, according to the press release.
Four winning seniors were awarded $1,000, 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, according to the press release.
• Anna Thorensen, Red Bank Catholic High School – Supporting Actress in a Musical for her role as Paulette Buonafonte in “Legally Blonde the Musical.”
• Ben Hahn, Red Bank Regional High School – Supporting Actor in a Musical for his role as Lumiere in “Beauty and the Beast.”
• Asia Feratovic, Long Branch High School – Best Actress in a Musical for her role of Cathy in “The Last Five Years.”
• Ryan Jasaitis, Point Pleasant Borough High School – Best Actor in a Musical for his role as Tony in “West Side Story.”
All four seniors will pursue theater studies in the fall, according to the press release.
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, said, “It really made my year special.”
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 underclassmen who received awards were:
• Stefanie Worton, Monmouth Regional High School (Tinton Falls) – Non-Senior Actress in a Musical for the role of Sophie in “Mamma Mia!”
• Donny Nikola, Wall High School (Spring Lake) – 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,” said 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,” DePrisco said.