Sixteen-year-old musical theater enthusiast Mitchell Epstein of North Caldwell has recently assumed a new role — so to speak.
As musical director of the first ever Cabaret for a Cause, this summer Epstein seeks to bridge his longtime passion for theater with his desire to help those in need.
The “Original Cabaret about Growing Up and Changing the World,” to be held Sunday, Aug. 25, at 7:30 p.m. at the Cooperman JCC in West Orange, will feature the voices of 26 local high school and college students who have donated their time and talent to Mitchell’s charitable vision.
Performers were chosen after a series of auditions and callbacks held by Epstein and his production team, and now constitute the inaugural cast of Stars in the Making, Epstein’s self-started nonprofit dedicated to putting on high-quality musicals to raise money for worthy causes.
Cabaret for a Cause is sponsored by ASong4Life, a nonprofit organization started by local teenagers that supports music events to benefit worthy causes, according to founder Matt Pellettiere.
Proceeds will be evenly allocated to The One Fund Boston, which supports those affected by the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings, and Oklahoma Strong Disaster Relief, which provides long-term relief to victims of the May tornadoes.
The production was made possible by Elefante Music of New Providence, Pleasantdale Church of West Orange, Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex in Caldwell, and Christ Church of Short Hills, all of which donated space for rehearsals.
Mitchell said he chose the Boston and Oklahoma victims as the beneficiaries because he “really wanted to help them out and make a difference. I’m a performer. That’s what I can do, so I felt a great way to help these people out is by doing what I do best.”
A member of Agudath Israel, Mitchell, the son of Edie Davidson and Mark Epstein, said that “coming together as a community is a Jewish value, just like coming together in a congregation as a temple. That’s exactly what we’re doing here — coming together as a community to support a cause, and raise money to help people in need.”
Although he’s only a junior at West Essex High School, Mitchell has extensive theatrical experience. At just four years old, Mitchell began his theater career, and since then has been a five-time participant in the prestigious New Voices concert at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn and a member of its Broadway Show Choir. He also starred in a recent production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Passaic Valley Summer Theater’s Les Miserables.
But, Mitchell said, he has always wanted the opportunity to choreograph, stage, and direct his own show, and to “teach people that they can make a difference in the world” using their own talents.
At the suggestion of his vocal coach, Adrienne Blossey, Mitchell created Cabaret for a Cause.
Rehearsals were held every day from noon to 10 p.m. for a week starting Aug. 6; Mitchell described the preparation process as “fast and rigorous,” but “so rewarding.”
He said the show’s message is one of optimism, with themes of fighting for what you believe in, coming together, and supporting a cause.
“There’s no dialogue, but we still tell a story, and we’re definitely hoping to convey a message to the audience,” he said.