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'Homecoming' is the theme of JCC CenterStage's new season 

click to enlarge Bruce Sabath in 'Searching For Tevye.' - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Bruce Sabath in 'Searching For Tevye.'
Familiar faces are the theme of the JCC CenterStage’s 45th season, with one now-familiar issue to deal with as well: the pandemic.

“Audiences are coming back,” artistic director Ralph Meranto said, following a summer of outdoor events at the JCC CanalSide Outdoor Stage.

“By October, we believe the world will be ready to come back for live indoor theater.”

Yet under guidelines for the five shows announced Monday morning via Zoom, audience members will have to be fully vaccinated or have proof of a recent negative test for COVID-19. Mask requirements may “ebb and flow, depending on the state of the pandemic,” Meranto said. If shows were being held right now, Meranto warned, given the recent rise in COVID-19 cases, audiences would be asked to wear masks.

“Homecoming is the theme of our season,” Meranto said, starting with the Oct. 7 opening of “Searching For Tevye… A Musical Journey from Brighton to Broadway” at the JCC Hart Theatre. It was created by Brighton native Bruce Sabath, whose theater career (interrupted by a “dark phase” of working on Wall Street, he said during the Zoom call) runs from JCC to Broadway. That includes an 18-month run of “Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish.” The brief, four-show run is a collection of Broadway tunes and Yiddish music.

For more homecoming, JCC offers “Something Magical… Disney in Concert.” Running from Dec. 4-19, the show is conceived and directed by Rochester native Tom Vazanna. The collection of Disney film music was compiled by Vazanna, who has worked for Disney for 25 years. Vazanna calls it “rollicking, funny, heartful and beautifully inclusive.”

Directed by Rochester resident Esther Winter, “Hitmakers — Welcome to the ‘70s,” is on the JCC Hart Stage from Feb. 5-20. It’s a package of hits from the early part of that decade, including music (and backstories on the songs) by The Eagles, Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder, The Carpenters, Carly Simon and Elton John.

“Tracy Jones,” running from March 5-20, is part of what Meranto calls the JCC’s “commitment to new works.” The comedy, Meranto says, “is not about the pandemic, but captures themes of the pandemic.” Isolation, people longing for connections. To combat that feeling, a woman named Tracy Jones decides to invite every woman in the world named Tracy Jones to a party.

The season concludes with a final homecoming that hits home with Meranto, who is in his 16th season as the venue’s artistic director. The May 7-22 presentation of “Little Shop of Horrors,” which did not happen last season because of the pandemic, is the story of a young man who owns a man-eating plant.

It was the first JCC play that Meranto performed in as a young man. He’s since outgrown the role of Seymour, who owned the carnivorous plant, and here will take on the role of plant-store owner Mr. Mushnik. In a show featuring JCC employees, Seymore will be played by box office manager Marc Cataldi, and Group Fitness Director Eva Mancarella will be Audrey.

Other shows will work their way into the upcoming season, Meranto said. That will likely include a reprise of “You’ve Got a Friend,” the music of Carole King and James Taylor.

“We feel like live theater is live theater,” Meranto said. “After a year of Zoom events, we feel people want to experience live events.”

Subscriptions for all shows go on sale Aug. 30 at jcccenterstage.org or call (585) 461-2000.

Jeff Spevak is WXXI’s Arts & Life editor and reporter. He can be reached at jspevak@wxxi.org.

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