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SOPAC Hosts Local Celebrities in Star-Studded Gala

The South Orange Performing Arts Center is holding "Small Town, Big Talent," an all-day benefit event this Saturday beginning at 11 a.m. Celebrities and artists such as Zach Braff, Max Weinberg (of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band), Lauryn Hill, and AJ Calloway highlight the event, with all the proceeds going to SOPAC.

Scott Sullivan, SOPAC's Director of Marketing and Communications, describes the event as a celebration of local arts.

"We've invited people that grew up here or currently live here and generate or support the arts to participate, and create this gala," he said.

Sullivan said SOPAC held a benefit gala two years ago, and wanted to build on the gala idea this year.

"There's a full day of events leading up to the concert in the evening," he said.

The day's itinerary begins with a community sing along featuring Marafanyi Drum, three NJ-based female drummers who fuse West African rhythms and dance, kiddie pop musician Rebecca Frezza, and South Orange's Peri Smilow at 11 a.m.

There will be a screening and discussion of the film "Rachel Getting Married," starring Anne Hathaway, at noon, which will be followed by an editing workshop hosted by Academy-Award nominated film editor Tim Squyres ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), a New Jersey native.

Patrons also have the option of attending other seminars: at 1 p.m., actor-writer-director Zach Braff and EXTRA correspondent AJ Calloway, both alumni of Columbia High School's class of 1993, will return to their hometowns to speak about their experiences. And at 3 p.m., Budd Mishkin of NY 1 will interview drummer Max Weinberg.

The day will culminate with SOPAC's annual benefit concert at 8 p.m. Slated to perform are Broadway stars Christine Ebersole, Kelly Bishop, Christiane Noll, Joanna Young, Sandy Rustin, Charlie Pollock, and Jamie LaVerdiere; musical artists Weinberg, Lauryn Hill, Bill Charlap, Renee Rosnes, Nat Adderley, Jr., Suzzanne Douglas, and Sarah Partridge; SOPAC's residence dance company Lydia Johnson Dance; and comedienne Jessica Kirson. The evening will be hosted by Mishkin, Braff and Calloway. The concert will be followed by dessert reception at 10 p.m.

Sullivan said that the emphasis of the day is on the talented artists that come from South Orange and Maplewood, such as singer-songwriter Lauryn Hill, who grew up in South Orange and whose mother lives in South Orange.

He also said that the benefit is being held to honor Jonathan Felsman, a resident of South Orange and patron and supporter of the local arts, who died of cancer last year.

SOPAC will bestow the 2010 Jonathan Felsman Spirit Award to South Orange's traffic control officer Butch Larkin. The 2010 Spring Gala Honoree awards go to former Secretary of State of New Jersey Nina Mitchell Wells, and founding SOPAC Chair of the Board Barbara Stoller.

To purchase tickets for the event or for more info, visit or call 973.313.ARTS

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