Broadway’s Best to Belt Out Show Tunes in Cherry Hill

Some performers from last year’s Broadway Live! will come back to Katz JCC on May 15. | Photo by Studio K

If you’ve been dying to see Hamilton like every other living, breathing human in America, the cheapest ticket around awaits in Cherry Hill.

Well, sort of.

Broadway Live! will bring in Broadway performers to the Katz JCC for one night on May 15. The annual event is a fundraiser for JCC Camps at Medford.

Money raised from the event provides financial aid for the camp’s Open Hearts/ Open Doors special needs inclusion program, “in which children with various special needs are seamlessly included into bunks with typical children,” camp director Beth Segal said.

This year’s ensemble will include actors from Hamilton, Mary Poppins, Fiddler on the Roof and The Lion King.

An orchestra accompanies the singers, who will perform more than 20 classic and popular Broadway hits. The camp choir will also perform a song from Oliver!, which is made up of “typical campers as well as some campers with special needs.”

The program provides an “advocate” camp counselor at no additional cost to the family of a special needs child.

“A family with a child with a special need pays the same tuition as anyone else,” Segal said. “However, their child is then provided a one-on-one — we call them an advocate — to be with that child all day. And [advocates] are incorporated into the bunk as another counselor, even though they’re designated for that particular child so that a child with special needs can transition into the bunk.”

The JCC Camps at Medford is an off-site day camp on 120 acres in Medford, N.J. Last year’s Broadway Live! fundraiser raised $45,000.

One actor has been coming to this event almost as long as his Broadway career.

Ben Lipitz | Studio K

Ben Lipitz, who has played the worriless warthog Pumbaa in The Lion King for 15 years on Broadway and on the national tour, came up with this Broadway fundraiser idea several years ago to support the camp he holds dear to his heart.

The Cherry Hill native rallies his friends and other performers — on their one evening off — to come to Katz, though he said they look forward to it every year.

“Whenever I ask, they jump at the chance to do it because they love the audience, and they love the opportunity to do some of their favorite music with a band,” he said.

Lipitz attended the camp back in the ’60s when it was called Camp Hilltop, first as a camper and later a staffer.

“JCC has been a part of my life as long as I can remember,” said Lipitz, who was also active with BBYO in his youth.

He said swimming in the lake was his favorite memory as a camper, though it took some convincing.

“The idea of swimming in the lake as a little kid — that smell of that cedar water — having to be convinced to swim in the lake, and then once I got in realizing how nice it was, I couldn’t believe I fought all that hard,” he laughed.

He’s kept in touch with many camp friends, like Aaron Greenberg, who went on to become one of the camp’s directors. The two collaborated to create the fundraiser.

Lipitz said the event is the best example in his life of tikkun olam.

“I had a rocky childhood, and I feel blessed to be able to give anything back to the community that I was raised in,” he added.

Ben Lipitz in The Lion King | Photo provided

Lipitz has played the same aloof warthog for more than 5,000 performances, but said he keeps the role fresh by creating the show as if for the first time.

“They don’t like me to play young Nala,” he joked. “But I’ve come to learn that I can’t remember a show I did 10 years ago versus one I did maybe two years ago or even a couple months ago, unless there’s a personal connection. But what I’ve learned is I can always remember last night’s performance. I’ve started taking the stage every night as if it’s the last time. So that’s the show I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”

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