By Marion Filler
Vocalist Ari Mandel, a sophomore at the Morristown Beard School, did not hesitate for a moment when asked if he is planning on a career on Broadway.
“Yeah, for sure,” he replied.
When he takes the microphone this month at Morristown Onstage, Mandel will perform For Forever, one of the songs that helped Dear Evan Hansen win six Tony awards, including Best Musical.
The play is about a bullied 17-year-old high school student who suffers from depression. Upon the advice of his therapist, he writes a letter to himself that finds its way to a real person with a similar problem. The lyrics describe that hoped for — but totally fantasized — friendship.
“I chose it because I really enjoy seeing Broadway shows and Dear Evan Hanson is a show that really stood out to me,” Mandel said.
He is among 14 amateur finalists from Greater Morristown who will compete for cash prizes at the Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC) on Feb. 29, 2024. Organized by the Morris Educational Foundation, Morristown Onstage raises money for programs in the Morris School District.
Mandel is well prepared to realize his Broadway dream. His vocal coaches are the renowned William Riley and Ben Krauss, the choral director and chair of the performing arts department at Morristown Beard.
Last summer, Mandel participated in a musical theater workshop at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. His stage experience includes the role of Michael in Be More Chill at Morristown Beard, and Zack in School of Rock at MPAC.
He is surrounded by a creative family. Mandel’s father plays the guitar and sings, and an older brother studies dramatic and cinematic art at the University of Southern California. The siblings have appeared together on stage several times.
“My grandpa Lenny Mandel was off-Broadway for a little bit, and performed in many theaters,” said Mandel, acknowledging the veteran actor, singer, manager and rabbi who is another significant influence in his life.
“I don’t know about a big star (actually, pretty big), but he got himself out there for sure. He loves listening to me and thinks it’s great that I’m in the competition,” the student added.
“Ari has spent a lot of time over the years with Lenny,” said his mother Stacie, “and both music and theater have strengthened that bond.”
Although Mandel loves sports and plays soccer, basketball and lacrosse at school, music is number one. “I find myself singing all the time. I know singing on Broadway or on a big stage somewhere is an incredible challenge, but I would love to know what that feels like.”
He’s about to find out.
Fourteen top amateur acts from Greater Morristown will compete at the Mayo Performing Arts Center on Feb. 29, 2024, for cash prizes at Morristown Onstage. Presented by the Morris Educational Foundation, the show benefits programs in the Morris School District. Tickets: $35-$85. NOTE: The show is sold out, but sometimes last-minute tickets become available.