5 Questions With… Ari Axelrod

Enjoy this exclusive interview between Westport Country Playhouse artistic director Mark Shanahan and Ari Axelrod.

MARK: What first gave you the idea for the show and how has it evolved In terms of song selection over the years?

ARI: I was asked to do an academic talk with music focusing on Judaism and Broadway for Eastern Michigan University’s center for Jewish Studies. That was in 2018, and the world was a very different place for Jews then. The show has evolved to reflect the world for Jews today. Additionally, it could not be further from an academic talk. It has grown into a full one-man musical/theatrical show. While many of the songs have stayed the same, the arrangements have changed as well as the set up for the songs again, to reflect the world as it is today.


MARK: I was excited when you told me you wanted to bring some new orchestrations and even more musicians to our stage this year. What other changes can we expect to a show our audience already loved so much?

ARI: If you’ve seen the show before, you haven’t seen this version of the show. In other words, the additional musicians create a completely new experience. A deeper, more vibrant, more colorful, poignant experience. Everything is enhanced. We go to places that we simply cannot go to with only a piano, or even with three pieces (piano, cello, and reeds). The additional instruments adds a heartbeat and a lifeblood to this show that is palpable. In addition to the added instruments, we’re adding a few new songs and a few new arrangements. If you saw the show a year ago, the world was a different place. This is a new version of the show you fell in love with. It will hold you, lift you up, empower you, and take you away from the world we find ourselves in. The vehicle for that journey is, and has always been, the music.


MARK: You often speak of celebrating Jewish vitality as a major goal of performing your show. Can you speak further about what that means to you?

ARI: I was raised with the belief that Jewish resilience was something to strive for. I’ve come to understand that resilience is not something to strive for. Resilience connects us to the thing that forces us to be resilient in the first place. I’m much more interested in Jewish vitality. Vitality allows us to honor the past, but it doesn’t force us to be beholden to the past. Instead, it allows us to live in the present and to allow what we do in the present to inform our future. To put it another way, we say L’Chaim which means “To Life”. Living is a choice, it is an actionable decision. So, I say we take ourselves seriously. When we say L’chaim, let us use that as a call to action to focus on how we live as opposed to having our primary focus be how we survive. When we do this, we show the world how we live, what we give to the world, we have something to fight FOR, not just something to fight against.


MARK: You last visited the Playhouse a year ago. Given the tragic events which have unfolded since then, how has your approach to your work, as well as the audience reaction to it, changed?

ARI: I define solo-performance as the art of being yourself on purpose. Again, after October 7th, the world is different. What it means to be a Jew is different.  I am different. This show is different. This show has always been a loving tribute to the Jewish influence on Broadway. But today, it’s become a true touch stone for healing, not just for me, but for the audience. To be able to come together and focus on Jewish contributions to the world as opposed to the constant fear and fight against antisemitism has been a balm for so many, myself included.


MARK: Your show is a hopeful one. In tracing the history of musicals through these particular composers’ work, do you feel hopeful for the future of the American musical theatre in all of its forms?

ARI: Absolutely. If it can survive a global pandemic, it can survive anything.


MARK: BONUS QUESTION! Do you have a particular favorite song in the show?

ARI: Oh no. I love all of them for different reasons. Come to the show to find out why 🙂


CLICK HERE or on the the graphics above to read Ari’s full bio.

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