Autism New Jersey will be hosting its seventh annual benefit at Montclair State University. The event, which will be held in Memorial Auditorium on Monday, April 22, will feature a performance from the musical theater department’s Freshman Revue and will be headlined by Broadway stars Heather Botts, Rebecca Luker and Sierra Boggess.
The event is planned by Montclair State’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA).
Botts, who is currently performing as Laura Benanti’s understudy in “My Fair Lady,” has starred in productions of “Doctor Zhivago” and “The King and I.”
Luker is a three-time Tony Awards nominee whose acting credits include leading roles in productions of “Cinderella,” “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music.”
Boggess is best known for her role as Ariel in the Broadway production of “The Little Mermaid,” in addition to acting credits in “The Phantom of the Opera” and “School of Rock.”
Professor Larry Weiner of the School of Communication and Media (SCM) introduced the annual benefit to Montclair State.
“I started the benefit eight years ago for a number of reasons – first, obviously, to raise money for the organization, but also to teach students how to become better citizens by helping those with special needs,” Weiner said.
He went on to say that producing a concert of this magnitude gives his students real event planning skills, and that the event is really something that reflects positively on the SCM.
Weiner himself has been involved in the autism community for nearly 30 years, when his son Jonathan was diagnosed with autism at the young age of 3.
“I realized then it would become a lifelong pursuit,” Weiner said. “Back then, parents had to be the strongest for their kids because educators, legislators, EMT workers really had no idea what autism was all about, and these kids were often abused because of that.”
Autism New Jersey is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the lives of people and families affected by autism. Their mission statement on the Autism New Jersey website states, “Autism New Jersey leads the way to lifelong individualized services provided with skill and compassion. We recognize the autism community’s many contributions to society and work to enhance their resilience, abilities and quality of life.”
Weiner is a strong supporter of the organization.
“Their mission of education and advocacy has helped many thousands of parents, educators, legislators, etc.,” Weiner said. “For parents, the organization helped – and continues to help – parents understand existing laws and helped them navigate through the really byzantine system that only confused and disheartened parents.”
Nia Dubourg, a sophomore majoring in musical theater, is excited about the event and the cause it is supporting.
“Theater can help vocalize certain social issues and advocate for those around us,” Dubourg said.
She also went on to explain her own personal connection to the cause.
“My mother, being a social worker for children who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), has passed down the drive to advocate for those who deserve support, patience and kindness,” Dubourg said. “I am excited to attend this event and support my fellow theater enthusiasts, as well as support an important cause.”
Among the performers, Weiner’s son will be playing the piano on Monday night.
“He’s a case book example of how someone with ASD can fulfill their potential as contributing members of society,” Weiner said. “And, it’s also a lesson to parents that early detection is absolutely critical for helping these kids blossom as adults.”
Tickets for the event can be purchased online at Eventbrite.com for $15. Current Montclair State students and alumni can purchase tickets in advance through the communication office in Morehead Hall or at the door on the day of the event for $10 with their student ID.