Tenafly Presbyterian Church hosts fundraiser for beloved volunteers
by Deena Yellin | via NorthJersy.com, published with permission
The 150-year-old Presbyterian Church at Tenafly is notable for its star power.
Many of its members and cantors who lead hymns or participate in services have performed on Broadway, off-Broadway or with the New York City Opera.
All of that musical talent will join forces to help Jerad Bortz, a veteran of Wicked who was left paralyzed from the chest down when he and his husband, songwriter Steven Skeels, were involved in a car accident on Feb. 4.
The church will raise money to help the pair by holding a benefit concert on Monday, You’ve Gotta Have Heart, featuring cast members of Wicked, The Lion King and other Broadway shows.
Bortz — originally from Pittsburgh — and Skeels became well known to members of the church over a decade ago, when the couple volunteered for a church benefit concert to aid Haiti after it was devastated by an earthquake. The couple subsequently participated in other church events to help the needy.
Church members were distraught when they heard about the terrible accident and were moved to action, church leaders said.
“Jared and Steven have always brought to us a joyful and loving spirit full of hope. That spirit has provided great energy for our work on behalf of those in need,” said the Rev. Eileen Lindner of the Presbyterian Church at Tenafly. “Now we hope to buoy them up with the same joyful and loving response as they move into this next unfamiliar chapter of life.”
One church member, Ann Van Cleave, an actress who has performed in seven Broadway shows, said, “They are like family to us, and I think it’s important to do this benefit because they are so giving and have helped us out with a benefit that we do every year called Pennies for Heaven and they are always there singing with me, ready to raise money so I felt it was our turn to give back to them. They are going to need so much help financially and emotionally and our church just loves them.”
An actor, singer and dancer, Bortz has been a cast member of Wicked for 12 years and previously performed in Mamma Mia and Pirate Queen. Bortz took his final bow at the Feb. 4 show of Wicked and got into a car with Skeels, whom he married in 2015, and were involved in an accident as they headed for the Poconos.
Bortz was treated at a local emergency room in the Poconos, then airlifted to Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he underwent surgery. He is now at Kessler Rehabilitation Center in West Orange. Although doctors say he will never walk again, they harbor hope that he can recover the use of his arms through vigorous rehabilitation. Skeels suffered a broken wrist and bleeding on the brain.
In an interview last year on the podcast Broadway’s Backbone, Bortz sounded entirely content with his career and marriage. But then, ominously, he said, “I could see myself being in a show for a long time but I could also see my life completely changing.”
On Thursday, Bortz said via email, “We’ve developed such a relationship with Eileen [Lindner] and the congregation for the past 13 years doing the benefit Pennies for Heaven. Even though this isn’t our church, we know these people and they know us. We feel so overwhelmingly blessed to have the tables turned on us and see this beautiful group of people now raising money for us. We simply couldn’t be more grateful.”
The show is scheduled for Monday at the Presbyterian Church at Tenafly, 55 Magnolia Ave. Tickets start at $20 for students and seniors and go up to $500 for donors. A silent auction will include tickets to Hamilton, The Lion King and other shows. In addition, an online fundraiser has been set up at YouCaring.com.
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