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Queens students, Broadway vets hold concert in Jamaica

Southeast Queens youth shared the stage of the Jamaica Performing Arts Center last week with Broadway stars as a Jamaica nonprofit treated the community to a free concert called “Space Safe and Broadway Light Up Jamaica Avenue.”

The nonprofit, Safe Space, moved its administrative offices from Manhattan to 163rd Street in Jamaica about two months ago and the event was held to demonstrate the organization’s work in southeast Queens, said Jason Lee, chairman of the board of Safe Space.

“This is our homecoming, so we’re putting on a show on behalf of our community,” Lee said. “This is an opportunity for us to share a little bit of art in Queens.”

Lee noted that there are few Broadway-style entertainment options in southeast Queens.

“This is the community that we want to invest in,” he said. “Queens is a historically underserved — frankly, forgotten — borough in New York,” he said. “This is our opportunity to become a real provider out here.”

Stars of Broadway shows involved in the nonprofit Broadway in South Africa worked with the kids on singing and a break-dancing performance.

Frankie James Grande, who made his Broadway debut in “Mama Mia!” and was a dance teacher for the Safe Space kids, said the youth worked hard in practice to make the night successful.

“These kids ... these young adults, bring their own personalities to the table every day,” he said before making a cameo appearance during the break-dancing performance.

Wonkly Martinez, a 22-year-old Kew Gardens resident, said he started break dancing at 16 and decided to audition for the Jamaica event.

“I love it so much,” he said of break dancing. “It’s something that I do want to keep doing for a long time.”

Martinez said he was starstruck when he first met the Broadway stars during practice, but said they were down to earth and “it felt like we were all one team.”

“It was very exciting because they’re at a level where I want to go one day,” he said. “You see the love they have for performing.”

Borough President Helen Marshall, who sat in the first row for the hour-long performance, was given a lifetime achievement award by Safe Space.

Aside from Grande, the show also featured performances by Brandon Victor Dixon, who was nominated for a Tony Award for his role in “The Color Purple,” Andrea Dora of “Tarzan” and Sean Bradford from “The Lion King” and “The Scottsboro Boys.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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