Tony Award Winner Headlines Benefit for Autism

Most recently starring as Baroness Schraeder in the NBC live production of “The Sound of Music,” Laura Benanti comes to Montclair State.

Tony award winner Laura Benanti will headline Montclair State University’s third annual concert to benefit Autism New Jersey, set to take place in Memorial Auditorium on Thursday, May 1. The event will also star comic Sunda Croonquist, 11-year-old musical prodigy Jodi DiPiazza, stage performer Gia McGlone, and students from Montclair State’s Musical Theater program.

Hosting the show will be students from both of the Montclair State and Fairleigh Dickinson Public Relations Student Society of America chapters.

The money raised from the evening will help Autism New Jersey provide education and support for teachers and other professionals responsible for educating and caring for children and adults with autism.

Benanti, who was most recently seen as Baroness Schraeder in the NBC live production of “The Sound of Music,” received a Tony Award for her portrayal of Gypsy Rose Lee in the 2008 revival of “Gypsy.” She achieved fame by replacing Rebecca Luker in the role of Maria in the 1998 Broadway revival of “The Sound of Music.” Benanti has also starred in “Swing!,” the 2002 revival of “Into the Woods,” “Nine,” “The Wedding Singer,” and “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.”

Croonquist has headlined both previous Montclair State Autism New Jersey benefit events.

She can be seen every Wednesday night on JLTV’s “James and Sunda.” She also hosts “Mother-tainment” on Radio Titans.com. Additional credits include: “Law and Order,” “The Today Show”, “The Doctors” and Oprah’s OWN. She hosts Hollywood’s “All Star Comedy” at the World Famous Laugh Factory every Saturday night.

McGlone, originally from New Jersey, is a graduate of Montclair State University, with a B.F.A. in Acting. She has worked in Off- Broadway, regional productions, as well as international tours around the United States ,U.K., and Switzerland. As an aspiring recording and performance artist, she has been featured with VH1 events, summer stage and creative outlet of Dance Theatre Brooklyn.

Jodi DiPiazza is a fifth grader at Midland School in Rochelle Park. She sang with actress Moira Kelly at last year’s Autism NJ fundraiser. Prior to that, DiPiazza performed with Katy Perry during the Comedy Central’s “Night of Too Many Stars” in 2012. She and Benanti will perform a duet during the May 1 program.

Autism New Jersey is the largest statewide network of parents and professionals dedicated to improving the lives of people with autism and their families. The nonprofit organization is committed to ensuring safe and fulfilling lives for individuals with autism, their families, and the professionals who support them. Through awareness, credible information, education, and public policy initiatives, Autism New Jersey leads the way to lifelong individualized services provided with skill and compassion. 

The Centers for Disease Control released a report showing 1 in 68 children nationally has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. This newest estimate is based on the CDC's evaluation of health and educational records of all 8-year-old children in 2010 in 11 states, including New Jersey. New Jersey has the highest rates, with 1 in 45, 1 in 28 boys. The national rate marks an increase of 30% from the previous 1 in 88 statistic.

The show will run from 7:30 – 9:30 p.m. Tickets for the event can be purchased on eventbrite for $15. Montclair students, both current and alumni, can purchase tickets in advance through the Communication Office in Life Hall for $10, or purchase them at the door, with a student ID. 

The event is planned and promoted by the Montclair State University Public Relations Student Society of America, which won the 2006 United States Postal Service Executive Public Relations Challenge competition, performed public relations for 2006 and 2007 Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year, Lorena Ochoa, the fifth annual Andy Kaufman Award in 2010, the Curtain Call Award, and Hackensack University Medical Cancer Center. The Fairleigh Dickinson University PRSSA was chartered in 2012. It cohosted the first Autism New Jersey benefit event in 2012. The Fairleigh Dickinson PRSSA chapter was created in 2012.