Now that you’ve opened all your holiday presents and drunk your eggnog, I bet you’re starting to think: “Huh, I wish I could attend just one more New Jersey arts event before the year is over.”
Well, you’re in luck! On December 31 at 7:00 p.m., New Jersey Festival Orchestra (NJFO) will present their New Year’s Eve celebration, “Singin’ and Dancin’ with the Stars” at Westfield High School Auditorium. Different each year, NJFO’s New Year’s Eve celebrations are always eagerly anticipated and good for the whole family. This year’s edition promises a superb review of American stage, screen and television musicals to close out your 2018 and set you up for a great 2019.
On the singin’ side of things, you’ll hear from soprano Maria Failla, who sang in “Cats” on Broadway and will soon appear in its national tour, and tenor Cooper Grodin, who starred as the Phantom in the 25th anniversary national tour of “The Phantom of the Opera” and was an original member of the 25th anniversary national tour of “Les Misérables.” (For those of you trying to remember right now, “Les Mis” opened on Broadway in 1987 and “Phantom” opened in 1988. And yes, I remember those, and so I’m feeling a little old. However, I don’t quite remember the original Broadway opening of “Cats,” which was in 1982, so now I feel better.)
But this is singin’ AND dancin’ so I bet you’re wondering about the dancing part. The vocalists will be joined by Da’von Doane, Amanda Smith and Stephanie Williams from Dance Theatre of Harlem. Doane was named to Dance Magazine’s Top 25 to Watch in 2014 and eagle-eyed viewers may recognize Smith from her featured appearance in a recent national ad campaign for the GAP.
According to NJFO’s Music Director, David Roe, this exciting collaboration with dancers from Dance Theatre of Harlem means that the program has been shaken up quite a bit this year. “Talk about changing it up!” Wroe exclaimed.
The program for this year’s New Year’s concert covers a broad range of musical theatre history. Wroe says it “reads like a Who’s Who of the best of Broadway. It’s eclectic, dynamic and a grand retrospective of some of the choice songs and dances from American musicals.” New Year’s is always a great time to look to highlights of the past, while celebrating the possibilities of the future, upcoming year. And with a 7:00 p.m. start time, you can go to dinner before or after the performance (which ends at 9:00 p.m.) and still have plenty of time to enjoy the performance and ring in the New Year wherever you head off to.
Formerly Westfield Symphony Orchestra, the New Jersey Festival Orchestra was founded in 1983 (happy 35th birthday, NJFO!), by a group of Westfield citizens who believed that performances of symphonic and operatic music adds to the quality of community life. (No argument here!) Thirty-five years later, NJFO has appeared at Carnegie Hall, presented more than 20 world and United States premieres, and presented a wide range of performances and community events throughout the state of New Jersey.
In addition to his appearances in “Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Mis” national tours, vocalist Cooper Grodin has also been seen in New York and Chicago in productions of “Carousel,” “110 in the Shade,” “Into the Woods,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “The Fantastiks,” as well as performances with New York City Opera, New York Philharmonic and the Mostly Mozart Festival. Soprano Maria Failla has also performed on Broadway in the revival of “Evita,” and in tours of “The Sound of Music” and “West Side Story.”
Originally trained in Maryland, dancer Da’von Doane joined Dance Theatre of Harlem in 2012 and was also named a Pointe Magazine Standout in 2017. In addition to dancing works by George Balanchine, Arthur Mitchell and Christopher Wheeldon, Doane is a choreographer in his own right, presenting works at the 92nd Street Y and Dance Theatre of Harlem, among others. Stephanie Rae Williams is in her eighth season with Dance Theatre of Harlem, having danced previously with Complexions Contemporary Dance Company, Ballet Black and Texas Ballet Theatre. Amanda Smith started her training in California before moving to New York to study dance at SUNY Purchase. Smith has danced at Charlotte Ballet and New York Theatre Ballet and is now part of the company of Dance Theatre of Harlem.
With just a few days left in the year, now’s the time to celebrate the joy we had in 2018 and look ahead to the possibilities that await us in 2019. For my money, there’s no better way to do both of those things than by attending stellar performances of song and dance, together with a great orchestra with a long-time tradition of celebrating the new year right.
And one final thought before I leave you alone for 2018, dear reader. If you haven’t made your resolutions yet (or are looking for more), now’s a great time to add “Attend more N.J. performances” to your list.
Happy New Year, everyone!
New Jersey Festival Orchestra presents “Singin’ and Dancin’ with the Stars” on Monday, December 31 at 7:00 p.m. at the Westfield High School Auditorium, located at 550 Dorian Road in Westfield. For more information or to purchase tickets ($42, $56 and $70), visit njfestivalorchestra.org or call 908.232.9400.