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It's Time To Think About Valentine's Day

By Gary Wien

originally published: 12/19/2014
The holidays come and go so quickly. Before you know it, Valentine's Day will be upon us. Rather than wait until the last minute to decide what to do this year, check out the incredible deal available from the Shea Center for Performing Arts at William Paterson University. For $60 you get a seat on stage for A Valentine's Day Celebration featuring jazz and blues singer Catherine Russell. Admission also includes dinner and a dessert buffet along with two hours worth of open bar that includes premiere beer and wine. It's the perfect date night, but seats are limited for the event on Saturday, February 14.

Russell, a native New Yorker, is a Grammy Award winning vocalist who has toured the world, performing and recording with David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Jackson Browne, Michael Feinstein, and Rosanne Cash. Since the 2006 release of her debut album, Cat, on Harmonia Mundi's World Village label, Catherine has been making new fans and friends. Four acclaimed and chart topping albums have followed, including Strictly Romancin', awarded Prix du Jazz Vocal 2012 (Vocal Album of The Year) by the Jazz Academy in France and a Bistro Award for Outstanding Recording, followed by Bring It Back in 2014. In addition, Catherine won the Grammy for featured artist on the HBO Boardwalk Empire soundtrack.

The Valentine's Day show is part of the Onstage Café at Shea, a series created by Jane B. Stein, the Executive Director, University Performing Arts. Stein says the concept was to offer artists that might be able to sell 300 seats a space to work with rather than their regular 922 seat theatre.

"What we all need as presenters is spaces that can become flexible," explained Stein. "Unfortunately, most of them were not designed that way. The Onstage Cafe is a way to make a more intimate setting for the singer-songwriter or cabaret artist who normally wouldn't perform in a 1,000 seat hall. What we do is have tables down stage. We can fit 72 people at the tables and more staging upstage with the artists. So, the audiences who are at the tables are on stage with the artist, which gives a very intimate experience."

Table seating sold out quickly for an Onstage Cafe show with John Sebastian from The Lovin' Spoonful in November. They also sold out most of the orchestra with nearly 400 people all total in attendance.

"What we're trying to do is create an experience," said Stein. "We're always going to have fabulous entertainment on stage, but sometimes it may not be a household name. We want to encourage people to purchase the experience. To be able to sit on the stage is very different than going to a theater and sitting in the seats where there's a divide between you and the artist. Here you're right up close. It's the best deal anywhere!"

Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at gary@newjerseystage.com.

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