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The Best of Broadway and Dance Theatre of Harlem Ring in the New Year with the New Jersey Festival Orchestra

By Christopher Benincasa,

originally published: 12/30/2019

The Best of Broadway and Dance Theatre of Harlem Ring in the New Year with the New Jersey Festival Orchestra

You have two opportunities to welcome 2020 with the New Jersey Festival Orchestra. They’ll be presenting their annual New Year’s concert on New Year’s Eve at the Westfield High School Auditorium, and at the Fellowship Cultural Arts Center in Basking Ridge on New Year’s Day.

We recently sat down with Maestro David Wroe, Musical Director of the New Jersey Festival Orchestra, about what goes into creating the perfect New Year’s celebration.

Maestro David Wroe

Jersey Arts: Is this what you do every New Year's Eve?

David Wroe: It is! It's one of the best New Jersey Festival Orchestra events of the year. It's held every New Year's Eve in Westfield, N.J., and it's a concert that is extremely popular – there will be about a thousand people in the audience. People come from all over the place to join the festivities, and we very much look forward to it every year.

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JA: So, for you, what’s the criteria for a good New Year's Eve program? What kind of material makes the cut? You’re kind of like a chef cooking up a New Year’s feast.

DW: Basically, by the last note of the concert, we want the audience feeling exuberant, positive, renewed and in a mood for celebrating the last few moments of 2019. And we designed the program with that in mind. The music we chose is celebratory, upbeat, and popular.


JA: And how do you do that?

DW: Many of the choices are mine, but it's also a collaboration between the solo artists and myself. These artists specialize in certain areas – some comedic, some leading ladies, some leading men. And of course the repertoire that they sing is unique to the character that they portray on stage. So, I like to try and find music that’s a great fit for them, and we figure all that out. We go through that discovery process in the months prior to the concert, and we ultimately come up with a mutually agreeable program that everyone is happy with, and that we believe will inspire the audience.


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JA: This year, the title is “Broadway through the Ages.” Could you elaborate on that concept?

DW: Well, really the history of Broadway, or the history of musical theatre, goes back a long way, even prior to the 1900s. But, of course, the Golden Age of Broadway is from the 1920s to the 1950s, with Rogers and Hammerstein, and Gershwin, and Jerome Kern, and Leonard Bernstein with “West Side Story” in the 1950s. And so, on the one hand, we want to celebrate these master composers and these masterpieces they have written by extracting wonderful, well-known songs from those works. But then we also believe that it's necessary to support more contemporary artists. So, we mix it up by presenting more modern hits, whether it be from “Jersey Boys,” or “Mama Mia,” or various other shows that are running at the moment. So, it's an eclectic mix of the classics of the American songbook and more recent additions.

Dance Theatre of Harlem. Photo Credit: Rachel Neville Photography

Dance Theatre of Harlem. Photo Credit: Rachel Neville Photography

JA: Could we talk about a few of the featured artists? I thought we could start with Dance Theatre of Harlem?

DW: Yes! So, in addition to the singers, we’ve invited members of Dance Theatre of Harlem to enhance the musical presentation visually. So, I have collaborated with them by giving them particular sections of the music and asking them to choreograph it, to bring it alive in a visual way. It's adding a visual dynamic – creating unique, choreographic interpretations of the classic songs that we know.


JA: And what did you and guest soprano Analisa Leaming come up with?

DW: Analisa and I have worked together on a number of occasions. She's an extraordinary artist, gracing the Broadway stage in a number of productions. She was in “The King and I,” “Light in the Piazza” and “Hello, Dolly!,” and has an international reputation. We're going to be doing some classics from Rogers and Hammerstein as well as some more contemporary stuff.

The Best of Broadway and Dance Theatre of Harlem Ring in the New Year with the New Jersey Festival Orchestra

JA: And mezzo-soprano Jessica Ann Best?

DW: Another wonderful singer who has one foot in the classical world as well. She has an extensive repertoire from the American musical theater genre and the American songbook. She will be doing some Broadway music, and also music from film, and some other stand-alone songs. So, she adds that commercial music dynamic to the show. She's classically trained, and she's a very, very powerful singer.


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JA: And finally we have Jacob Keith Watson.

DW: Yes. Jacob Keith Watson, a wonderful high tenor voice, has played many comedic roles on Broadway. So, he’ll bring a different element to the stage that night, and he will be singing classics from “Jekyll and Hyde” and “Guys and Dolls,” but also some favorites from Simon and Garfunkel and the like. So, again, an eclectic mix.

The Best of Broadway and Dance Theatre of Harlem Ring in the New Year with the New Jersey Festival Orchestra

JA: Your New Year’s concert has become a holiday tradition for so many people in the region, and it’s one of the hottest tickets of the season. How did the New Jersey Festival Orchestra develop this program?

DW: The New Jersey Festival Orchestra was founded 35 years ago as a classical music symphony orchestra, dedicated exclusively to classical orchestral music. But over the years, we've evolved to be much more relevant to a broader demographic – a broader group of people with diverse tastes. This concert is a manifestation of exactly that: that we can do so much more than Beethoven or Mozart; that we are a dynamic group that presents diverse musical genres. So, our New Year's Eve show is a classic example of how the New Jersey Festival Orchestra is an orchestra for the people. It provides something for everybody. We're very proud that this concert. It's going to be one of the more special events offered in New Jersey on New Year's Eve, and New Year’s Day.

About the author: Christopher Benincasa is an Emmy Award-winning arts and culture journalist. He produced content for NJ PBS for a decade before co-founding PCK Media. Christopher currently works as a freelance producer, video editor, writer, and communications specialist for a diverse set of commercial, non-profit, and government clients. His work has been featured on various PBS stations, and in American Abstract Artists Journal, The Structurist, Paterson Literary Review, and

Content provided by Discover Jersey Arts, a project of the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts.




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