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The New Jersey Festival Orchestra Usher in the New Year With 'The Great American Songbook' and 'Broadway Classics'

By Carolyn M. Brown,

originally published: 12/22/2023

The New Jersey Festival Orchestra Usher in the New Year With

The New Jersey Festival Orchestra is ringing in the New Year with a superb revue from Golden Age classics to Broadway’s greatest hits in glorious symphonic splendor. Joining in the festivities are soloists direct from the Broadway stage and dancers from the Dance Theatre of Harlem along with Maestro David Wroe and the orchestra as they swing to favorites from America’s Great Songbook. There are two celebratory performances, one on New Year’s Eve (Dec 31, 7 p.m.) at Westfield High School and the other on New Year's Day (Jan 1, 2:30 p.m.) at the Sieminski Theatre in Basking Ridge.

It is expected to be quite a visual spectacle, says Maestro Wroe, who serves as music director of the New Jersey Festival Orchestra and principal conductor at the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice in New York. Over the past decade, the orchestra has celebrated the New Year holiday with a revue of American musical theater classics. The popularity of the performance has grown exponentially, says Maestro Wroe. “We now perform fully-fledged concerts for anywhere from 700-1,000 people coming to Westfield High School on New Year's Eve and the auditorium (Sieminski Theatre) on New Year's Day. “It is a festive time of the year, and we are a vehicle for the community celebrating New Year's Eve and New Year's Day through art.” he adds.

The New Jersey Festival Orchestra Usher in the New Year With

David Wroe. Courtesy of NJFO.

"The Great American Songbook" was chosen because the music genre is accessible and familiar to people of all ages and from all walks of life. The Great American Songbook is the canon of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards. Often referred to as “American Standards,” the songs published during the Golden Age of this genre include those popular and enduring tunes from the 1920s to the 1960s that were created for the Broadway stage and Hollywood musical film, according to the Great American Songbook Foundation.

In true fashion, the New Jersey Festival Orchestra’s celebratory performance will encompass music from composers of the 1930s such as George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, as a well as a repertoire of songs leading up to the 1980s from such composers as Marvin Hamlisch, Stephen Sondheim and Jerry Herman.

Conducting the New Jersey Festival Orchestra is most fulfilling for Maestro Wroe who is living his dream. “It takes unique skill to galvanize 50 to 70 musicians in a single room to play harmonious together,” he says. As he strongly notes, the conductor is a musician too. “So, I enjoy interpreting music. A conductor is also a project manager, both artistically and administratively. So, I direct other musicians (from the podium) whilst they make music. And that is really pleasurable.”

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During The Great American Songbook festivities, members of the Dance Theatre of Harlem will perform to such classics as the “Hot Honey Rag” from the musical Chicago, “Embraceable You” and “I Got Rhythm” from “Girl Crazy,” and “People” from “Hello Dolly,” the song popularized by the iconic Barbra Streisand. The dancers also will perform to an up-tempo song called “Use What You've Got” from the Broadway musical “The Life.” Maestro Wrote adds that “those are just five of the 16 selections that will be presented.” Three vocalists from the Broadway stage, Paige Faure, Jill Ace, and full-scale classical opera singer Jeremy Brauner, will perform the other musical numbers slated for the evening.

The New Jersey Festival Orchestra Usher in the New Year With

Paige Faure. Courtesy of NJFO.

“It’s nice to dance to songs that have this great storytelling aspect to them, which often comes along with musicals. The music really drives a lot of my choreography and the musicality in my dancing,” says Derek Brockington, a dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem who also has performed in previous New Year’s extravaganzas conducted by Maestro Woe and the New Jersey Festival Orchestra.

The Dance Theatre of Harlem is an American professional ballet company based in Harlem, New York City that provides performance, training, and education. It was founded in 1969 at the height of the civil rights movement under the directorship of legendary dancer Arthur Mitchell, who made history in 1955 as the first Black principal dancer at the New York City Ballet. Today the Dance Theatre of Harlem is recognized as an international touring company with global acclaim.

Brockington, who has been a dancer with the company since 2018, shares why such an American institution is so vital. “I didn’t grow up seeing dancers who looked like me, especially in ballet. So, when I joined the Dance Theatre of Harlem, I was able to see representation. I was able to see myself on stage doing this classical art form that has such heavy roots in European culture and society,” he explains.

The New Jersey Festival Orchestra Usher in the New Year With

Derek Brockington. Photo by Theik Smith.

Brockington will join five other dancers from the Dance Theater of Harlem on stage with performances that mix ballet, jazz, and contemporary dance styles. He adds that the dancing also will be theatrical in nature since, “we are acting out with our bodies the songs the singers perform.”

The Great American Songbook musical revue is meant to be good time for all who attend the New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day performances. “I want audiences to leave all their troubles behind,” Brockington says. “If I am able to move them in some way or to take them away from their everyday life so that when they leave, they are uplifted that is really my goal.”

Maestro Wroe concurs. “Our goal beyond just representing some of the great songs from Broadway musicals, is giving audiences a great send-off to 2023 and a wonderful launch into the New Year, 2024, with hope and spiritual renewal,” he says. “We hope that people leave the performance invigorated, enlivened, and inspired.”

The New Jersey Festival Orchestra Usher in the New Year With

The New Jersey Festival Orchestra. Courtesy of NJFO.

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The Great American Songbook is Sunday, December 31, 2023, 7 p.m., at Westfield High School, Westfield, NJ and Monday, January 1, 2024, 2:30 p.m., at the Sieminski Theatre, Basking Ridge, NJ.

Basking Ridge | December 31, 2023 @ 7pm and January 1, 2024 @ 2:30pm. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.

About the author: Carolyn M. Brown is an investigative journalist, editor, author, playwright, multimedia content producer and an entrepreneur. She has produced content spanning across a portfolio of platforms, including print, digital media, broadcast, theater arts, and custom events. Her publication credits include Essence, Forbes, Inc., and Diversity Woman magazines. She is a founding board member of the Paterson Performing Arts Development Council, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing together diverse communities through the performing arts and cultural events and to creating pathways for new and established artists.

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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