An American (Songbook) in Newark

An American (Songbook) in Newark


Love Broadway and cabaret performances, but hate traveling over the river and through the woods of tourists in Times Square? No problem! I have a suggestion, if I may: try the “AmericanSongbook at NJPAC” in Newark on for size. You even have two performances to choose from: Saturday, September 20 at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, September 21 at 3:00 p.m. Both performances take place in the intimate Victoria Theater (which seats 511 total, divided between orchestra and balcony sections) at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.

This is the second season of the words-and-music series, co-presented with NJTV, New Jersey’s public television network. Yup, this series is an offshoot of NJPAC being used as a broadcast venue, which means that each performance will be taped before a live audience (you!) for a future broadcast on WNET, NJTV and WLIW. Now, I know you all have your heart set on becoming public television megastars like Michelle Dockery or Benedict Cumberbatch (let’s face it, there’s only one Maggie Smith), but there is a chance that audience members will be shown on screen when the show is broadcast, likely in January 2015.

During each presentation, you’ll hear performances by some of the country’s best-loved Broadway and cabaret artists (performances of about 40 minutes each), followed by a short conversation with theater sage Ted Chapin. Chapin serves on several boards, including the American Theater Wing, where he was Chairman for four years, Goodspeed Musicals, and New York City Center. He was a Tony Awards nominator for two seasons and is a member of the Tony Administration Committee.

To get a sense of what’s in store for you, take a look at last year’s “Songbook” broadcast from NJTV.

I hear you asking: But who is performing this year?! “American Songbook at NJPAC” features Broadway and cabaret stars Marilyn Maye (favorite of “Tonight Show” viewers); Tommy Tune (nine-time Tony-winning legend); Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (the songwriting team behind hits like “Hairspray” and TV’s “Smash”); John Pizzarelli (New Jersey's own Grammy-nominated jazzman); Nellie McKay (singer-songwriter star of cabaret and Broadway) and Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana (Tony-nominated leads from Broadway's “Cinderella”).

You may have heard the phrase “American Songbook” before – that’s because it is a thing. Lincoln Center has a big annual American Songbook series and, heck, I personally own a good portion of the Ella Fitzgerald Songbook collection.

Victoria Theater at NJPAC

Victoria Theater at NJPAC

Typically, Songbook performances and recordings refer to musical theater, movie and some popular songs, especially those from the 1920s through 1950s (think Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, etc.). But often, the phrase can be used in a broader sense, as is the case with the NJPAC Songbook. Yes, there are some very official standards on the early set list, like songs from “Annie Get Your Gun” (Irving Berlin) and “Carousel” (Rodgers/Hammerstein). But there are also a whole bunch of songs from well outside that traditional Songbook timeframe and expected genre, which makes for a broad musical experience, destined to appeal to a wide variety of fans, and will likely give attendees a whole new set of songs with which to fall in love.

Really, the hardest part of this whole thing for you is to decide which of the two performances to attend. (Of course, there’s certainly no law against attending both!) In the event you have to choose, though, here is some information on the performers to help you decide.

On Saturday the 20th, you’ll see:

  • Marilyn Maye: Johnny Carson was well known for featuring great singers, including Maye, whom he called “Super Singer.” Maye appeared on The Tonight Show a record 76 times, more than any other singer. Her performance will be both a musical salute and a compilation of many of the songs she performed on “The Tonight Show.”

  • Tommy Tune (amazingly enough, that’s his real last name!): With nine Tony Awards over a 50-year career under his belt, Tommy Tune is a singing, dancing Broadway legend.

  • Marc Shaiman and ScottWittman: Multiple award-winning songwriters Shaiman and Wittman have composed such modern classics as the Broadway musicals “Hairspray” and “Catch Me If You Can” and the TV show “Smash.” On top of that, Shaiman is an Oscar nominee for his compositions in “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Patch Adams,” “The First Wives Club” and “The American President.”

On Sunday the 21st, you’ll see:

  • New Jersey’s own John Pizzarelli: After the world-renowned jazz guitarist and singer’s recent smash success with the Boston Pops, the Boston Globe hailed him for “reinvigorating the Great American Songbook and re-popularizing jazz.”

  • Nellie McKay: Singer-songwriter Nellie McKay has done it all and is sure to deliver a set that’s tuneful and clever – part cabaret, part sparkly pop.

  • Laura Osnes: On Broadway, she’s played Sandy in “Grease,” Nellie in “South Pacific,” Hope in “Anything Goes” and the title characters in “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Cinderella.” Amazing to see what success can come after winning a reality TV show!

  • Santino Fontana: In addition to starrring with Osnes in “Cinderella” on Broadway, he’s also a Tony nominee and Audience Choice Award winner and has appeared on Broadway in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” “Billy Elliot,” “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and “Sunday in the Park with George.”

Oops, sorry, I just realized that I may have made your decision even more difficult. Here’s the good news, though: you certainly can’t go wrong with either performance. Or better yet: see both.

The Details

American Songbook at NJPAC takes place on Saturday, September 20 at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, September 21 at 3:00 p.m. at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, located at One Center Street in Newark. Tickets are $39-$49 and can be purchased at 888-466-5722 or at  But, of course, you’re a Jersey Arts Member, right? So that means you can get a 50% discount on tickets by using the code “15DJA” when ordering tickets. (Though you should move fast: discounted tickets are limited to just 100!)

“American Songbook at NJPAC” is presented, in part, through the generous support of the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, Sylvia and David Steiner, The Johnny Mercer Foundation and Investors Bank.

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