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Judy Kuhn, James Monroe Iglehart & More Set for NJPAC's 2016-17 Season

Recognized the world over not only by their bold-face names, but especially by their superb talents, the artists headlining New Jersey Performing Arts Center's 2016-17 season validate the Arts Center as the state's most diverse and artistically excellent presenter.

"Diversity is what we do. It's our strong suit," says John Schreiber, President and CEO of the 19-year-old Arts Center. "With each season, the band-width of choices grows wider, so the word among audiences of any age, culture or taste is that they can always count on something special to be seen here, something that speaks to them.

"It's not unusual for NJPAC, on a given weekend, to have all its spaces running on all cylinders. For instance, a magnificent dance company like Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will be in Prudential Hall, an intimate production like Carefree: Dancin' with Fred & Ginger in the Victoria Theater, or an operatic star like Paulo Szot in the Chase Room. Even outdoors on Theater Square, thousands of people will gather for free concerts by Junior Marvin's Wailers or Felix Hernandez's Rhythm Revue Dance Party."

While each artist stands alone as an accomplished performer, in many instances the stage is shared with others in unique pair-ups and groupings not seen in other venues.

"It's like being invited to a dinner party with Grupo Niche, José Feliciano, Wynton Marsalis, Michael Feinstein, Esperanza Spalding or Herbie Hancock - and meeting all their companions. It would be a night you'd never forget," says David Rodriguez, NJPAC's Executive Vice President and Executive Producer.

Thoughtful curation goes into the development of an original, irresistible program, according to Rodriguez. That's why Natalie MacMaster will add her fiery fiddling to a concert by The Chieftains (March 5, 2017), and Get On Up: A James Brown Celebration (November 18) will gather founding members of the James Brown Band such as Fred Wesley and Robert "Mousey" Thompson with guest vocalists Sharon Jones, Bettye LaVette and Lee Fields, bassist Christian McBride and other friends.
Folk music legend Arlo Guthrie shares the spotlight with southern country and blues great Taj Mahal (March 3, 2017), while musicians of Buena Vista Social Club appear not only with Cuban song virtuoso Omara Portuondo, but alongside jazz luminaries Regina Carter and Anat Cohen (October 15).

Smart programming also is informed by those who best know their art, Rodriguez maintains, and that's why the Arts Center consults with extraordinary performers in planning a season. NJPAC Jazz Advisor Christian McBride, a Grammy-winning bassist of international renown who plays a lead role each year in NJPAC's TD James Moody Jazz Festival, has been joined by two new artistic advisors:

  • Tap genius Savion Glover, NJPAC Dance Advisor, is the Newark-raised choreographer of the 10-time Tony-nominated Shuffle Along on Broadway. Theater-goers also know him as the rising star of The Tap Dance Kid and the choreographer and lead of Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk.
  • Poet and spoken-word artist Patricia Smith, a record-setting slam champion and 2014 Guggenheim fellow, lends her expertise to NJPAC's poetry programs, arts education, and special events aligned with the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.

Unique projects
Returning for a third season on December 17, The Hip Hop Nutcracker with MC Kurtis Blow, a hit holiday show touring to over 27 cities produced by NJPAC, paved the way for other presentations that originated at NJPAC. Savion Glover will choreograph and perform in Chronology of a HooFer, a new work about the shoes he had to fill on his journey from a Newark youngster to becoming a tap legend (September 23). Carefree: Dancin' with Fred & Ginger (November 4 and 5) represents a first-time collaboration between NJPAC and RKO Stage. Tony Award winning director and choreographer Warren Carlyle (After Midnight and She Loves Me) will reimagine the glitziest numbers from the Astaire-Rogers partnership at RKO Pictures with a cast of Broadway singers and dancers and state-of-the-art stage technology. Making the leap from screen to concert hall will be classics like "Night and Day," "The Way You Look Tonight" and "They Can't Take That Away from Me."

Just as The Hip Hop Nutcracker embarked on a national tour, followed by an engagement in Russia, cross-country touring plans are in the works for Carefree, which also plays the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton on November 6.

The Arts Center relishes the challenge to "take it outside" by presenting performances and special events beyond its walls throughout the upcoming season. Collaborations with other venues have resulted in packed concerts at such arenas as Brooklyn's Barclays Center, Newark's Prudential Center and Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn., creating alternative streams of revenue and increasing audience awareness of NJPAC.

The TD James Moody Jazz Festival marks its fifth year from November 1-20, but the TD Jazz Series keeps the music swingin' throughout the season. The Cuban rhythms of the aforementioned Buena Vista Social Club's Omara Portuondo offer a taste of what's to come later at the festival.

"I'm especially looking forward to leading all-star concert tributes to two of Newark's legendary musicians - the "Divine" Sarah Vaughan and saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter - and hosting an afternoon of music with four-time Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding," says Christian McBride. "I'm also beyond excited to be part of that very special reunion of James Brown alumni in Prudential Hall. We'll be hearing from Cécile McLorin Salvant, Dianne Reeves, Wynton Marsalis, the greats of GRP Records, and many others. That's the kind of company we keep."

A highlight of the Moody celebration, named in honor of the Newark saxophone virtuoso, will be Jazz in the Key of Ellison (November 1) sponsored by with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, vocalist Catherine Russell, special guest Angelique Kidjo and others to be announced. It's an all-star homage to American novelist Ralph Ellison and his remarkable jazz collection, told in words and music. On November 6, Chris and Dan Brubeck, sons of jazz giant Dave Brubeck, head a versatile band in The Brubeck Songbook highlight never before heard songs from Brubeck with Manhattan singer-pianist Hilary Kole and host Michael Bourne of WBGO Jazz88.3.

A who's-who of alumni from GRP Records, the groundbreaking jazz label founded by musicians Dave Grusin and the late Larry Rosen in the '70s, will reunite in GRP Jazz Revisited (November 17) to present, individually and collectively, music from the studio's heyday. Grusin will be joined by Lee Ritenour, Phil Perry, David Sanborn and The Yellowjackets in this heartfelt tribute to Rosen. This season the festival turns the spotlight on Newark's "Divine One" - Sarah Vaughan - for a pair of events: the annual Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition (November 20), a career-making opportunity for five top female singers to vie for the "SASSY Award," and Sarah Vaughan Celebration (November 19), hosted by McBride and his trio, with special guest vocalists Dianne Reeves, Lisa Fischer and Sheila Jordan.

Newark saxophonist Wayne Shorter participates in a jazz-filled, April weekend in his honor as part of the TD Jazz Series and in sponsorship with the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers-Newark. His former Weather Report bandmates join McBride, Rachel Z, Joe Lovano and Steve Wilson in Weather Report and Beyond Reimagined on April 22, 2017. Preceding the concert is a screening of Wayne Shorter: Zero Gravity, a documentary directed by Dorsay Alavi. The next evening, electronic jazz and R&B icon Herbie Hancock guests with the Wayne Shorter Quartet in Prudential Hall. Preceding that concert, at 3 p.m., Shorter's work is sure to be a topic in Christian McBride with Esperanza Spalding: One on One, a concert and conversation between two acclaimed bassists.

"We take the definition of jazz further than most venues," says Rodriguez of the innovative "casting" of these themed jazz concerts.

Dorthaan's Place, NJPAC's popular jazz and brunch combo, begins its season during the festival with pianist and composer Renee Rosnes on November 20. The Sunday series at in-house NICO Kitchen + Bar continues with the Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lew Tabackin Quartet (January 22, 2017); baritone Kevin Mahogany (February 12, 2017); bluesman Rob Paparozzi (March 12, 2017); and the Bucky Pizzarelli/Ed Laub Duo (April 2, 2017).

Happy returns
Coming back to NJPAC for the fourth time in its history, the biennial Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary from October 20-23. A poetpalooza of readings, talks and workshops, featuring many of the greatest voices on stage and page, "The Dodge" is recognized as the largest poetry festival in North America. Check for an upcoming announcement of events.

Horizon Foundation Sounds of the City
The free outdoor concerts of Horizon Foundation Sounds of the City, the hottest spot in Newark on Thursday nights in the summer, is also back. An NJPAC tradition, Felix Hernandez's Rhythm Revue Dance Party opens the series on July 7, which goes on to feature Tiempo Libre (July 14), Universal Hip Hop Museum: The Peace, Unity & Love Show (July 21), artist TBA (July 28), Junior Marvin's Wailers (August 4), Avery*Sunshine (August 11), Tortured Soul (August 18), and Bilal (August 25).

American Songbook and Broadway
Michael Feinstein, considered the go-to interpreter and historian of the American Songbook, puts a hand upon this season's music broadcasts. The pianist and singer, who performed last season in NJPAC's centennial salute to Frank Sinatra, is the new host of American Songbook at NJPAC, the Emmy-nominated public TV series. Tapings take place on December 1 and 2 in the Victoria Theater, with a dazzling, upbeat cast of stage and cabaret performers to be announced. This concert-and-conversation series, presented by NJPAC and NJTV, airs on NJTV, WNET and WLIW21.

Some of the finest musical theater performers grace NJPAC's stages, which include the 2,800-seat Prudential Hall, 500-seat Victoria Theater and 250-seat Chase Room. Appearing twice-nightly in the intimate, cabaret-style Chase Room are "The Voice of Broadway" Betty Buckley (Cats, Sunset Boulevard) on September 17; James Monroe Iglehart (Aladdin, Memphis) on January 28, 2017; Judy Kuhn (Fun Home, Les Miserables) on March 18, 2017; and Paulo Szot (South Pacific and the Metropolitan Opera) on May 6, 2017.

SiriusXM Broadway host Seth Rudetsky, who has emceed, music-directed and performed in a number of events at NJPAC, strikes up the band on October 7 for Broadway's Best with Seth Rudetsky, featuring beloved numbers from the Great White Way, sung by his friends. A centennial tribute to composer Leonard Bernstein, a Cole Porter cavalcade with Judy Kaye, and an all-star concert version of The Muppet Christmas Carol are other can't-misses for those who love shows and standards.

Two of the Three Amigos - comedians Steve Martin and Martin Short - keep the laughter rolling in a rare onstage reunion on October 30, titled An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Lives, featuring the Steep Canyon Rangers bluegrass band with Jeff Babko. Expect lots of stand up, banter about their gigs on Saturday Night Live, film clips and comedy.

NJPAC is seriously committed to top-notch comedy programming. Stand-up engagements are booked for Gabriel "Fluffy" Iglesias (July 7 and 8), Chris Tucker (July 30) and Ron White (August 6), with more on the way. The Arts Center commissioned Chicago's The Second City to present another hilarious parody of the Great Garden State, this time focusing on politics and the November election, in The Second City's Paved & Confused 2: Please Don't Feed the Candidates on October 29.

Talk of the town
Fairleigh Dickinson University unwraps the third edition of its popular New Jersey Speakers Series at NJPAC in a subscriber package that runs from October through April. Seven Thursday night programs feature some of the world's most powerful and enlightening thought leaders, who engage the audience in a Q&A following their presentations. Among the conversationalists in this season's lineup are EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar,Tony) winner Rita Moreno (October 6), former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (October 27), Monty Python original John Cleese (January 26, 2017), and newsman Ted Koppel (March 23, 2017).

Meaningful community dialogues and arts education are integral to NJPAC Stage Exchange: The 2017 Commissions, an ongoing series of new-play readings held in partnership with the New Jersey Theatre Alliance. A unique model among performing arts centers nationwide for nurturing relationships with up-and-coming playwrights, the Stage Exchange pairs three dramatists with three mentoring theaters, who guarantee each a full production of his or her play. In exchange, the playwrights establish residencies in classrooms to teach their craft and NJPAC hosts readings of the works, followed by a panel discussion. A nominal admission charge benefits a nonprofit organization whose mission connects with the play's themes or issues. Readings take place in NJPAC's Chase Room on April 21, 2017 (playwright Joel Stone and New Jersey Repertory Company); May 19, 2017 (Nicole Pandolfo and Premiere Stages); and June 23, 2017 (playwright TBA and Crossroads Theatre Company).

New Jersey's rich diversity is reflected in a globe-circling selection of programs, such as a rousing observance of Colombian independence with famed salsa band Grupo Niche and "The Prince of Vallenato" Jorge Celedón (July 22). Musical artists include Portuguese fado singer Mariza with Brazil's Bebel Gilberto (October 16); an evening with the Italian singing sensation Patrizio Buanne (October 28); and José Feliciano with his Holiday Feliz Navidad (two shows on December 18).

The arrival of the lunar new year is reason for pageantry by the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, an NJPAC audience favorite that ushers in the Year of the Rooster on January 28 and 29, 2017.

In addition to The Hip Hop Nutcracker, holiday dance offerings include the ultra-romantic Cinderella, performed by the State Ballet Theatre of Russia on December 4, and the dramatic Forces of Nature Dance Company, which shares the stage in A Kwanzaa Celebration on December 17 with Les Nubians, an Afro-French jazz vocal duo.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, NJPAC's Principal Resident Dance Company, makes Mother's Day weekend even more special during its annual homecoming performances in Prudential Hall. Dance Theatre of Harlem returns as the centerpiece of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration on January 14, 2017.

Moscow Festival Ballet, another Russian troupe unleashing a full-length story ballet, performs Tchaikovsky's timeless masterpiece, Swan Lake, on April 15, 2017.

Diversity also takes prominence in a larger array of family attractions, especially Sesame Street Live: Elmo Makes Music (October 7 and 8), where children learn that people - and creatures - from all walks can make beautiful music together. Peking Acrobats (February 18, 2017), Broadway's beloved A Year with Frog and Toad (February 25, 2017) and Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters (May 6, 2017), based on a tale of Africa, are among the highlights for young audiences. The free, family-friendly NJPAC Day of Swing, held during the TD James Moody Jazz Festival, puts a focus on New Orleans, November 19.

Always a stellar attraction, one that appeals to all ages, famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson unravels the mysteries of the universe for Earthlings on December 15.

Classical music
NJPAC's previously announced Bank of America Classical Series gets under way on October 29 with pianist Yuja Wang and the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, in a program of Wagner, Ravel and Shostakovich. Other concerts include:

  • Renée Fleming in recital, November 4
  • Mozart for Thanksgiving, November 27. The Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra, conducted by Matthew Halls. Radovan Vlatkovich on horn.
  • Budapest Festival Orchestra, all-Beethoven program with pianist Richard Goode, February 4, 2017. Iván Fischer, conductor.
  • Orchestre National de Lyon, conducted by Leonard Slatkin, February 19, 2017. Guest soloist George Li on piano. Works by Ravel, Slatkin, Liszt and Berlioz.
  • Munich Philharmonic with Valery Gergiev conducting and pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, April 2, 2017. Beethoven's "Eroica" and works by Strauss and Ravel.

Tickets go on sale Friday, May 20 at 10 a.m. and may be purchased by calling 1-888-GO-NJPAC (466-5722), online at, or in person at the NJPAC Box Office, One Center Street in downtown Newark. For groups of 10 or more, call (973) 297-5804.

NJPAC's Create Your Own Series (CYO) of three or more events saves you 15% off each ticket for eligible events. To receive the CYO discount at, be sure to select "subscriptions" before ordering. CYO subscribers may call 1-888-MY-NJPAC (696-5722).

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