December 31, 2016 marked the 25th Anniversary of New Jersey’s biggest and brightest First Night, a New Year’s Eve family-friendly, alcohol-free celebration of the arts – with over 200 artists, 92 events in 27 venues – representing dance, theatre, music, world cultures, visual arts and children’s events. For the last quarter century, Morris Arts has served as First Night Morris’ artistic programmer, securing topflight talents who attract thousands of people from throughout the state and beyond. More than half of the program features new artists (or artists returning after several years), many of whom have performed at top venues (the White House, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Ringling Brothers, Madison Square Garden), won international recognition, performed on national radio/TV, in major films and/or collaborated with superstars of performing arts. On that night, people experienced everything from Broadway stars to a comedy dog circus!
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Here are some PHOTOS from the event
- Photos by Jeff Sovelove for MorristownGreen.com:
2. Photos by staff from the Daily Record:
3. Photos by Dr. Lynn L. Siebert of Morris Arts:
4. Photos provided by Stephen Christopher, “Mr Hypno”:
Clockwise from top Left: Brian LaBlanc and his multi artist tribute band; Ukelele rock group, Cousin Earth; Blues harmonica virtuoso/vocalist Rob Paparozzi; Frances Catherine Ihling sings Alison Krauss and other modern country hits; The Feinberg Brothers bluegrass band; Maggie Worsdale sings Patsy Cline.
On the Rock/Pop front, Brian LaBlanc’s multi-artist tribute band (which opened for Grammy winners such as Blind Boys of Alabama), featured dazzlingly authentic performances of Billy Joel, Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, John Lennon, and more! Making big sounds with tiny instruments, the ukulele rock band Cousin Earth not only offered Rock, but also Fusion, Ragtime, Funk, Bluegrass, Hip-Hop and even Electronica.
For Blues/Bluegrass and Modern Country, First Night is the place. Audiences grooved with the “real deal” in Blues, R&B (and funk) as Yankee Stadium organist Ed Alstrom’s Quartet which featured Rob Paparozzi, the Grammy-nominated vocalist/harmonica virtuoso from the original Blues Brothers Band and Blood Sweat & Tears bands. Another solid pro, jazz singer Maggie Worsdale paid homage to the earthy, innovative Nashville sound of legendary Patsy Cline and, for those who preferred traditional Nashville-style bluegrass, there were the tight, soulful harmonies and serious fiddle/guitar and mandolin chops of the Feinberg Brothers – with champion banjo master Terry McGill. If the modern country/folk sound of Alison Krauss and James Taylor were your taste, audiences enjoyed the haunting, clear, pure voice of rising talent, Frances Catherine Ihling.
Clockwise from top Left: Jazz bassist/vocalist Nicki Parrott performing with jazz guitar greats Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo; Modern troubadour Lara Herscovitch; Mauricio de Souza, Bossa Brasil bandleader;Folk singer/humorist Mike Agranoff; “The Bishop of Jazz,” pianist Rio Clemente.
Jazz heaven came to First Night with the amazing Frank Vignola Trio. One of the top jazz guitarists in the world, Vignola and talented Vinny Raniolo join forces this year with a fellow Les Paul colleague, the irresistible Aussie vocalist/bassist, Nicki Parrott (who has performed with Paul McCartney and Tommy Emmanuel, among others). Mauricio de Souza’s band, Bossa Brasil®, added a touch of smooth, Brazilian-tinted jazz and, First Night would never have been complete without our own sizzling jazz pianist, Rio Clemente (the “Bishop of Jazz”) whose inventive and sparkling improvisations astonished and inspired all.
For the soaring, heart-stopping songs of Broadway, A Night of Broadway Stars brought the Great White Way to First Night, featuring actual Broadway stars singing unforgettable songs from Broadway productions such as Phantom, Wicked, The Color Purple, Fiddler on the Roof, and Cats. Who could resist?
If Folk Music is your bag, audiences enjoyed the “pure musical poetry” of troubadour Lara Herscovitch who’s appeared on the Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor, and checked out the witty and sly humor of the Folk Project’s own Mike Agranoff. For more Electic musical tastes, there were kazoos and washboards with the Philadelphia Jug Band and drumming with Carol Peña in the Gefyra Participatory Drum Circle.
Clockwise from top Left: Harmonium Choral Society; Dennis Kobray as Bach/Meet the Musicians; Solid Brass Lite; Shuang Guo Wroe, conductor of the NJ Festival Orchestra; Peter Saleh’s Marimba & Percussion Ensemble; and Laryssa Krupa with Nova Chamber Ensemble.
If you preferred Classical Music, First Night offered the artistry of the NJ Festival Orchestra, the piano virtuosity of Laryssa Krupa (with her trio), the grand brass of Solid Brass Lite and the polish and inventive programming of Harmonium Choral Society. One could also delight in Peter Saleh’s distinctive Marimba & Percussion Ensemble or travel back in time and meet Bach himself with Dennis Kobray’s Meet the Musicians.
Clockwise from top Left: Random Test Reggae; Eco Del Sur; Afrika Meets India; Nai Ni Chen Dance Company; Taikoza; Kleztraphobix; .
First Night also offered a generous sampling of World Cultures such as the renowned Nai Ni Chen Dance Company, blending traditional and contemporary Chinese dance or Taikoza’s thundering, powerful drumming, folk dance and delicate shakuhachi flute music from Japan. With its pre-colonial instruments, colorful costumes, music and dance, Mexico Beyond Mariachi explored the long cultural history of Mexico while Eco Del Sur performed ancient and contemporary music from multiple Latin American regions on indigenous instruments. Audiences danced along with the infectious Latin salsa, merengue and tangos of Daniel Herrera’s DREAMS dancers and savored the rich musical blend, performed on tabla, bansuri, mbira and kora by the global fusion ensemble, Afrika Meets India. A hot group with a cool name, the Kleztraphobix blended the traditional and contemporary with its mix of klezmer, Macedonian music and jazz and people channeled their inner Bob Marley with the lilting, joyous Caribbean sound of that great shore band, Random Test Reggae.
Clockwise from top Left: Comedian Keith Alberstadt; Comedienne Erin Jackson; Shakespeare Theatre of NJ’s comic actors Connor Carew and Patrick Toon; Mr. Fish who will demonstrate his knife throwing and bullwhip skills; and Mr. Hypno (comedy hypnotist, Stephen Christopher).
Love Theater/Comedy? Audiences laughed their way into the New Year with exceptional Comedians Keith Alberstadt (featured on late night shows with David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon Seth Meyers and appearances on SNL), and Erin Jackson (seen on Last Comic Standing, Ellen DeGeneres, Comedy Central and Standup in Stilettos). Not to be outdone, the Bard also provided laughter as Connor Carew and Patrick Toon of the Shakespeare Theatre of NJ presented the Abbott & Costello classic skit, “Who’s on First?” – but in Elizabethan English: Who Doth Inhabit the Primary Position?!
L-R: Johnny Peers & the Muttville Comix; Storyteller Julie Pasqual; Flea Circus Ringmaster George Esparza.
Participants laughed along with Mr. Hypno’s humor and hypnotism (which can make people lose the number 6 or have an urge to ballet dance!). Ringling Brothers grad Johnny Peers and the Muttville Comix (and 18 “rescue” dogs) combined the circus with slapstick humor. Picture a Bassett Hound on a skateboard! You could also dish the political dirt on first ladies with Maggie Worsdale’s First Ladies According to Martha Washington and join the enchantment cast by Storyteller extraordinaire, Julie Pasqual. And street performer and flim-flam man, George Esparza presented his suitcase Flea Circus & Wahoo Medicine Show.
Clockwise from top Left: Alborada Spanish Dance Theater; Latin dance with D.R.E.A.M.S. Dancer; NJ Tap Ensemble Soloists Jeffry Foote and Maurice Chestnut; Nai Ni Chen Dance Company; Aztec dances performed by Mexico Beyond Mariachi.
When it comes to Dance, First Nighters savored the fancy footwork and dazzling routines of NJ Tap Ensemble soloists Maurice Chestnut (who danced with Savion Glover) and Morristown’s own Jeffry Foote or sampled the swirling costumes and fiery flamenco dancers of the Alborada Spanish Dance Theatre. Love salsa, tango and merengue? Audiences gave Latin dance a try with Daniel Herrera’s DREAMS dancers, and enjoyed dances from Aztec times to the present day with Mexico Beyond Mariachi. The award-winning Nai Ni Chen Dance Company highlighted ancient and contemporary Chinese Dance in all its power, elegance and grace. Its eight dancers performed everything from athletic, martial arts inspired dances to the graceful Ribbon Dance (and taught kids how to do the Ribbon Dance – to the delight of all).
Clockwise from top Left: Illusionist Benjamin Lipman; Facepainting by Gina Velazquez at Children’s Fun Festival; Rizzo of Rizzo’s Reptile Discover, with frog friend; Creative Caravan’s Tiny Book Workshop; Keith Leaf, light up juggler; Art 4 Kids with Christine Wagner .
For Children’s Programs: Kids of all ages loved Illusionist Benjamin Lipman’s Comedy Cascade with its magic and humor as well as Rizzo’s Reptile Discovery which shared the excitement and wonder of live reptiles (under the watchful eye of a seasoned animal handler). Perennial favorite and skilled circus performer, Mr. Fish amazed audiences with his knife throwing and bullwhip skills!
L-R: Hula hooping with Whirled Revolution; Fun with LEGOs; Clowns “Glitter” and “Juggles,) at the Children’s Fun Festival.
The Early Session for younger children (4:45-6:45pm) included hula hooping with Whirled Revolution, art making activities with artist Christine Wagner’s Art 4 Kids and the always popular Fun with LEGOs®. New to this year’s early session is the highly acclaimed Nai Ni Chen Dance Company, whose dazzling costumes and inventive choreography showcase traditional and contemporary Chinese dance – and the Creative Caravan’s Tiny Book Workshop where participants created their own unique tiny books. Additionally, both early and regular sessions featured the Children’s Fun Festival, with a lively mix of magic, juggling, balloons, facepainting, kazoos and even an organ grinder!
Clockwise from top Left: Artworks at the ATRIUM GALLERY: Doug DePice’s oil, Rembrandt; Raymond Sigicinano’s oil, Mare, Sean Carney’s carved wood portrayal of the Lambertville Train Station; at ART UPSTAIRS, Medy Bozkurtian’s The Rolling Hills of Tuscany; At the STARLIGHT GALLERY, Nina Nemeth’s collage, All Things Illuminated; at the ATRIUM GALLERY, Nicholas Gammarello’s oil, Eric Clapton with Black Beauty.
Three Visual Arts exhibits (displaying over 300 artworks) and two sets of fireworks topped off that magical evening known as First Night® Morris County. To check out the full lineup of artists, visit: www.firstnightmorris.com.