December 31, 2016 marks 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 nearly 200 artists, over 85 events in 26+ 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, for a remarkably affordable price ($17.50-$25!), one can experience everything from Broadway stars to a comedy dog circus!
L-R; Brian LaBlanc and his multi artist tribute band; Ukelele rock group Cousin Earth; Blues harmonica virtuoso/vocalist Rob Paparozzi; Feinberg Brothers bluegrass band; Maggie Worsdale sings Patsy Cline; Frances Catherine Ihling sings Alison Krauss and other modern country hits.
On the Rock/Pop front, Brian LaBlanc’s multi-artist tribute band (which opened for Grammy winners such as Blind Boys of Alabama), features 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 offers Rock, but also Fusion, Ragtime, Funk, Bluegrass, Hip-Hop and even Electronica.
For Blues/Bluegrass and Modern Country, First Night is the place. Groove with the “real deal” in Blues, R&B (and funk) as Yankee Stadium organist Ed Alstrom’s Quartet features 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 pays homage to the earthy, innovative Nashville sound of legendary Patsy
Cline and, if you prefer traditional Nashville-style bluegrass, check out 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 is your taste, don’t miss the haunting, clear, pure voice of rising talent, Frances Catherine Ihling.L-R: Jazz bassist/vocalist Nicki Parrott performing with jazz guitar greats Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo; Jazz pianist Rio Clemente; Modern troubadour Lara Herscovitch; Folk singer/humorist Mike Agranoff; Carol Peña’s Gefyra Patricipatory Drum Circule; The Philadelphia Jug Band; Mauricio de Souza, Bossa Brasil bandleader.
Experience Jazz heaven with the amazing Frank Vignola Trio. One of the top jazz guitarists in the world, Vignola along with 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®, adds a touch of smooth, Brazilian-tinted jazz and, First Night would not be complete without our own sizzling jazz pianist, Rio Clemente (the “Bishop of Jazz”) whose inventive and sparkling improvisations astonish and inspire all.
Do you like the soaring, heart-stopping songs of Broadway? A Night of Broadway Stars brings 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, be sure to catch the “pure musical poetry” of troubadour Lara Herscovitch who’s appeared on the Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor, or check out the witty and sly humor of the Folk Project’s own Mike Agranoff. If your musical tastes are more Electic, break out your kazoo and washboard to jam with the Philadelphia Jug Band or feel the beat with Carol Peña in the Gefyra Participatory Drum Circle.
L-R: Leon Hyman conducting NJ Festival Orchestra; Solid Brass Lite; Laryssa Krupa with Nova Chamber Ensemble; Harmonium Choral Society; Peter Saleh’s Marimba & Percussion Ensemble; Dennis Kobray as Bach/Meet the Musicians.
If you prefer Classical Music, First Night offers 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. Hear Peter Saleh’s distinctive Marimba & Percussion Ensemble or travel back in time and meet Bach himself with Dennis Kobray’s Meet the Musicians.
First Night also offers 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 explores the long cultural history of Mexico while Eco Del Sur performs ancient and contemporary music from multiple Latin American regions on indigenous instruments. Dance along
with the infectious Latin salsa, merengue and tangos of Daniel Herrera’s DREAMS dancers or savor 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 blends the traditional and contemporary with its mix of klezmer, Macedonian music and jazz and you can always channel your inner Bob Marley with the lilting, joyous Caribbean sound of that great shore band, Random Test Reggae.
Do you love Theater/Comedy? Laugh your 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 provides laughter as the Connor Carew and Patrick Toon of the Shakespeare Theatre of NJ present the Abbott & Costello classic skit, “Who’s on First?” – but in Elizabethan English: Who Doth Inhabit the Primary Position?!
Can’t find number 6? Laugh along with Mr. Hypno’s humor and hypnotism while Ringling Brothers grad Johnny Peers and the Muttville Comix (and 18 “rescue” dogs) combine the circus with slapstick humor. Picture a Bassett Hound on a skateboard! 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. Perennial audience favorite Mr. Fish demonstrates his knife throwing and bullwhip skills while flim-flam man, George Esparza presents his suitcase Flea Circus & Wahoo Medicine Show.
L-R: Alborada Spanish Dance Theater; Latin dance with D.R.E.A.M.S. Dancer; NJ Tap Ensemble Soloists Maurice Chestnut and Jeffry Foote; Aztec dances performed by Mexico Beyond Mariachi; The Nai Ni Chen Dance Company.
When it comes to Dance, First Nighters can savor 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 sample the swirling costumes and fiery flamenco dancers of the Alborada Spanish Dance Theatre. Love salsa, tango and merengue? Try your hand at Latin dance with Daniel Herrera’s D.R.E.A.M.S. dancers, and enjoy dances from Aztec times to the present day with Mexico Beyond Mariachi. The award-winning Nai Ni Chen Dance Company highlights ancient and contemporary Chinese Dance in all its power, elegance and grace.
L-R:: Illusionist Benjamin Lipman; Rizzo of Rizzo’s Reptile Discover, with frog friend; facepainting by Gina Velazquez at Children’s Fun Festival; Art 4 Kids with Christine Wagner; Keith Leaf, light up juggler.
Kids of all ages love Illusionist Benjamin Lipman’s Comedy Cascade with its magic and humor as well as Rizzo’s Reptile Discovery which shares the excitement and wonder of live reptiles (under the watchful eye of a seasoned animal handler). Perennial favorite and skilled circus performer, Mr. Fish will be back to amaze audiences with his knife throwing and bullwhip skills!
L-R: Creative Caravan’s Tiny Book Workshop; Facepainting Concessions painted face; Hula hooping with Whirled Revolution; Fun with LEGOs; Clowns “Glitter” and “Juggles,) along with Ed Ricci, organ grinder, at the Children’s Fun Festival.
The early session for younger children (4:45-6:45pm) includes 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 can create their own unique tiny books. Additionally, both early and regular sessions will feature the Children’s Fun Festival, with a lively mix of magic, juggling, balloons, facepainting, kazoos and even an organ grinder!
L-R: 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; Nicholas Gammarello’s oil, Eric Clapton with Black Beauty; At the STARLIGHT GALLERY, Nina Nemeth’s collage, All Things Illuminated and at ART UPSTAIRS, Medy Bozkurtian’s The Rolling Hills of Tuscany.
Three visual arts exhibits (displaying over 300 artworks) and two sets of fireworks top off that magical evening known as First Night® Morris County. To check out the full lineup of artists, visit: www.firstnightmorris.com.
One inexpensive admission (before 12/21: $20/ticket; $17.50 for 4 or more; prices go up 12/22-12/31/16) covers all events at First Night®. Every venue is indoors and a free shuttle will take you to all locations. For more information, the latest program updates, to volunteer or to purchase tickets, please visit the First Night® Morris County website at www.firstnightmorris.com or call (973) 455-0708.