News Column

'American Songbook' Marathon at Njpac

June 15, 2013



The American songbook is a book without a last page.

Yes, of course -- Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin. But also, now, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Willie Dixon, Carole King, Burt Bacharach, Brian Wilson, Holland-Dozier-Holland - the list of names of pop composers who've stood the test of time is growing every year.

Tonight, audiences at Newark's NJPAC can hear some of the top names of Broadway, cabaret and top 40 radio singing music that encompasses all of that and more. "American Songbook at NJPAC," a joint production with NJTV, will be taped at the Victoria Theater in two marathon sessions - one at noon and one at 6 p.m. The resulting performances will be edited into six half-hour shows that will air on NJTV, WLIW and WNET/Channel 13 beginning in September.

Tom Wopat, Valerie Simpson and Rebecca Luker will appear at the noon taping; Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley, Sandy Stewart and Bill Charlap, and Maude Maggart will be starring at 6 p.m. Each set will be followed by a Q&A session with Ted Chapin of the Rodgers & Hammerstein organization.

"We are giving each of the artists artistic freedom to either focus on a composer, or be eclectic," says Englewood's David Rodriguez, executive producer of NJPAC. "In the case of Valerie Simpson [of Ashford and Simpson], she is the composer."

Some of the performers will sing to solo piano; others will bring duos and trios. Some, like Stewart and Charlap, will focus on the old standards: Gershwin, Ellington, Richard Rodgers. Others, like Mazzie and Danieley, will be doing more current tunes from Broadway shows they've been associated with: "Next to Normal," "Carrie," "The Full Monty."

All of this testifies to the inexhaustible variety of the American pop music industry, since the first tinny pianos began banging out the first sheet music hits on West 28th Street and Sixth Avenue: Tin Pan Alley.

"There is a unique contribution and vocabulary in American song that is, one, truly American, and two, serves as a canvas for artists of different genres," Rodriguez says. "To take 'All the Things You Are,' and have it played by Sonny Rollins, is a different experience than hearing it sung by Maude Maggart. But it serves as a common canvas for people to create."

The joint venture with NJTV (part of the proceeds go to the Actors Fund) is one of the ways that Rodriguez hopes to fulfill his mandate, as an executive producer, to bring his programming beyond the boundaries of the arts center.

"We want to bring the music beyond the four walls of the theater," he says. "This is about having culture emanate throughout the region, whether you can attend or not."




WHAT: "American Songbook at NJPAC."

WHEN: Noon and 6 tonight.

WHERE: Victoria Theater, NJPAC, 1 Center St., Newark; 888-466- 5722 or

HOW MUCH: $29 per session.

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