February 4, 2014 at 6:55 AM
LIVINGSTON, NJ – On Jan. 28, the state issued its School Performance Reports, in which Livingston Public Schools continued to perform “very high” when compared to schools across the state. But that was now all they showed—for the first time ever arts participation was included in the state’s annual school report cards, with New Jersey being the first state to include this category.
The state’s annual report cards now place the arts on par with the three R’s of education. They include data on how many students are enrolled in visual and performing arts classes. These are factors that educators say are linked to higher graduation rates and improved student achievement.
The reports help provide a complete picture of school performance beyond simple test scores by identifying a range of college and career ready metrics. (The detailed information by school is available for review on the Livingston Public Schools website and can be accessed online by clicking here).
At Livingston public schools, performing and visual arts have long been precursors for success. In fact, one alumnus, Stephen Oremus (LHS Class of 1989) just won a 2014 Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album for Kinky Boots. He also won a 2013 Tony Award for Best Orchestrations for Kinky Boots, and a 2012 Grammy award as a producer of The Book of Mormon original Broadway cast recording. And, these are just a few of the accolades showered on this former LHS grad.
Long before Oremus’ musical genius was shared with the world as arranger and orchestrator for the shows mentioned above and Avenue Q, Wicked, All Shook Up, and 9 to 5, and more—he was impressing audiences at Livingston High School.
A prior article in thealternativepress.com stated that when Stephen Oremus was growing up in Livingston, his elementary music teacher would write his own musicals for students to perform. “They were so catchy and fun,” said Oremus.
Oremus also said that it was this inspired creation by Paul Stefany and repeated by music teachers throughout his education in Livingston Public Schools that led him on his own path in music. “My teachers were so supportive that I wanted to make music,” he said.
In 2012, when Oremus was inducted into the LHS Hall of Fame, he told TAP, “I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for my teachers who inspired me since elementary school.” And, “When I look back at the high school’s musicals I was a part of, I never imagined I would become a member of the LHS Hall of Fame.”
LHS alumni, Aimee Kessler Evans (LHS Class of 1989), for whom Oremus the accompanist until college said, “It's so great to see Stephen's hard work pay off. He's been passionate about music and theatre since we were in elementary school. Hard work, perseverance and talent really can pay off. I love that my kids get to see that—and I love seeing my friend gain the recognition he deserves."
Nancy Ramus Cirillo, (LHS Class OF 1986) said, “I couldn't be more proud of my cousin’s accomplishments. His talents are continuously being recognized by his peers and fans. Way to go.”
With Oremus crediting the LHS music program for helping him in his rise to success, Livingston might just have a few more aspiring stars in the making—three LHS students, Irena Chiang, Isha Battu and Robin Shafto, members of the auditioned choral program, the New Jersey Youth Chorus, just sang with Queen Latifah at the Super Bowl.
Livingston has also been the home to a host of others who have found success in the arts including:
- Erin Abrahamson (born 1983), beauty queen who was Miss New Jersey Teen USA 2001 and Miss New Jersey USA 2007.
- Jason Alexander (born 1959, originally Jay Greenspan), actor best known for his role as George Costanza of the long-running television show, Seinfeld.
- Bruce Beck, sportscaster on WNBC.
- Harlan Coben (born 1962, a writer and actor, known for Tell No One (2006), Stay Close and The Woods.
- Rob Fusari (born 1968), music producer and songwriter who discovered Lady Gaga, who is now launching his own music career as 8 Bit.
- Chelsea Handler (born 1975), stand-up comedian and star of Chelsea Lately on E!
- Nikki M. James (born 1981), Tony-Award winning actress and singer who won a 2011 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a musical for her role as Nabulungi in The Book of Mormon.
- Myq Kaplan (born 1978), comedian.
- Leslie Kritzer (born 1977), Broadway actress in Legally Blonde: The Musical, The Great American Trailer Park Musical, and A Catered Affair with Harvey Fierstein.
- Julia Montgomery (born 1960), actress, known for One Life to Live (1968), Revenge of the Nerds (1984) and Girls Nite Out (1982).
- Adam Pally (born 1982), comedian and actor who appears in the ABC series Happy Endings.
- Jonathan Marc Sherman (born 1968), playwright and actor, known for The Limbo Room (2006), The Jimmy Show (2001) and The Baxter (2005).
- Todd Solondz, director.
- Richard Tanne, actor, writer, and producer who stars in the SyFy Channel Original movie Swamp Shark.
- Cathy Trien, actress, known for Pootie Tang (2001), Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (2006) and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show (1997).
- Heth and Jed Weinstein, New York City-based indie rock duo consisting of brothers Heth and Jed Weinstein, who are also co-authors of Buskers: The On-the-Streets, In-the-Trains, Off-the-Grid Memoir of Two New York City Street Musicians (Soft Skull Press).
- Thea White (born 1953), voice actress, best known for her role as Muriel in Courage the Cowardly Dog.