Arts & Entertainment

Westfield's NJ Festival Orchestra Delights Sold-Out Crowd on New Year's Eve

Tenor Max Quinlan starts off the New Year's Eve concert with a perfromance of Wilkommen from "Cabaret" as conductor David Wroe looks on. Credits: Jill D'Ambrosio
Guest vocalists Angelo Luis Rios, Gabrielle Stravelli, Max Quinlan and Siri Howard perform for the crowd at Westfield High School. Credits: Jill D'Ambrosio

WESTFIELD, NJ – The New Jersey Festival Orchestra helped concertgoers kick off their New Year’s Eve celebrations with its performance of “An’ All That Jazz!” a revue of Broadway favorites and jazz classics Tuesday night at Westfield High School.

Under the direction of Conductor and Music Director David Wroe, the orchestra was joined by four guest vocalists, all of whom delighted a sold out crowd with a mix of nostalgia, humor and fun.

Selections for the concert included music by Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein and Marvin Hamlisch, among others.

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“People love this concert because it’s the perfect way not just to usher in the New Year but to usher in New Year’s Eve,” said Elizabeth Ryan, director of marketing for the NJFO, adding that the concert is the first stop for many before they head to a party or restaurant.

“They leave in a good mood,” she said.

Formerly the Westfield Symphony Orchestra, the organization has been performing a New Year’s Eve show for roughly a dozen years, Ryan said. Originally part of Westfield’s First Night, the concerts had been held at the Presbyterian Church until moving to a bigger venue at the high school.

Tuesday evening's concert featured vocal performances by professional musicians mezzo soprano Gabrielle Stravelli, soprano Siri Howard, tenor Max Quinlan and and baritone Angelo Luis Rios.

Spouses Quinlan and Howard are fresh from performing in the 25th anniversary national tour of Les Miserables for the past two years. The New Year’s Eve concert included “I Dreamed a Dream,” sung by Stravelli, from the iconic musical that will return to Broadway in March.

At one point in the second half of the concert, Wroe took a moment to talk onstage with Quinlan and Howard about their experiences in the tour. He was curious if they had witnessed any small mistakes during the show.

“We’re dying to know,” Wroe joked.

“There are a lot of funny things that happen onstage that hopefully you never know about!” Quinlan replied, before recounting one instance when he had to think on his feet to fill in forgotten lyrics to a song he had sung numerous times before.

Mary Jackson came to hear the concert with her husband, Steve DeDuck. Over the last few years, the Scotch Plains couple has made a point of starting their New Year’s Eve festivities at the concert.

“The orchestra’s always great, and the singers they bring in are excellent,” Jackson said.

Afterwards, she and DeDuck planned to gather at the home of friends who were also in attendance.

At the show, the Friends of the New Jersey Festival Orchestra, the fundraising arm of the organization, sold ornamental treble clef keepsakes marking the inaugural season of the orchestra under its new name. The keepsakes are $15 and will be available at concerts for the rest of the season.

Ryan emphasized the importance of the work the fundraising team, which also organizes a tour of notable local homes in May.

“The friends are really critical to the financial stability of the organization,” she said, noting that ticket sales account for only about 30 percent of the organization's budget.

The NJFO' next performance, “The Gypsy Spirit” will take place on Feb. 21 at the Richard P. Marasco Center for the Performing Arts in Monroe Township, Feb. 22 at the Presbyterian Church in Westfield and Feb. 23 at the Morris Museum in Morristown.

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