‘American Songbook at NJPAC’ series make big change with addition of host Michael Feinstein



Michael Feinstein performs in the “American Songbook at NJPAC” series.

The “American Songbook at NJPAC” series — taped in a concert setting at the Victoria Theater at NJPAC in Newark in December, and airing weekly on NJTV, starting Jan. 25 at 8 p.m. — has been reinvented in its fourth season, with the addition of Michael Feinstein as host.

The emphasis, though, remains the same: exploring the glories of classic 20th Century musical theater, Hollywood, pop and jazz songs — known, collectively, as the American Songbook. Feinstein has been one of the music world’s leading American Songbook enthusiasts for a long time, so his participation makes perfect sense.

The hour-long Jan. 25 season debut show also features Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell, cabaret singer and “Saturday Night Live” alumna Ana Gasteyer, and Lucas DeBard (who has won the Songbook Youth Ambassador Award from Feinstein’s Indiana-based Great American Songbook Foundation). Feinstein’s own musical numbers include the opener and closer, and he interviews the other artists, tells stories, and even backs Mitchell on one song (George and Ira Gershwin’s “How Long Has This Been Going On?”).

The original “American Songbook at NJPAC” seemed like a concert, with occasional interview interludes. This seems more like a talk show, with lots of musical numbers: The guests even sit together on a couch when they’re not performing. It’s not better or worse, just a different way to approach the material.

Andrea McArdle will be featured on the ‘American Songbook at NJPAC’ series, Feb. 22.

Future shows will feature:

Feb. 1: José James, Lillias White and Songbook Youth Ambassador Nick Ziobro.

Feb. 8: Love songs from past episodes, by Marilyn Maye, Maureen McGovern, Valerie Simpson, Nellie McKay, Tom Wopat, Jessie Mueller and others.

Feb. 15: Joshua Bell, Billy Porter, Larisa Martìnez and Songbook Youth Ambassador Brighton Thomas.

Feb. 22: Andrea McArdle, Jared Grimes, Rachel York and Songbook Youth Ambassador Julia Goodwin.

March 1: “Salute to Broadway Composers” — including Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and Stephen Sondheim — with performances from past episodes by Billy Porter and others.

For information, visit njtvonline.org.

The shows will also air on Channel 13 and WLIW21 in the spring.


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