It’s a rare example of a television series with a mission: “American Songbook at NJPAC,” which begins its third season on NJTV this week, doesn’t just seek to entertain, but to keep the songs of the Great American Songbook in the mainstream American consciousness. Six hour-long specials, taped over two nights of concerts at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark in October, will begin airing weekly on NJTV, Jan. 6 at 8 p.m.
Material by one of the greatest living musical theater composer/lyricists, Stephen Schwartz, will be featured on the first show. Schwartz plays piano and does some singing throughout the special, but also invites some high-powered vocalists (Debbie Gravitte, Scott Coulter and Kelli Rabke) to help him out on songs from Broadway hits such as “Wicked,” “Godspell” and “Pippin,” as well as the film “The Prince of Egypt.”
The show will be rebroadcast Jan. 8 at 2 a.m. and Jan. 10 at 6 p.m.
Next up, Jan. 13, are “Beautiful: The Carol King Musical” co-stars Jessie Mueller and Jarrod Spector, whose material includes a mashup of King’s “I Feel the Earth Move” and Elton John’s “Your Song,” and Spector’s show-stopping rendition of Aerosmith’s “Dream On.”
Cabaret singer Marilyn Maye, still an immaculate song interpreter at the age of 87, will be featured on Jan. 20, followed by Catherine Russell, Jan. 27; KT Sullivan and Jeff Harnar (performing songs by Stephen Sondheim), Feb. 3; and Seth Rudetsky and Christine Ebersole, Feb. 10.
Ted Chapin, president and executive director of Rodgers & Hammerstein: An Imagen Company, hosts the shows, which include segments from onstage interviews he conducted with the performers.
Clips from the shows, as well as from shows in the series’ first two seasons, can be seen at njtvonline.org.
The shows will also be shown on WNET (channel 13) and WLIW (channel 21) this spring.