NJTV/NJPAC ‘American Songbook’ series showcases great songwriting

Santino Fontana and Laura Osnes on the NJTV series, "American Songbook at NJPAC."

DANIEL CARDENAS/NJTV

Santino Fontana and Laura Osnes sing duets on the NJTV series, “American Songbook at NJPAC.”

In 2007, Laura Osnes won the chance to make her Broadway debut by placing first on the reality TV show, “Grease: You’re the One that I Want!” She has starred in many Broadway musicals since then, including “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Cinderella” and “South Pacific,” but she’ll be back on TV Wednesday night at 8 p.m., as the second season of the NJTV series, “American Songbook at NJPAC,” begins.

The five hour-long shows in the series, which will also air on Channel 13 in March and April, and on WLIW21 on dates TBA, were filmed before live audiences at NJPAC’s Victoria Theater in September. And the artists approach their setlists from different angles: The series is really a tribute to great songwriting in general, not just the songs that have historically been considered a part of the American Songbook.

Osnes and Santino Fontana (her “Cinderella” co-star) sing Broadway duets, both famous and obscure. The jazz-oriented John Pizzarelli focuses on the work of Johnny Mercer. Maureen McGovern sings classic pop songs of the ’50s and ’60s (such as Paul Simon’s “Old Friends” and Carole King’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”), and Nellie McKay included many of her quirky originals. And songwriting partners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, joined by several singers (when Shaiman isn’t singing himself, with great theatrical aplomb), assemble a show full of songs they co-wrote for “Hairspray,” “Charlie & The Chocolate Factory”,” the television series “Smash” and more.

The shows are leisurely paced, and don’t have the kind of quick cuts that have become common when filming musical performances, post-MTV. Ted Chapin hosts and conducts question-and-answer sessions with the featured artists.

MAUREEN McGOVERN

MAUREEN McGOVERN

Here is the schedule for the NJTV broadcasts, which will begin at 8 p.m. (the Channel 13 broadcasts are at 1 p.m.):

Jan. 28: Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana. (March 21 on Channel 13.)
Feb 4: John Pizzarelli. (March 28 on Channel 13.)
Feb. 11: Nellie McKay. (April 4 on Channel 13.)
Feb. 18: Maureen McGovern. (April 11 on Channel 13.)
Feb. 25: Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, with vocalists Marilyn Maye, Micailah Lockhart, Alex Stone and Annie Golden. (April 18 on Channel 13.)

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