The New Jersey Performing Arts Center, a $180 million glass-shelled structure, opened in Newark, NJ, on Oct. 18 to cheers and standing ovations from a black tie audience including Paul Newman and James Earl Jones.
The performers for the event were Kathleen Battle, the New Jersey Symphony under the baton of Zdenek Macal, Irina Dvorenko and Maxim Belotserkovsky of American Ballet Theatre, Chita Rivera (who did a no holds-barred medley of songs she first introduced four decades ago as Anita in the originalWest Side Story), Savion Glover, Wynton Marsalis, and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre -- which ended the gala with a rousing rendition of its signature work, Revelations.
The gala opening night event and a concert by violinist Itzhak Perlman the following afternoon (Oct. 19) were held in the performing arts center's larger auditorium, the 2,750-seat Prudential Hall.
The center's smaller performing space, the Victoria Theater, which seats 514, is to be inaugurated on Oct. 23 by Canada's premier puppet troupe, Theatre Sans Fil, in a work called The Dream Catchers.
The Dream Catchers is based on the dreams of 500 children and includes more than 30 puppets (including the "good monsters" and "bad monsters" that pop up frequently in the dreams and nightmares of kids). Upcoming plays at NJPAC include Umbatha: The Zulu Macbeth on Oct. 28 -- a production from South Africa which played at the Lincoln Center International Arts Festival earlier this year. San Francisco Western Opera Theater performs Bizet's Carmen on Nov. 2, and Mandy Patinkin brings his one-man show to the center on Dec. 9.
Future plans for the arts center include a resident theatre company and a wide range of traveling productions including plays and musicals, although no further details could be given at this time, according to a NJPAC spokesperson.
The performing arts center was first proposed a decade ago by New Jersey's then-governor Thomas Kean. It is hoped that the center can revive the once-thriving downtown Newark in much the same way that two other industrial cities, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, have been revitalized by performing arts centers, refurbished 1920s theatres, and (on the riverfront in Cleveland) the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame.
"The New Jersey Performing Arts Center should do for Newark what Lincoln Center did for 65th and Broadway," said Paul Newman to reporters at the gala.
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--By Rebecca Paller