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Gov. Tom Kean and NJPAC

 

Perfect together for an 80th birthday celebration 

 

Sometime back in the 1980s, probably a decade before the New Jersey Performing Arts Center raised its first curtain, then-Gov. Thomas H. Kean declared, “A state cannot be truly great unless it allows the arts to flourish.”

 

“New Jersey could be an artistic powerhouse if only we had decent facilities,” he continued. “The time to act is now.”

 

On April 20, the eve of his 80th birthday, the Republican statesman stood on stage in the Arts Center he had envisioned, surrounded by family, friends and New Jersey’s political leaders, past and present. The occasion was to light the candles and offer a hearty, bipartisan “well done” for mobilizing the realization of that dream.

 

Among the 200-plus guests in Newark for the festivities were Kean’s fellow prophets: NJPAC Founding Chairman Raymond G. Chambers, founder of the MCJ Amelior Foundation; former Newark Mayor Sharpe James; and NJPAC’s first President and CEO, Lawrence P. Goldman. James referred to Kean, who also serves as an NJPAC Board Member, as “a man for all seasons.” 

 

“Governor Kean is 50 percent of the reason I left Carnegie Hall to come to NJPAC,” said Goldman. “The other 50 percent was Ray Chambers.”

 

During opening remarks, Chambers himself remembered when Alvin S. Felzenberg, Kean’s assistant Secretary of State, first proposed Kean’s ambitious plan to erect an arts venue. (“At this point, we asked him to show us his ID,” Chambers joked.)

 

“There were more skeptics than believers,” Chambers admitted. “We were caught up in (Kean’s) momentum and his charisma.”

 

Representing the next generation of Keans – a dynasty of public service that dates back to the Colonial era – state Sen. Tom Kean, Jr. (R-Dist. 21) said his parents took their children to arts events “to experience passion and things beyond themselves.

 

“(NJPAC) was a place where we could experience culture not once a year, but every day,” he noted.

 

And children will be the evening’s biggest beneficiaries according to a welcome speech by NJPAC President and CEO John Schreiber, who reported that more than $175,000 was generated for arts education programs.

 

Sponsors of 45 Minutes from Broadway: A Musical Theater Salute to Governor Thomas H. Kean included Philip and Tammy Murphy, The MCJ Amelior Foundation, NJM Insurance Group, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Investors Bank.

 

Seated at tables filling the Victoria Theater stage, guests dined on medallions of filet of beef and jumbo shrimp knots with Meyer lemon emulsion. But the main course was a performance of fizzy Broadway showstoppers and nostalgic standards led by music director and pianist Andy Einhorn (with some requests from Kean, an unabashed theater geek). Accompanied by a percolating band, the company of Tony Award winners and nominees included Santino Fontana (Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella), James Monroe Iglehart (Disney’s Aladdin), LaChanze (The Color Purple) and Marin Mazzie (Kiss Me, Kate).

 

Metropolitan Opera tenor Alexander Lewis arrived as a special guest to sing Franz Lehár’s Dein ist mein ganzes Herz for Kean, who is also a fan of opera. For the rousing grand finale, Fontana took liberty with “The Lees of Old Virginia” from the patriotic musical 1776, substituting customized lyrics by Larry Dachslager: “Though sometimes mispronounced as ‘Keen’/We know that we can always lean/On a Kean – a Kean of Old New Jersey.”

 

Said the honoree, concisely, “I love this state and I love the people of this state.”

 

Well-wishers lined up to return the sentiment, maybe best expressed by LaChanze, who sang “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.”

 

“You have set the standard of excellence in our state and we wish you all the best,” said Suzanne Spero, a Trustee of the Women’s Association of NJPAC.

 

Christine Todd Whitman was among the cadre of former New Jersey governors attending the party. “I owe so much to Tom and he’s been a great friend of our family,” she said.

 

The birthday celebrant pointed out that there were certain advantages to turning 80:

 

“Nobody questions you.”

 

April 21, 2015

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