Some "Enchanted" Evening
The denizens of “The Enchanted Oz” dress in embroidered silks, sparkly beaded jackets and fabrics as light as spun cotton candy. They wear elaborate masks, feathered and sequined, not to hide their identities but to tease their friends into guessing who they are.
And like another magical realm, Brigadoon, this Oz appeared for a brief time – on the evening of Oct. 5 within the walls of NJPAC – but vanished at midnight, leaving a lingering promise of even better things to come.
The wizards of the Women’s Association of NJPAC unveiled this themed setting for their 18th annual Spotlight Gala 2013, attended by more than a thousand celebrants to rally support for the Arts Center and its arts education programs. Heightening the excitement was the announcement that NJPAC would be the home of a new Brick City Jazz Orchestra, an 18-piece big band composed of the most gifted high school jazz musicians in the Greater Newark area.
Arriving guests were welcomed to a cocktail tent lavished with autumnal decorations and almost-too-pretty-to-eat hors d’oeuvres like lobster risotto cakes with lemon-basil roulée. Among the public servants spotted in the crowd were former Governors Brendan Byrne and Tom Kean, former Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells, National Urban League President Marc Morial, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr., Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura and Newark councilmen and mayoral candidates Anibal Ramos, Jr. and Darrin Sharif. Also on hand for the festivities were leaders of education – Newark Superintendent of Schools Cami Anderson and Montclair State University President Susan A. Cole – and the arts, Stephen Sichak and Susan Stucker, Board Co-Chairman and COO, respectively, of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
Steve Adubato, Jr., whose Conversations at NJPAC is broadcast from the Arts Center, was on site with a camera crew to interview the event’s key players.
Gala Chairwoman Mikki Taylor, who is Editor at Large for Essence magazine, sparkled in a jet-black ensemble accented with rhinestones and a boa, combining the creativity of designers Teri Jon, Jimmy Choo and Adrienne Landau. Greeting the audience at the “Magical Voices” performance in Prudential Hall, she was joined at the podium by John Schreiber, President and CEO of NJPAC and one of the few – if not the only – Arts Center chiefs on the planet to have worked with an original Munchkin from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.
Musical moments reminiscent of Oz were sprinkled throughout the show, beginning with an energetic opening by NJPAC’s arts education students, who performed a medley about magic and “Ease on Down the Road” from the musical The Wiz. “Home,” another number from The Wiz, was sung by Ledisi as the closing number. In between were turns by the guy group The Four Freshmen (“Stardust”), the a cappella marvels Naturally 7 (“In the Air Tonight”), and the Princess of Salsa, INDIA (“What a Difference a Day Makes”). Since a tour of the Emerald City wouldn’t be complete without Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow,” Broadway star Ann Hampton Callaway swept listeners away with her interpretation.
The evening’s honorees, introduced by WA President Christine C. Gilfillan, included Patrick C. Dunican, Jr., Esq. and Gibbons P.C. (Vagelos Award for Corporate Commitment to the Arts); Cephas Bowles, President and CEO of WBGO Jazz88.3 FM (Ryan Award for Commitment to NJPAC and Leadership in the City of Newark), and Veronica (“Ronnie”) Goldberg (Chambers Award for Service to the Community and to the Arts). Robert H. Doherty and Philip R. Sellinger served as the dinner’s co-chairmen.
Various spaces were transformed into swank dining rooms, from second-tier shadowboxes overlooking the twinkling lights of outdoor Theater Square below, to the stage of the Victoria Theater and inside NICO Kitchen + Bar. Tables featured whimsical arrangements of flora, fauna and water elements: live orchids and ferns, Dorothy’s bright yellow sunflowers. The signature sparkling cocktail, the “Ozzler,” was the opener for the poached Maine lobster appetizer and seared lamb loin entrée.
During the performance, NJPAC’s lobby had been swiftly transfigured into a disco with swirling fabric “cyclones” suspended upward of three stories and lit with rainbows of color. Projections skittered about the lobby floor, including a giant uncoiling yellow brick road, where guests danced to the music of DJ Kiss – when they weren’t sampling mini-mousses or ricotta cheesecake with grilled sweet figs at the dessert buffet.
NJPAC Board Co-Chairman William J. Marino, who has attended every Spotlight Gala, credited the WA with “doing a spectacular job” – in fact, the WA has raised $40 million since it began in 1994. “The positive energy and collaboration between John Schreiber and the Women’s Association has created a continued high level of activity,” he said. “A lot of what we have on the horizon – the potential for broadcast and community outreach – re-emphasizes that the future of NJPAC is bright and full of possibility.”
Founding NJPAC President and CEO Lawrence P. Goldberg echoed Marino’s remarks. “I sleep better at night knowing John Schreiber is the CEO of NJPAC. The future of NJPAC is in very, very good hands.”
Maybe the future is what makes the past come back. Many of the attendees were former NJPAC staffers who returned to see their old colleagues – and didn’t stint on dressing fabulously. Larry Motley wore top hat and tails, accessorized with a peacock plume, emerald green bow tie and green sunglasses. Carole Lester’s buttercup-yellow, fairy princess gown with a highly embellished mask was custom-made by her Newark tailor. Josette Littlejohn’s glittering fashion homage to the Wicked Witch of the West included a conical hat with a sweeping brim and a necklace of red heart gems for the Tin Man.
The undeclared winner of the longest trek to “The Enchanted Oz” was Jeffrey Norman, former NJPAC Vice President of Public Affairs, who flew to Newark from California. Laying claim to the weirdest journey was John McEwen, Executive Director of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance, who came straight to the gala from Asbury Park’s Zombie Walk, looking animated and dust-free.