Snowtime is showtime

NJPAC plans a flurry of performances and events for the holidays.


Some of the most treasured holiday gifts are printed on paper and fit neatly in an envelope.


Not cash. We’re talking tickets here.


Yuletide outings with loved ones connect directly to the heart. Nostalgics can recall where and when they first heard the tinkling of the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” thrilled to the thrum of African drums heralding Kwanzaa, or gaped at an ever-heightening Christmas tree with boughs filling the stage like a candyland forest.


“It’s a ticket that admits you to a place of wonder,” says David Rodriguez, Executive Vice President and Executive Producer of NJPAC. The Arts Center is presenting half a dozen holiday-themed productions in December, including a striking contrast of “Nutcrackers” on the weekend of the 14th-16th.


“More than any other time of the year, we see cross-generational audiences and people of diverse faiths and cultural backgrounds celebrating the season in the communal setting of a theater,” Rodriguez noted. “Time flies in the concert hall – it doesn’t matter if kids and their grown-ups are listening to MC Kurtis Blow rap in The Hip Hop Nutcracker or a symphonic orchestra is playing Tchaikovsky – but the memories are keepers.”


Whether you and yours light the menorah for Chanukah, spread a kente cloth on the table at Kwanzaa, prepare for Advent, or just like to shake sleigh bells, consider these upcoming wintertime attractions at NJPAC:


Magic ‘in the air’


Broadway director Neil Greenberg, founder and Artistic Director of the Cirque Dreams franchise, can summarize his spectacular in two words: “beyond belief.” His cast of 30 aerialists, acrobats and other entertainers in Cirque Dreams Holidaze hail from 12 countries, and their feats of daring keep spectators balanced themselves – on the edge of their seats. The Yuletide show is in its 11th season, but this is the first time it will be seen at NJPAC (December 26 and 27).


“(Holidaze) gets bigger and grander every year and we’ve been trying to get this show into New Jersey for a while. … We’re really looking forward to this opportunity,” Greenberg says, noting that Holidaze has since multiplied into five companies that tour simultaneously. 


Ask Greenberg for his favorite scene out of the 20 in Holidaze and he’ll count off at least three. There’s the gravity-defying performer who climbs a 12-foot ladder while balancing candles to create a giant menorah. A herd of reindeer that turns sleigh reins into a complex jump-roping free-for-all. Penguins that scurry up and down precariously stacked “icicle” cylinders that appear ready to cascade to the ground.


It’s a multimillion-dollar production outfitted with flying equipment, a 24-foot-tall Christmas tree, a gingerbread cookie that grows to fill the entire stage, eye-candy sets, and hundreds of elaborate, colorful costumes – the last being a Greenberg specialty. His family heritage dates back to 1892 in the textiles industry and his great-grandfather’s first shop still stands on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.


“We touch on Thanksgiving. We touch on New Year’s Eve. Obviously we touch on Christmas, but we make it a celebration of holidays in general,” says Greenberg, who was inspired to create the show by family excursions to Radio City Music Hall as a child.


“There aren’t many places today where Mom and Dad can take the kids and the grandparents to see an affordable, family-friendly show that has something in it for everyone.”  


Chime in


Chanticleer is coming to town, and they’re packing a lot more than “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls.”


You can count on hearing beloved holiday chestnuts at A Chanticleer Christmas on December 1, but also some wondrous selections from these GRAMMY®-winning, all-male a cappella artists. The guys’ 12 voices blend seamlessly in ensemble song, and their repertoire spans Gregorian chant to American spirituals.


The first of December sets off mental alarms to begin sprinting into the Christmas rush, so here’s an early opportunity for you and yours to breathe in the true spirit of the season. This month also wraps up Chanticleer’s 40th anniversary year of choral excellence – another occasion for them to make merry in concert.


‘Nuts’ for you


NJPAC is the rare venue where very different Nutcracker ballets can be seen back-to-back on the same weekend in December: The Arts Center’s home-grown production of The Hip Hop Nutcracker returns on December 14 as part of its fourth national tour, while a classic rendering of The Nutcracker, performed by the National Ballet Theatre of Odessa, arrives on December 16.


Rapper Kurtis Blow, a crowd-rousing artist who has an enchanting rapport with young audiences, is back as special guest MC for The Hip Hop Nutcracker. Set to Tchaikovsky’s music – and in 1980s Brooklyn – the modern retelling brings Maria-Clara and her Prince back to the time when her parents first meet in a nightclub. It’s a story of love and community, framed in high-tech digital scenery, with the bonus accompaniment of a DJ and an electric violinist.


But the attraction of this piece can be attributed in a big way to Jennifer Weber’s explosive hip hop choreography, performed by a dozen gyroscopic dancers who drill the floor when they’re not hurling themselves fearlessly into space. As promised by The New York Times, this dancework is “sure to heat up even the most restless and wintry of souls.”


For those who prefer to see dancers “work it” en pointe, an impressive company of more than 55 artists offers two performances of the ballet Tchaikovsky himself would have most recognized. The National Ballet Theatre of Odessa brings visions of sugarplums, toy soldiers and waltzing flowers to vivid life in a traditional staging of The Nutcracker. Lush and lovely, this full-length ballet is the stuff of beloved childhood memories.

In praise of community


NJPAC dedicates December 15 to Kwanzaa and its seven life-enhancing principles (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith). The daylong celebration begins at 10am with the annual Kwanzaa Festival and Marketplace, a lobby-ful of arts activities and vendors’ booths decked out with handcrafts, beauty products and clothing. (Inside tip: NJPAC staffers know this is a must-stop for unique, last-minute gifts.)


Visitors will have not one, but two opportunities to catch the dynamic Forces of Nature Dance Theatre in performance, during the afternoon or evening. The dancers alone are a hot ticket for lovers of modern West African dance, but this season they share the bill with GRAMMY nominees Sweet Honey In The Rock, the famed female a cappella quartet. Another bonus: This musical collective performs a new work commissioned by NJPAC – you heard it here first.


An Oogie Boogie Christmas


Also on December 15, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra strikes up Danny Elfman’s delightfully creepy score to Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, which unreels simultaneously in Prudential Hall on a 40-foot screen. The 1993 animated fantasy is a Disney holiday favorite, supercharged by the presence of NJPAC’s principal resident orchestra playing on stage.


Oscar-nominated for its special effects, the PG-rated Nightmare introduces Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town (voiced by Chris Sarandon and sung by Elfman in the film). Through a series of mishaps, Santa’s yearly itinerary is derailed when Jack recruits his ghoulish citizens to replicate Christmas.


Nov. 13, 2018