Apr 14, 2015 View All News

NJPAC’s Arts Education Program in Partnership with The Johnny Mercer Foundation Introduces 120 Newark, Orange and East Orange Middle School Students to the Magic of Musical Theater

Students Learn the History of American Musical Theater and Create Their Own Musical Production to be Performed at NJPAC on Tuesday, June 2, 2015



Newark, NJ (March 31, 2015) – As one of the musical greats of the 20th century America, Johnny Mercer was renowned as a lyricist, composer and mentor, whose words were his trade.

His namesake foundation, which champions the art of songwriting in schools, continues to show by example that musical theater is good for the soul.


For a third year, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) and The Johnny Mercer Foundation are introducing the magic of musical theater to more than 100 New Jersey middle school students from Newark and the surrounding area.  The Johnny Mercer Foundation/NJPAC Musical Theater Residency Program offers students an immersive study of the history of the American Musical and the necessary tools to create their own musical.


Five New Jersey schools – the Whitney Houston Academy in East Orange, the Heywood Avenue School in Orange, the Harriet Tubman School in Newark, the Cicely L. Tyson Community School for the Performing and Fine Arts in East Orange, and the BRICK Peshine Academy in Newark -- are participating in this one of a kind residency program.  A team of three NJPAC Teaching Artists – Victor Burks, Daryl Stewart and Janeece Freeman Clark – will implement the program in the schools involved. 


Beginning in February 2015, each residency meets twice a week for 20 sessions.  During these sessions, students learn the diverse history of the American Musical, as well as the creation process including lyric writing, and the rehearsal and performance process. They develop their creativity, self-confidence, and ability to tell their own story through the musical.  In addition, the residencies will help schools meet their curricular goals; all of NJPAC’s educational programs, including this one, are developed in accordance with the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards.  Curriculum for the program comes from Georgia State University, supported by The Johnny Mercer Foundation, and was launched as a pilot program at NJPAC in the Spring of 2013. 


Each class will individually create sections of a joint musical, the topic chosen by the students, coming together at the finale to perform the full, collaborative show.  Students will see the other portions of the musical for the first time at the culminating performance.  This year’s topic is Beyonce and her music, and the final performance will take place on Tuesday, June 2, 2015 in NJPAC’s Victoria Theater.


“Self-expression is such an important topic these days, and the Johnny Mercer Foundation is incredibly proud to partner with the great folks of NJPAC to encourage students to express themselves through the writing of words and music.  This will be our third year together,” stated JMF Vice President, Jonathan Brielle.


 “We are elated to host this one-of-a-kind musical theater program here at NJPAC,” said Alison Scott Williams, NJPAC’s Vice President of Arts Education.  “To witness first-hand the growth of these middle school students coming together to write, rehearse and perform their own musical is thrilling. NJPAC is grateful to The Johnny Mercer Foundation for funding this extraordinary residency.”


This residency has been made possible by the generous support of The Johnny Mercer Foundation.  Additional funding is from the Victoria Foundation, Merck Company Foundation, The Prudential Foundation, William Randolph Hearst Foundation, Automatic Data Processing, TD Charitable Foundation, Novo Nordisk, The Provident Bank Foundation, and Ronald McDonald House Charities.



Participating Schools

BRICK Peshine Academy (Newark, NJ)

Chaleeta Barnes, Principal; Matthew Petrucelli, Drama Teacher; Nikkia Neal, Dance Teacher


Cicely L. Tyson Community School of Performing & Fine Arts (East Orange, NJ)

Iqua Colson, Supervisor of Visual and Performing Arts; Anita D. Champagne, Principal;

Terri Gorgone, Musical Theater Teacher


Harriet Tubman School (Newark, NJ)

Malcolm Outlaw, Principal; Leslie Cleveland, Dance Teacher


Heywood Avenue School (Orange, NJ)

Faith Alcantara, Principal; Jessica Garofano, Vocal Music Teacher; Jacqueline Selesky,

Dance Teacher; Erin Leigh VanOrden, Instrumental Music Teacher


Whitney Houston Academy (East Orange, NJ)

Iqua Colson, Supervisor of Visual and Performing Arts;

Heather Schumacher-Jones, Assistant Principal; Stephen Lombard, Drama Teacher


About the Teaching Artists

Victor Burks (Musical Theater Instructor/Accompanist) is known for his skill in piano, keyboards, vocals and his crafting of exceptional compositions, performances and productions.  With more than 25 years of experience as a composer, musical director and musician, Victor has worked worldwide with various artists and organizations including ESPN, Liz Withers, Jamie Fox, Laura Branigan and Fine Arts Militia (with Chuck D).  His current projects include a 5 song EP titled “Short Stories,” numerous remixes and a new Fine Arts Militia recording.  For the past 13 years, Victor has been a teaching artist and accompanist working in Arts Education at NJPAC.


Daryl Stewart (Musical Theater Instructor) is a professional actor, teaching and performing artist.  His work as an actor has been seen Off-Broadway at Fresh Play Festival/Manhattan Classic Company, and at the New York Musical Theater Festival.  Stewart’s regional credits include musical productions of Five Guys Named Moe, Ragtime, The Wild Party, Leader of the Pack, George and Ira Gershwin’s My One and Only, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel, and Disney’s Aida.  He is the 2010 recipient of the NYU Wassermann Grant for Service in the Arts and a 2013 nominee for the BMC Award for Entertainment.  Stewart is an alumnus of NYU and New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts.  He is the Founder and Artistic Director of Miller Street Productions, a collaborative theatrical production company.


Janeece Freeman Clark (Lead Musical Theater Instructor) has spent most of her career simultaneously as a teacher and a performer.  As an actor, she can be seeen as Miss Molly on PBS KIDS’ award-winning children’s series Dittydoodle Works.  Ms. Clark has appeared On and Off-Broadway in Urinetown the Musical (Little Becky), The Ark (Egyptus), A Band of Angels (Ella), and Africa Plumbridge (Africa).  She has also performed in numerous Regional Theater Houses across the country, and some of her favorite roles include Rusty in Footloose, Charlayne in Ain’t Misbehavin’, JoAnne in Godspell, Dorothy in The Wiz, Brenda in Smokey Joe’s Café, Hattie in A Midnight Star, and Ida B. Wells in Constant Star.  Ms. Clark holds a B.A. from the University of Michigan where she studied vocal performance, musical theater and music education.  She has directed and choreographed musical productions at high schools in Brooklyn, NY; instructed children and young people at The Institute of Music for Children in Elizabeth, NJ; and has conducted youth choirs in the New York City area.  Ms. Clark is currently the director of the Theater Arts Team at ChristChurch in Montclair, NJ and holds her own private Vocal Studio in South Orange, NJ.  At NJPAC, she directs the Arts Education program’s Musical Theater for the Summer Youth Performance Workshop and Young Artist Institute.


About The Johnny Mercer Foundation

The mission of The Johnny Mercer Foundation (JMF) is to support the discipline of songwriting in the tradition of the Great American Songbook as exemplified by the life and work of Johnny Mercer:  lyricist, composer, performer, collaborator and producer.  The Foundation continues Johnny’s legacy by partnering with individuals and organizations dedicated to celebrating and nourishing the disciplines he mastered and the causes he and his wife Ginger Mercer championed.


JMF has created a number of dynamic creative joint ventures with several prestigious institutions to facilitate our goals including: the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony at Goodspeed Musicals, Accentuate The Positive Programs (New York-Kaufman Music Center, Los Angeles and Miami), The Musical Theater Program at NJPAC, Georgia State University Fellowship Program, Florida International University Fellowship Program, the Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project with Northwestern University, and the Johnny Mercer Archives at Georgia State University.  In addition, JMF also supports various charitable causes including UCLA’s Art of the Brain, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (Mark Taper and Johnny Mercer Artists Program), Braille Institute (Johnny Mercer Children and Adult Choirs) and KCET TVs Cinema Series.  For more information please visit www.johnnymercerfoundation.org.


About Arts [email protected]

NJPAC’s Arts Education offerings reach more than 60,000 students and families through live performances, in-school residency programs and arts training classes. These programs bring the joy of dance, music, theater, and poetry directly to the classroom.  Through our innovative residencies, Teaching Artists create stimulating performing arts experiences that engage students’ imaginations and build self-confidence through positive self-expression.  Our residencies help students learn to work together and develop their creative independence.


In addition to NJPAC’s innovative In-School Programs, the Arts Center’s comprehensive Arts Education Department offers an Arts Training Program that helps students at every level learn their artistic and technical skills they need to study acting, dance, instrumental music, vocal music, and musical theater.  NJPAC also presents a SchoolTime Performance Series which introduces students and their families to a world of entertainment and culture.  NJPAC’s Arts Education programs feature professional artists from a wide variety of traditions and performances of music, dance, storytelling, puppetry, and more.  



The New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), located in downtown Newark, New Jersey, is among the largest performing arts centers in the United States and is the artistic, cultural, educational and civic center of New Jersey – where great performances and events enhance and transform lives every day.  NJPAC brings diverse communities together, providing access to all and showcasing the State’s and the world’s best artists while acting a leading catalyst in the revitalization of its home city.  Through extensive Arts Education programs, NJPAC is shaping the next generation of artists and arts enthusiasts.  NJPAC has attracted more than 9 million visitors (plus more than 1 million children) since opening its doors in 1997, and nurtures meaningful and lasting relationships with each of its constituents.