They both make “hard” look easy, from opposite ends of the musical spectrum.
Which makes Carla Ulbrich and Svetlana Smolina perfect poster girls for the 23rd annual edition of First Night Morris, an eclectic mix of talent virtually guaranteed to leave jaws dropping on New Year’s Eve in Morristown.
They’re all within walking distance–or a free shuttle ride–and the bounty is yours for $20 ($70 for a four-pack) if you buy your admission badge by Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014.
Starting on Monday, the price rises to $25 / $90 for four. (Still a great deal; read on to learn why.)
SMART-ALECKS AND EXTRA FINGERS
Carla Ulbrich is a folk singer who mines laughter from life’s most unsettling settings, from doctor’s waiting rooms to Jersey highways.
“She’s a philosopher in her own smart-alecky way,” says Dr. Lynn Siebert, artistic programmer for First Night Morris.
See what Carla does with a certain impolite Anglo-Saxon term; this video is as close to PG-13 as the family-themed, alcohol-free evening will get:
Video of Carla Ulbrich’s ‘If I Had the Copyright’
And then there is Svetlana Smolina. She wowed Siebert, herself a gifted classical musician, by nailing Mila Balakirev’s Islamey at a Morristown charity recital last spring.
“It’s notorious among pianists as a killer. You need extra fingers,” Siebert says.
The Russian virtuoso dove in at full speed, conquered the composition’s technical challenges and brought out “the inherent musicality that might be buried” by lesser hands, marvels Siebert, a former college music professor who works for Morris Arts.
Here is Svetlana’s performance:
Video of Svetlana Smolina performing ‘Islamey’
DINOS, DANCING AND DISAPPEARING
The something-for-everyone programming starts at 4:45 pm at Morristown High School with fun for kids: Hula hooping, LEGO building, face-painting and more. A little later, DINOMAN will trot out his life-sized dinosaurs.
Once again, fireworks can be viewed from the Morristown Green at 9 pm and again at midnight.
The talent roster includes such tried-and-true favorites as the Harmonium Choral Society, jazz guitar sensations Bucky Pizzarelli and Frank Vignola, and the British Invasion tribute band.
Martha Washington is scheduled to make an appearance, while illusionist Anthony Salazar is likely to make a disappearance.
For those who love audience participation, square dancing is on the program. Itching to enter show biz? Scope out Phydeaux’s Flying Flea Circus & Wahoo Medicine Show.
Different cultures are showcased, including dance from Red Hawk Native Americans and the Shubanjali Dance Company with classical dance from India. Chinese music and puppetry are back. There is Brazilian bluegrass, Colombian salsa, island-inspired reggae and songs from Sicily.
EATEN BY A PYTHON?
Adventurous visitors may want to check out Galumpha, an acrobatic dance troupe specializing in “human architecture.”
If Michael Durek’s ethereal theremin isn’t mesmerizing enough, try “throat singer” Alex Glenfield, who can sing two things at once in the hallowed tradition of the Tuva people. ( Alex gives you Tuva for the price of one, in other words.)
For the really adventurous, Rizzo’s Reptiles are returning. As far as we know, Mr. Rizzo is not promising to get eaten by an anaconda. A rather large python will be in the house, however…
“I’m looking forward to maybe seeing Rizzo’s Reptiles. I’ve been waiting four years,” says Michael Schmidt, chairman of First Night Morris.
Working with fellow ‘2002 Morristown High School graduate Craig Schlosser, who serves as First Night’s director, and an army of 150 volunteers, Schmidt simply is too busy making sure everything runs smoothly to personally savor much entertainment.
He finally may get his chance next year, when he plans to step down as chair.
‘EXCITEMENT AND MAGIC’
Schmidt, who works in finance for Quest Diagnostics and serves on the Morristown zoning board, has spent four years helping First Night Morris strengthen its operations.
“We’re in a better spot now than when we took over,” he says.
The enterprise had lost nearly $40,000 the year before Schmidt came aboard. He has beefed up social media promotion of First Night Morris, and grown corporate sponsorships from $42,000 to about $60,000 now.
That’s a pretty sizable jump in an age of corporate belt-tightening, especially when one considers that most companies set their philanthropic budgets early in the year, “when nobody wants to hear about New Year’s Eve,” Schmidt says.
A number of First Nights around the state have gone dark in recent years.
But with decent weather and a healthy turnout, Schmidt says, First Night Morris can creep into the black, and continue into the foreseeable future. And he thinks that’s a very good thing.
“In the end, the excitement and magic of it all coming together on New Year’s Eve–I can’t even put it into words,” Schmidt relates. “You’ve got to be there to see it. It’s more than just performances. It’s the energy of the people, and the interactive nature of the shows.”
FIRST NIGHT MORRIS 2015
“Morristown Becomes a Stage”
New Year’s Eve: 80 performances at 24 venues
Purchase by Dec. 21, 2014: $20/$70 for four
After Dec. 21: $25/ $90 for four
Purchase at Mayo Performing Arts Center