Like many of us, Dr. Lynn Siebert has a severe case of Zoom fatigue.
“But when it’s something really wonderful and fun, I’m excited,” she says. And that’s how she hopes viewers feel this Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, when they log into New Year’s Eve entertainment she has lined up for First Night Morris County.
Where else can you see a world-class harpsichordist play an homage to insects?
“This won’t be a run of the mill experience. It will be very festive and upbeat, even if it’s virtual,” promises Siebert, a staff member for the nonprofit Morris Arts who has been booking performers for First Night since 2006.
Video preview of First Night Morris County 2021:
Usually, this involves signing dozens of artists to sing, joke, dance and delight in 27 venues across Morristown.
The pandemic demanded some fancy footwork. The 29th annual First Night Morris will be a first: The first virtual edition of this extravaganza, which Siebert has dubbed First Night Reimagined.
For $15, patrons can view a program that starts at 5:40 pm with a montage by YousicPlay — Grammy winner Arturo Sandoval, organist Cory Henry, jazz pianist Jésus Molina, and producer Robert “Sput” Searight.
The fun continues with specially recorded performances throughout the evening. Artist interviews will punctuate their sets; virtual fireworks are scheduled for 9 pm and midnight.
The lineup features champion Irish fiddler Brian Conway with guitarist John Walsh at 6:30 pm, recorded in a lush emerald garden; Jason Hudy’s Mesmerizing Magic at 7:20 pm, and comedian Joe Larson at 8:10 pm.
At 9:20 pm, it’s harpsichord virtuoso Andrew Rosenblum, whose repertoire ranges from Bach to bugs.
He’s followed by the Frank Vignola Hot Jazz Trio with bassist/vocalist Nicki Parrott at 10:15 pm, and the British Invasion Years Band batting cleanup at 11:05 pm.
An online pass includes a festival of short sci-fi/fantasy films. These movies and First Night performances can be replayed on-demand through Jan. 3, 2021.
For $25, you also get a First Night button and souvenir program, and $35 buys you a separate link to a 6:30 pm live interactive show by Joe Larson.
Organizers had hoped to present the comedian before a small audience at the Mayo Performing Arts Center. The coronavirus had other ideas. First Night’s army of volunteers, led by President Craig Schlosser and Chairman Walter Deutsch, has had to stay nimble throughout this difficult year.
“In many ways we have far exceeded what we thought we could do,” says Schlosser, who thinks some virtual elements of First Night may continue, post pandemic.
His technical team, headed by Dan Della Paolera and a crackerjack crew of college- and high school interns, kicked the online tires with an early rollout of the film festival. Schlosser is confident–like an expectant father.
“We have redundancies upon redundancies. But until it happens, it never feels good!” Schlosser says.
A short “how-to” video explains how to navigate this virtual First Night for maximum enjoyment.
Anyone who buys a First Night pass also can get takeout dinner specials at Portofino’s Ristorante in Morristown.
A HARD DAY’S NIGHT
For Siebert, the last few months have been nail-biters. Production uncertainties wrought by the pandemic pushed back her hiring process from early summer into September.
Wary of any super-spreader situations, she ruled out choruses and dance troupes, narrowing her choices to a handful of eclectic acts by proven pros.
They had to have access to video production facilities, or live close enough to be recorded at the empty Brook Arts Center in Bound Brook by Rob Tobias of Tour Masters Productions.
Online performances also posed new contractual issues, Siebert says.
Yet everything got sorted out, and 45-minute sets were filmed between mid-November and mid-December. Siebert is thrilled with her talent roster.
If there is a silver lining to this Reimagined First Night–besides being freed from worries about weather, traffic and babysitters– it’s the addition of someone like Andrew Rosenblum.
Siebert says First Night never could have hosted the Chicago-based artist and his fragile harpsichord for an in-person gig.
“I thought if we were going to do anything classical this year, such an odd year, let’s do a special treat,” says Siebert, a classically trained violinist.
She predicts viewers will be enthralled by Rosenblum’s performance of Insectarium, a modern piece celebrating…insects.
And she knows the British Invasion Years Band is a solid choice to close 2020. The rip-roaring medley from the Beatles’ Abbey Road is bound to propel anyone into the New Year feeling a little better about things.
Bob Murdock, co-founder of the Edison-based tribute band, says he and his mates did their best to re-create the sizzle of a live New Year’s Eve gig for the cameras.
“You have to psych yourself up and pretend there’s an audience,” Murdock says. “You have to look at seats as if they are smiling faces looking at you.”