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Thursday, May 29, 2014

New Jersey Performing Arts Center & Johnny Mercer Foundation Premiere New Musical BIG DEAL, Created by Middle School Students

DSC_1413 Jonathan Brielle, VP Johnny Mercer Foundation with students in the NJPAC-Mercer American Musical Theater Program photo by NormanDeShong
100 Newark and East Orange Middle School Students Perform
World Premiere of Their Own Musical Theater Work:
Big Deal

A Culmination of NJPAC / The Johnny Mercer Foundation
American Musical Theatre Program

Students See Entire Work for the First Time

Newark, New Jersey, May 29. 100 students from four local New Jersey Schools – Maple Avenue School (Newark), LINK Community School (Newark), Marion P. Thomas Charter School (Newark), and Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts (East Orange) – came together for the first time to perform four sections of their unique collaborative musical theater piece Big Deal on May 21. The new one act is the culmination of an innovative musical theater partnership between NJPAC and Johnny Mercer Foundation (JMF). The students wrote and rehearsed the musical over nine months in four separate parts and put the pieces together for the first time in front of their family and friends.

Rather than being merely an exposure program; it is an immersive experience where students learned the history of the American Musical, the creative process including lyric writing, and the rehearsal and performance process - they were also able to develop creativity, self-confidence, and new ways of positive expression. In addition, the residency helped the schools involved to meet their curricular goals as the residency was developed in accordance with the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards. This brand new curriculum is based on the Erin Layton/Georgia State University curriculum supported by The Johnny Mercer Foundation.

NJPAC's Chase Room rocked with the first performance of Big Deal, a rousing yet poignant tale of dealing with the loss of parents. The musical features book & lyrics by Students in the NJPAC-Mercer Musical Theater Program; music by with help from Victor Burks, Janeece Freeman-Clark, Daryl Stewart and Students in the NJPAC-Mercer Musical Theater Program; directed by Janeece Freeman-Clark; choreographed by Daryl Stewart; musical direction by Victor Burks and Janeece Freeman-Clark and musical accompaniment provided by Victor Burks.

In her remarks, Laurie Carter, Vice President of Arts Education at NJPAC noted,"This extraordinary program would not have been possible without the generous support and commitment of the Johnny Mercer Foundation."

About the program now in its second year at NJPAC, noted composer and playwright Jonathan Brielle, Vice President of the Johnny Mercer Foundation said, "I am thrilled to see the great leap the program has taken, and waited all year to listen to the hearts and minds of these fabulous kids. They’ve extraordinarily integrated exact and near rhyme when appropriate for each character, recognizing the masters of the Great American Songbook as well as, incorporating the current styles of music. This makes the play very contemporary and believable."

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: 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 Ginny Mercer championed.

For more information about this and other important programs supported by The Johnny Mercer Foundation please visit

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