Broadway comes to South Orange thanks to library’s Kalb

SO-sopl spring recital-C
Photo by Shanee Frazier
From left are performers Adam Zerihoun, Kate Dawson, Josephine Roberts and Joanna Young.

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Local residents were treated to a Sunday matinee on Broadway without even leaving New Jersey when “The Beautiful Broadway Ladies of South Orange” performed at the South Orange Public Library, with a special appearance by pianist Adam Zerihoun, on Sunday, April 17, as part of the library’s 20th annual Springtime Concert.

The event featured local Broadway performers Kate Dawson, Joanna Young and Josephine Roberts, who sang Broadway standards and contemporary musical theater selections. The performers are also members of Midtown Direct Rep, a professional, ensemble-based theater company in residence at the South Orange Performing Arts Center.

Performances included renditions of show tune classics such as “What I Did for Love” from “A Chorus Line” and “Someone to Watch Over Me” from “Oh, Kay!,” as well as some of the performers’ personal favorites like “The World Must Be Bigger Than an Avenue” from the show “Irene” and “It Feels Like Home” from the show “It’s Only Life.”

This long-running community favorite is the brainchild of Phyllis Kalb, a senior library assistant who has worked at the South Orange Public Library for 30 years and been putting together the concert for the last 20 of those years.

“It’s very nice in the spring to have something to do for those that can’t get away,” Kalb said in a recent interview with the News-Record about her inspiration for the concerts. “Some people are lonely and don’t always have a family to go to, and this way the library is offering another way for people to find happiness and enjoyment.”

Kalb runs a variety of programs at the library during the week, including a creative writing group, a foreign film series, and in the summer a local troupe of Shakespearean actors perform.

Through interacting with local residents in these other groups she realized there was a unique opportunity to bring in local talent and give people something else to look forward to at the library.

“There are some people who don’t belong to a church or temple or play bridge, but when they come here they feel like they are a part of something and make friends,” Kalb said. “Every year, the programs are well attended with light entertainment so when people leave here they can say they had a delightful afternoon for free.”

Kalb also serves as the liaison for the Friends of the South Orange Public Library, a local group whose fundraising and generous donations are the reason why she is able to offer so many free programs at the library.

“What we do is try to raise money for the library; with our budget being what it is, it’s wonderful being able to purchase a special book or DVDs, or offer free programs to the community during the week,” she said.

Kalb is also adamant that the entertainment be open to anyone who is interested in coming to see it, regardless of their residence or background.

“It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor or your religion, everyone should be comfortable and that’s what the library should be about,” she said. “And it’s never open to only South Orange residents; people should feel free to come here from anywhere.”

So how does Kalb find great local talent year after year for these performances?

“I just talk to people I meet at the library or in town. One year I asked someone I saw perform in a restaurant. This year I met a woman, Josephine Roberts, who frequents the library and sings on Broadway,” she said. “I try to get local talent and call them to see if they are willing to donate an hour on a Sunday in March or April. I enjoy it, because I love to see people happy.”