Irish classics, Italian and Broadway favorites, patriotic piano tributes, Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller and even classic rock - it's safe to say the Jersey Shore Pops are branching out this season.
Linda Gentille and The Jersey Shore Pops will open their 2013 summer concert series with "The Irish Tenor," a concert of traditional Irish favorites such as "Danny Boy," "My Wild Irish Rose," and "Irish Lullaby." The show takes place 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 29, at the Middle Township Performing Arts Center.
The star of the show, Colm Fitzmaurice, will also sing hits from Broadway musicals such as "Phantom of the Opera" and "West Side Story."
But what follows the classical Irish fare is a mixed bag of music from all over the map. The lineup for the eight-concert series includes Jim Yester from the hit '60s group The Association, and Gentille herself playing classic rock favorites on piano.
Gentille, the founder and artistic director of the Jersey Shore Pops, typically hires guest artists whom she performs with or sees live while working as a headliner on cruise ships throughout the year. When not performing herself, Gentille, a Petersburg resident, writes many of the Jersey Shore Pops arrangements.
"We decided to branch out with more variety this year," says Gentille, who is currently performing on a cruise ship in Norway. "Since our concertgoers range in age from 30s to 80s, we have to provide variety to keep them coming back. It is quite a challenge coming up with new themes every year that will appeal to such a wide demographic. We included the classic Irish and Italian shows because we have such a large segment of those groups in the area."
The Pops have grown considerably since their first full season in 2010, which included just four concerts, to their now eight-concert series in 2013, Gentille says. She hopes to bring in more bigger-name acts in 2014, including Mark Preston of the hit 1960s group The Lettermen, as well as more contemporary artists to appeal to younger music fans.
"That was quite an accomplishment to keep this orchestra growing without much state grant support," Gentille says. "Our goals are to increase our state grant funding as well as increase our business community support from sponsors to be able to bring in more name guest artists in 2014."
Nick Holland, president of the Jersey Shore Pops, agrees.
"For two years now, we knew one of the things we wanted to do was expand geographically," Holland says. "We've worked very, very hard to get state funding. This is a tough business. It's (Gentille's) energy and the level of commitment that she has that keeps everybody involved."
Gentille also hopes to see the Pops expand. This season, they will head outside the county to perform one show at The Strand in Lakewood on Aug. 18, as part of their Sunday matinee series. Later this summer, the Pops will head just outside Philadelphia to participate in the Lansdale Community Concert Association's four-concert series.
"We plan to pursue more paid concerts such as this, which will help sustain the costs of maintaining such a large operation," Gentille says.
"If (the Lakewood concert) works, our long-range goal is to do shows in multiple areas in South Jersey, to broaden our exposure and bring the Jersey Shore Pops to the Jersey shore," Holland says.
This year, the Pops offered the option of a three, five or eight-concert series Season Pass that has helped expand the base season ticket holders to 200, Gentille says. The Pops are also now offering a "Pick 6 Series," allowing concertgoers to choose any six shows in the eight-concert season up until opening night on June 29.
"We think offering this flexibility will help us increase our season tickets holders even more this week," Gentille says. "Many people wait until they are in town to decide what they are going to do during their summer here."
While the area has its share of orchestras - Ocean City Pops, Bay-Atlantic Symphony and the Philly Pops - Gentile has worked to create a unique experience. The Jersey Shore Pops are known for their enhanced light and sound productions that accompany the music, providing a fun spectacle for the audience - even those in the balcony.
"We wanted to do something that was 'pops,' but special and different," Holland says. "And we think we've achieved that with the audio video … it's more of a spectacle and a show than just a pops thing."
Perhaps more important, all Jersey Shore Pops musicians are from New Jersey, nurturing local talent, Holland says.
"All of our professional musicians work and play right here in South Jersey," Holland says. "I don't think there is another orchestra that has as unique a makeup as we do, supporting the artists as we do from our state."
Jersey Shore Pops Schedule
7:30 p.m. June 29 - "The Irish Tenor," starring Broadway Vocalist Colm Fitzmaurice
7:30 p.m. July 6 - "Stars & Stripes Forever," starring Jersey Shore Pops conductor and piano entertainer Linda Gentille performing a patriotic tribute to celebrate the great music of America
7:30 p.m. July 13 - "Legendary Voices in Concert," starring French Canadian singer Claude Eric performing the music of Michael Bubl�, Josh Groban, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Edith Piam, Charles Aznavour and Frankie Avalon
7 p.m. July 21 - "The Italian Tenor," starring Aaron Caruso performing Italian and Broadway classics
7 p.m. July 28 - "Swingin' Sixties," starring Jim Yester, original founding member of The Association, and YesterDaze, playing original Association hits
7 p.m. Aug. 4 - "Classics Rock," starring conductor pianist Linda Gentille performing popular classics
7:30 p.m. Aug. 10 - "Music of The Glenn Miller Orchestra," featuring all the hits of Glenn Miller
7:30 p.m. Aug. 17 - "Sinatra & Friends," starring Peter Oprisko singing Sinatra standards and additional songs by Judy Garland
All shows take place at the Middle Township Performing Arts Center, 212 Bayberry Drive in Cape May Court House.