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A CERTAIN RING TO IT – Symphony Hall as a wedding venue?

A CERTAIN RING TO IT

Symphony Hall as a wedding venue? It’s an idea 90 years in the making

By Andy Clurfeld & Photography by Daryl Stone

In the bosom of the Queen Mother, tucked behind a cathedral-like space dignified for decades by rarefied royalty and hushed worshipers, Cara Catlaw is telling one of her BFFs from childhood to stay still. Resist blinking. Keep her lips slightly parted, like a sulking high-fashion model.

Fernandez obeys. She doesn’t move, she doesn’t blink, she barely breathes.

Vicki and Cara are having a kind of dress rehearsal on this summer day—a dress rehearsal for Vicki’s wedding to her true love/best friend/soul mate, Cedric Johnson. The BFFs, who grew up together in suburban New Jersey and now have high-powered careers and highly scheduled lives, smile and, amazingly enough, resist tearing up as makeup artist Cara applies lipstick and mascara, powders and blushes to Vicki’s determinedly still face.

They are practicing for Wedding Day in one of 10 backstage dressing rooms at Newark Symphony Hall. Where Jazz Royalty Sarah Vaughn may well have had her makeup applied before bringing down the house on the grand stage mere yards away. Where the faithful prayed after the building that towers over Broad Street opened as a mosque, back in 1925. Where couples can be married, it turns out, on stage, under the flattering lights of a hall indeed fit for royalty.

“Everyone should get married in a theater,” Vicki is saying to Cara. “There’s no shortage of mirrors.” With nine bridesmaids, many of those mirrors will be in use on Friday, Oct. 16, when Vicki and Cedric (above) walk down the center aisle of the Queen Mother of theaters to the stage where the ceremony will be performed.

“Fortunately,” Vicki adds, “there are two professional makeup artists in my wedding party.”

Like many brides, Vicki Fernandez had a dream of what her wedding might be. And that dream was to share the day with her family, her friends and Newark, New Jersey.

Marie Thompson cleared hurdle No. 1 for Vicki and Cedric. She is the events manager for Newark Symphony Hall. “This will be the first wedding on our stage,” Marie says as she gives a tour of the grand Art Deco-style facilities that have played home to myriad and many events over the years. “No one has ever thought about our stage before. Vicki was the first to ask. We are happy to oblige.”

Vicki is a bride with both imagination and a mission. As the Community Resource Development Associate at WBGO in Newark, the nation’s pre-eminent jazz radio station, and a lecturer for the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers-Newark, she’s well prepared for the role of wedding planner—and wedding innovator. She also wants to showcase for the 200-plus people who will attend the wedding ceremony and reception, not to mention the assorted ancillary activities before and after the main event, all that Newark has to offer.

To that end, she’s created a veritable handbook for How to Get Married Like Royalty in Newark. “I hope we start a trend,” Vicki says. “We are beyond excited about the wedding and all it means.”

Groom Cedric Johnson chimes in. “Frankly, I’m surprised this hasn’t been done before. We should be hearing more about Newark Symphony Hall, and more about Newark in general as the setting for a wedding.”

A financial auditor for PVH Corp., he proposed to Vicki in Branch Brook Park, which started the Newark-themed wedding rolling. Originally, he planned to surprise Vicki with her grandmother’s ring (enhanced by a newly added stone) at the Newark Museum, where the couple have attended many galas and are members. But proposal day was a Monday—and that’s the day the museum is closed. Branch Brook Park, scene of the couple’s kite-flying dates and Cherry Blossom Festival memories, proved no mere also-ran.

Wedding photos in the scenic park that sports a larger collection of cherry trees than even Washington, D.C., anyone? But don’t count out the gardens at Newark Museum, either, Vicki says.

Since last spring, Vicki has been scouting Newark as the source and inspiration for all components of her wedding. An example: In love with the fabrics at Halsey Fabric Shop (91 Halsey St.), she decided to make bouquets for herself and her bridesmaids from fabrics and jewelry—bouquets that won’t wilt within days.

“I signed up for a bead-making club as GlassRoots (10 Bleeker St.) so I can make my girls custom jewelry—or buy [gifts] if I fail miserably,” Vicki says. “A friend was maid of honor in a wedding and she got the girls together at GlassRoots to make a custom gift for the bride and groom. Another spot near there that I will be looking at is Pooka (87 Halsey) and also Artisan Collective (25 Halsey). Both are filled with handmade items and are locally owned small businesses.”

Vicki and Cedric are blocking rooms at Hotel Indigo (810 Broad) for out-of-town guests, as well as for a rooftop after-party. Their choice of music for the wedding, however, cannot be topped.

“The Newark Boys Chorus (right) will be singing during the ceremony,” Vicki says. “That’s one of the coolest features of the wedding,” besides Newark Symphony Hall itself. A private boys’ school dating back to 1969, Newark Boys Chorus School (1016 Broad) is located right next door to the hall.

“You can’t walk into just any venue and find, next door, a boys chorus ready to perform,” says Mary Lamar, a member of the school’s board of trustees. Let alone a chorus that keeps pace with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

Back at Symphony Hall, Vicki and Marie Thompson walk the grand lobby and plot the pre-reception cocktail hour. They size up the behind-curtain part of the stage, where the reception will take place. Vicki and Cedric plan to design the wedding program to look like a Playbill; and, instead of using table numbers for dinner seating, they will use the names of artists who have performed on the Symphony Hall stage.

“I want to theme one of the bars on stage as a speakeasy,” Vicki says later on. “It will be tucked behind the side curtain and be an awesome nod to the theater’s history. Styling will be added to my DIY list or we may find a production company to help. I’m thinking wine barrels and crates.”

She’s got her dress, though not from a shop in Newark. It’s from The Curvy Bride, in Manalapan. Says Vicki: “I’m keeping details about it a secret from Cedric until the big day. I can say it’s ivory satin and not what I expected to pick out, but it looks beautiful on!”

Though Vicki and Cedric still were in the thick of things edible at press time, their Newark-themed wedding was shaping up. DJ: Vibe Sound Entertainment; photos: JPaul Studios; day-of-wedding coordinator: Jeffrey Dixon of Eye Said So Design Studio; accent lighting: “best cousin in the world” John Pasko. With BFF Cara Catlaw and another bridesmaid, sister-in-law-to-be Nicole Castano, handling the hair and makeup duties, Vicki Fernandez was feeling as happy about the choice of Newark as her wedding home as she was about Cedric Johnson as her life-mate.

“There is something bigger that goes unsaid about a community’s image when a couple chooses to get married there,” says the bride whose dream will come true.

That something has the makings of quite a love story.

Newark Symphony Hall

1030 Broad St. Call 973-643-4550 for information.

Costs of renting the hall for a wedding depend on the hours the spaces are needed, says Events Manager Marie Thompson. For example, a four-hour event, such as Vicki and Cedric’s, will cost $6500, all-inclusive—meaning, a package that provides the main hall for the ceremony, the stage for the reception, the lobby for a gathering place and cocktail hour, dressing rooms for prep, tables, chairs, staff. Though there is no on-site kitchen, caterers and other food vendors are permitted and prep spaces are available. Many party planners use “hot boxes” to transport and keep food, she notes. Events less complex cost less, she adds: “Many two-hour events come in around $2500.

 

GlassRoots

10 Bleeker St. Call 973-353-9555 for information.

Program Director Jenny Pollack says the art studio-cum-gallery has hosted many bridal parties, with gals taking a glass-blowing workshop together and making gifts, favors and decorations for weddings. Vicki is making beads for her bridesmaids.

 

Pooka Pure and Simple

87 Halsey St. Call 973-954-2471 for information.

Boutique owner Dawn Fitch stocks a bounty of bath products, scents, crocheted items, homemade handbags and creams. “We do bridal workshops, team-building events, lots of parties here,” Dawn says, then asks Vicki: “What’s your wedding date?” “Oct. 16,” the bride replies. Dawn smiles. “You’re getting married on my birthday!

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