Maybe it’s because Boston makes such a fuss over New Year’s Eve. First Night, Boston’s annual Dec. 31 street carnival, is the first of its kind, after all, and has been emulated all over the country in the 36 years since its initiation. So perhaps it makes sense to think that anyone who finds themselves in Greater Boston as a new year approaches would make their way into the city if they want any kind of public hoopla.
Whether it is Boston’s presumed monopoly, or more a sign of the tight budgetary times, there aren’t a lot of other large-scale events celebrating the countdown and farewell to the old year in these parts.
There is one exception, however: Needham, which shines as a beacon of festivities in the otherwise dark and quiet suburbs on the last day of December. For the past five years, the town has become a cultural oasis on Dec. 31 for those who want the excitement of First Night without the hassles of going into downtown Boston.
“The event has grown slightly bigger each year,” said Sheri Edsall, a past chairwoman of New Year’s Needham. “It was started by the Needham Cultural Council, but it quickly grew to be such a large undertaking that the Cultural Council split it off into its own committee. The goal is to bring in great local talent from Needham or surrounding towns, but recently we’ve been getting some nationally recognized acts as well, like comedian Jim Colliton.”
Recent renovations at Town Hall made it a significantly more viable entertainment venue, Edsall noted. “Once Town Hall reopened with the new Powers Hall, we could host much larger events there.’’
Emily Hrones Umland has seen the all-ages event grow year after year from the perspective of a performance troupe. The director of the Charles River Ballet Academy has staged performances at each New Year’s Needham since it began; in Monday’s installment, her dancers will be featured in the afternoon on the Powers Hall stage.
“This year we’ll be performing segments from a variety of classical ballets, including ‘Copelia,’ ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ but we also have contemporary dances and patriotic numbers,” Umland said. “Our performers are local dancers age 8 to 18, and it’s a good experience for them to perform for the greater community rather than just for the audience of family and friends that our productions typically attract. The audience we get on New Year’s Eve tends to be very enthusiastic, and often expresses surprise at the caliber of what they can see out here in the suburbs.”
Needham resident Suzanne Nissen wouldn’t think of going elsewhere on Dec. 31. “We are a family that goes into Boston for plenty of events throughout the year, but you couldn’t pay me to go into the city for New Year’s Eve. Having this event happen right here in Needham is an absolute blast. Kids love it, and every year we have friends come from other towns to enjoy it. All the events are really accessible and kid-friendly, but the best part is being just a four-minute drive from home. You don’t have to worry about parking or what the weather is going to be like or whether it will be impossibly crowded.”
Nissen and all the other visitors to New Year’s Needham will find plenty to do this year. The list of new additions to the schedule alone — the Tanglewood Marionettes, the Olde Kids 19-piece swing band, and rhythm and blues band Family Jewels — is impressive.
Meanwhile, returning revelers will see familiar favorites, including Collition, magician Chris Bolter, the Needham Concert Society, the Longwood Opera, and music provided by the Homegrown Coffeehouse, as well as comedian Colliton.
An countdown party for adults, with a separate admission fee, will feature dancing, live music, snacks, and a cash bar beginning at 9 p.m. and running through midnight.
Not only is New Year’s Needham a wonderful opportunity for residents and visitors alike to catch a wide variety of acts and events, it also serves as a showcase for local talent, organizers say.
Local performers who will be part of the event include members of the Needham Community Theatre, teen groups from the after-school rock music program Plugged In, and the Needham Youth Chamber Ensemble. Groups from nearby communities include the West Newton Ceili Band and men’s a cappella ensemble Sound Investment. A trolley will run continuous circuits to move people from one venue to another.
Admission buttons, which cost $5 and provide access to every event except for the adults-only countdown party, are on sale at Town Hall, the Needham Free Public Library, the town’s Senior Center, and various shops around town.
For a complete schedule and descriptions of the offerings, go to www.newyearsneedham.org.
Nancy Shohet West can be reached at nancyswest@ gmail.com.