Category Archives: Entertainment

Real Pugsley Pumps Up Coleytown’s “Addams Family”

What do you do after you’ve acted in 2 huge New York musicals: “The Addams Family” and “Shrek”?

You help middle school kids put on those same shows.

And — if you’re Adam Riegler, in Westport — that’s hardly a comedown.

Adam Riegler (right) in "The Addams Family." (Photo/Joan Marcus for Broadway.com)

Adam Riegler (right) in “The Addams Family.” (Photo/Joan Marcus for Broadway.com)

Riegler’s the Staples High School junior who — while still at Saugatuck El — played young Shrek, then followed up as Pugsley (he did online schooling and tutoring in lieu of Bedford Middle).

It was a fantastic experience. But Broadway roles for teenagers are rare, so Riegler is now a normal 11th grader.

He’s known Ben Frimmer — the director of Coleytown Company — for years. Last year, when “Shrek: The Musical” became available for schools, Frimmer asked Adam to help.

The duo clicked. So this year, as Frimmer prepared for “Addams Family,” the partnership was a natural.

Riegler’s official title is “associate director.” He helps run rehearsals, and works with individual actors.

A pair of Pugsleys: Adam Riegler (right) works with Coleytown's Oscar Hechter.

A pair of Pugsleys: Adam Riegler (right) works with Coleytown’s Oscar Hechter. (Photo/Kerry Foley)

Oscar Hechter — Coleytown’s Pugsley — is a 6th grader. “That’s young!” marvels 5-years-older Riegler. “I’m helping him bring out his character. Like, his song at the end of Act I — it’s really emotional, but in a comic way. We talk about how to do that.”

“Addams Family” includes several scenes with fathers and daughters. “These kids have no experience with being old,” Riegler notes. “Mr. Frimmer and I are working on making it natural — not ‘acting.'”

The middle schoolers have heard that Riegler was on Broadway, but most of them don’t really understand how impressive that is. One boy did — and said he was glad not to have known that before his audition.

The best educations work both ways. Riegler says he is learning too: how to work with children, with actors in general, and how to be a director.

Riegler is keeping busy in other ways too. He’s going for film and TV auditions, hoping for his next big role.

This weekend though, he’ll be in the Coleytown auditorium, as proud as any parent in the house.

(Two other Staples students are working on the Coleytown show: Johnny Donovan is assistant director, while Jane Schutte is assisting with choreography. “The Addams Family” is performed this Thursday, Friday and Saturday [March 27, 28 and 29, 7 p.m.], at Coleytown Middle School. For tickets and more information, click on http://www.showtix4u.com [search for “Westport”], or call 203-341-1666.)

Coleytown Company's "Addams Family" cast includes (clockwise from left): Anella Lefebvre (Morticia), Georgia Wright (Gomez), Maggie Foley (Wednesday) and Oscar Hechter (Pugsley).

Coleytown Company’s “Addams Family” cast includes (clockwise from left): Anella Lefebvre (Morticia), Georgia Wright (Gomez), Maggie Foley (Wednesday) and Oscar Hechter (Pugsley). (Photo/Kerry Foley)

A Memorable Staples-Broadway Connection

Staples Players is in the midst of another this-is-like-Broadway run. “Sweeney Todd” wowed audiences last weekend. Tickets may sell out soon for this weekend’s final shows.

Audience members awed by the teenagers’ performances say to themselves, “If only I had enough talent to get on stage…”

Rondi Charleston at 19 -- the year she auditioned for "Sweeney Todd."

Rondi Charleston at 19 — the year she auditioned for “Sweeney Todd.”

One Westporter does more than just think it. She remembers vividly the day 36 years ago when she auditioned for that very show.

In 1979, Rondi Charleston was a 2nd-year student in Juilliard’s drama department. She was called to audition as an ingenue in the original production of “Sweeney Todd” on Broadway.

Charleston sang for the casting director. The next day she was called back to sing for director Hal Prince, in a big, historic theater.

Prince liked what he heard. She was called back again. This time, Stephen Sondheim was there.

Charleston was not nervous. “I was young and naive,” she laughs.

Charleston made it to one of 3 finalists. Eventually the role — Johanna, a classic Sondheim ingenue — went to someone a bit older and more seasoned.

Rondi Charleston and Emma Ruchefsky.

Rondi Charleston and Emma Ruchefsky.

Charleston is enjoying watching the current Staples Johanna — and not just because she almost played it herself.

One of the double-cast roles is Emma Ruchefsky — Charleston’s daughter.

“Life has come full circle,” the former actor says. “I couldn’t be happier or more thrilled that she is getting the chance to put her stamp on this role. I have so much respect for the work that all these kids do!”

Congrats to Emma, and Rondi — a “stage mother” everyone can love.

(Staples Players performs “Sweeney Todd” this Friday and Saturday, March 20 and 21. For tickets and more information, click on StaplesPlayers.com.)

Johanna (Emma Ruchefsky) and Anthony Hope (Jack Baylis). (Photo/Kerry Long)

Johanna (Emma Ruchefsky) and Anthony Hope (Jack Baylis). (Photo/Kerry Long)

 

Westport’s Newest American Idol

Millions of viewers across the US have seen Randy Jackson’s replacement on “American Idol”: Scott Borchetta.

A dozen or so oldtime Westporters probably say “hmmmm…”

Back in the day, the Post Road was filled with mom-and-pop grocery stores (think Calise’s, without the hot foods). The owners worked hard, and served their neighborhoods well.

One — near Old Road, about where the Lexus dealer and Anthropologie are now — was owned by a Mr. and Mrs. Borchetta.

Scott Borchetta

Scott Borchetta

Their son Mike graduated from Staples in 1961, then went off to California. He became a noted record promoter for labels like Capitol, RCA and Mercury.

Later Mike moved to Nashville, to start his own independent record promotion company.

Scott is Mike’s son. He was a race car driver, then founded Big Machine Records and discovered Taylor Swift.

Now he’s “American Idol”‘s house mentor. The show, of course, is all about hard-working, unknown people trying to make it big.

Sounds like 3 generations of the Borchetta family, right?

(Hat tip: Dick Alley)

Nicole’s Harpcam

It’s not often a high school drama troupe tackles “Sweeney Todd.”

It’s even rarer for a high school orchestra to include a harp.

But the curtain goes up tonight at Staples on “Sweeney Todd.” And there in the Players’ pit is junior Nicole Mathias, playing that beautiful — but exceedingly difficult — instrument.

Nicole’s father Mark attached a webcam to her harp, for last night’s dress rehearsal. Click below to hear “Not While I’m Around” — and see a view of a show no one ever gets.

Plus Nicole’s great, proud smile at the end.

(If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.)

Broadway Stars Warm Up Westport

If the interminable weather has got you down — and played havoc with your trips to, say, Broadway, for entertainment — here’s an “06880” special.

Last week, nearly a dozen Broadway stars came to Staples. They performed a benefit concert, helping Orphenians — the elite singing group — who head to San Francisco later this month. (They’re one of only 10 high school choirs invited to perform at a 4-day workshop with Chanticleer.)

The concert was organized by Adam Kaplan. He’s a 2008 Staples (and Orphs) alum, and already a Broadway veteran (“Newsies”).

Adam rounded up some of his most talented buddies, from the biggest New York shows. They performed spectacularly — and, in between numbers, added insights about the importance of high school theater and music. Adam and fellow Staples grad Mia Gentile were particularly compelling.

Here’s the entire show. It’s exactly the warmth we need, in this long, cold winter. (NOTE: You’ll have to click the underlined “Watch this video on YouTube” once it loads.)

If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.

 

A Greenwald Family Two-Fer

In the theater world, a “two-fer” is 2 tickets for the price of 1.

In the Greenwald house, it’s 2 plays written by members of 1 family.

Charlie Greenwald is a junior at Emerson College. On Sunday, March 1, “Surprising Simon” — a play he co-wrote — will be staged there.

The winner of the school’s Rareworks Theatre Playwrights Festival, “Simon” is a farce based on a birthday party gone wrong at many turns.

Charlie’s many friends know he’s a masterful comic (check out his George W. Bush impersonation here). In Staples Players, he participated in shows like “West Side Story” and “Into the Woods.” At Emerson he’s a communications major, involved in both sports broadcasting and play writing.

Charlie and Tommy Greenwald.

Charlie and Tommy Greenwald.

Though his father Tommy is also one of the funniest folks around (check out his “Charlie Joe Jackson Guide to Not Reading” franchise here), the play he co-wrote is an intimate musical.

Set against the background of a changing America between 1950 and 1990, it probes the complex relationships between brothers and sisters, parents and children. It’s all about connections, commitments and the healing of the human heart.

John & Jen” — starring Kate Baldwin and Conor Ryan — was first produced at Goodspeed. It opened off-Broadway in New York in 1995.

The show continues to have a healthy life in small theaters all over the country, and abroad. Now — 20 years later — it’s being revived by Keen Company at the Clurman Theatre on 42nd Street, through April 4.

Tommy — himself a 1979 Staples graduate — was not in Staples Players. (He was a soccer team captain.) But he’s an avid fan of the program. And he understands good theater: his day job is advertising Broadway shows.

So both Tommy and Charlie know something about two-fers. Of course, if you want to see both shows, you’ve got to buy 2 tickets.

(For ticket information on “John & Jen,” click here.)

Mike Forgette Rocks 1974

It started as a joke. Mike Forgette’s dad was a Jethro Tull fan, so his wife bought him a flute.

But 5-year-old Mike picked it up, and started playing. He added guitar in 7th grade. He and some friends formed a couple of high school bands. At the University of New Haven, Mike studied music and sound recording.

After college, he worked 3 jobs. He saw an ad for a 4th: SAT tutor. His former physics professor agreed to write a recommendation, but suggested Mike consider teaching as a career. He’d always enjoyed helping others solve problems, the instructor noted.

Mike Forgette, math teacher...

Mike Forgette, math teacher…

The first time Mike stood in front of a classroom, something clicked. He loved being “on stage” — just like with his band.

Today, Mike’s a full-time math teacher. He’s in his 3rd year at Staples High School, his 4th in the district.

But he did not leave music behind.

...and Mike Forgette, guitarist. (Photo/copyright LSG Original)

…and Mike Forgette, guitarist. (Photo/copyright LSG Original)

Mike’s band — named “1974” — has steadily earned notice. Playing mostly around Hartford — but ranging into Massachusetts and Pennsylvania — the progressive rock group is gaining fans and downloads.

Their concept-based albums are particularly big overseas. 1974 was recently reviewed in a Swedish newspaper, which Mike finds intriguing.

Last year, they were named “Best Rock Band” and “Best Overall Band” in Connecticut Music Awards voting. This year, they’re up for New England Music Awards’ “Rock Act of the Year.”

Being a rock star in 1974 — the band, not the year — is not a full-time gig. Mike teaches; other members work as graphic designer, chef, college registrar and inventory controller. They do all their own marketing: press releases, CD designs, booking, whatever.

The keyboardist is new. But everyone else has been friends for years. They enjoy an easy familiarity, and clearly love what they do.

Yet it doesn’t consume them. The name came from a member’s casual remark — “Maybe if we were around in 1974, we’d have made it” — and they don’t really worry that the name renders them “basically unsearchable” on Google. (Type in “1974,” and you get lots of references to Gerald Ford.)

1974, in 2015.

1974, in 2015.

They’re very approachable, which helps fans relate.

Some of those fans are Mike’s students. He doesn’t talk much about his band, but when the class hears that their teacher’s music is on iTunes and Spotify, they’re impressed.

Last year, Michael Martins was working on student radio station WWPT-FM’s 40th anniverary event. When he realized that meant the station began in — drum roll, please — 1974, he asked his teacher if the band could play live. They did.

Hanging on the studio wall is a poster of Jethro Tull. Forgette knew he was in the right place.

(To vote for 1974 as New England’s Rock Act of the Year, click here. To hear their music and more, click here.)

Music Rings Out At Jack Adams’ Memorial Service

Every Chrismas Eve for years, the Unitarian Church resounded with the sound of Jack Adams’ trumpet. Many of his students joined him, in memorable performances.

Music church rang out again yesterday, as family, friends and many fans gathered to pay tribute to the life of one of Westport’s most popular band leaders and teachers.

Jack Adams

Jack Adams

When Doug Davidoff realized that the exceptional acoustics of the Victor Lundy-designed church offered their own perfect tribute to the musician who died last month, he pulled out his iPhone and began recording.

The selections — played by a brass ensemble of 6 former students — provide a legacy as powerful as any of the heartfelt words spoken at the service.

Trumpeters Jon Owens, John Kirk  Dulaney, Andrew Willmott and Jon Blackburn, plus Dave Smith (French horn) and Jim Marbury (brass trombone), performed “Jesu Joy,” “Sheep May Safely Graze” and other brass favorites.

Speakers included former students who — inspired by Adams — went on to become music educators. Davidoff recorded the memorial statement offered by his mother, Denise Taft Davidoff. “It may have been been a ‘cornball’ thing to do, as Mr. Adams might say,” Davidoff conceded.

But it’s included in this tremendous tribute that Davidoff generously shares with “06880” readers — and Jack Adams’ countless fans, everywhere. Click below to hear it:

FunBites Now Shark Bait

FunBites is about to become shark food.

The product — a food cutter that creates bite-sized shapes (“great for picky eaters!”), invented by Westport mom Bobbie Rhoads — gets a star turn on “Shark Tank” this Friday (February 6, 9 pm, ABC-TV).

shark tank logoIt’s a nail-biting — but potentially lucrative — step for the 3-year-old company. Can a little kids’ product — launched in a local kitchen and basement; packed by Bobbie’s 2 girls and neighbors; fed by grassroots marketing and mommy bloggers — make the big leap into treacherous, reality TV waters where the likes of Mark Cuban lie in wait?

Bobbie can’t say, of course, until the show airs.

But she can discuss the process of landing in the nationally televised “shark tank.” (For the uninitiated: The show features entrepreneurs, who pitch their products. A panel of experts — “sharks” — ask questions about production, marketing and financials. If they bite, negotiations begin.)

Bobbie says, “What ‘American Idol’ is to vocalists and Disney is to kids, ‘Shark Tank’ is to entrepreneurs.”

Bobbie Rhoads and her daughters, around the time FunBites was founded.

Bobbie Rhoads and her daughters, around the time FunBites was founded.

Bobbie spent 3 years trying to get on the show. She sent applications and videos. It’s not easy: over 40,000 applicants vie for fewer than 100 spots.

But she made it. Last September, she flew with her husband Ed and 2 girls to Los Angeles for the taping.

The show’s staff helped Bobbie hone her pitch. They gave advice on what to wear, and the best look for her hair.

Once the cameras rolled though, everything happened at warp speed.

Still, Bobbie says, it was “extremely fun.” She enjoyed making her pitch, and the back-and-forth discussion that followed.

She targeted 2 sharks: Lori Grenier, because she is a successful, powerful woman who knows all about the right stores, packaging, and reaching consumers in creative ways. And Mark Cuban because he — like Bobbie — is from Pittsburgh. (More importantly, “everything he touches seems to turn into gold.”)

This Friday, she’ll host a viewing party for a few dozen friends and family members.

She’ll serve FunBites (along with adult food and beverages).

Then she’ll get ready for an onslaught of orders. Because — whether the sharks invest or not — national exposure in the “Shark Tank” can’t hurt any product.

Mersene Moves On To A New “Stage”

Mersene — like Pele or Madonna, she uses just 1 name — is the beloved owner of a funky, 1-of-a-kind shop across from the train station.

There, in 2 overflowing rooms, the incredibly ingenious, amazingly energetic and phenomenally generous Mississippi native whips up gorgeous gift boxes. (Can you tell I love this woman?)

Filled with ceramics, plants, chocolates, pasta, copperware, cutting boards, hand towels and anything else you could want in a reusable willow basket or hatbox, then tied together with ribbons, bows and twine, the gifts look so lovely recipients hate opening them.

Mersene, with some of her many unique creations.

Mersene, with some of her many unique creations.

But Railroad Place is a tough spot to draw in gift box customers. This is Mersene’s 2nd store; 2 years ago, Hurricane Sandy flooded her out of Bridge Square.

The 3rd time is the charm for this charming woman. Next month, Mersene moves on to the next stage in her creative career. Working out of her home and barn, she’ll focus on staging.

Parties, events, rooms, tablescapes — whatever you need to showcase warmth and love, Mersene will provide it.

And she’ll do it with her winning Southern smile and style.

Whether creating gift boxes, staging rooms or events, or putting together an outfit, Mersene has a style all her own.

Whether creating gift boxes, staging rooms or putting together an outfit, Mersene has a style all her own.

Mersene is idolized by her customers. Sitting in her overflowing store the other day, our conversation was interrupted by a stream of women singing her praises.

Jill Jaysen called her “a treasure.” Another said she is “a true artist.” A 3rd teared up after learning that Mersene is closing her store.

“I don’t want to lose anyone,” Mersene says. She wants to make sure her customers — “friends,” she corrects me — know that she’ll still help provide unique things for their own friends, relatives and clients.

She’ll still do gift baskets, of course, for individuals and corporations. But she’ll focus more on, say, staging birthday parties: putting together just the right mix of china, flowers, hors d’oeuvres, cake and entertainment.

Another example: Mersene will take a room you feel is “tired,” move some things around, bring in a couple of new pieces, and — voilà! — she’s injected tremendous new energy and life.

Mersene’s style combines elegance with simplicity. For a client’s baby shower, she recommended only some orchids, a cheese platter and a 3-tier tray with petits fours.

Mersene can make any scene look warm and inviting.

Mersene can make any scene look warm and inviting.

She brings that same creative eye to every staging challenge. She pours the same love and attention into a table or living room as a big charity gala.

As she prepares to close her Indulge by Mersene store, her many fans are sad — but looking forward to her new focus.

“I’ll follow her anywhere,” one says.

Fortunately, Mersene is not going far.

(The 22 Railroad Place store closes at the end of February. For more information on her staging and gift boxes, click here; email mersene@indulgebymersene.com, or call 203-557-9410.)