Category Archives: Entertainment

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.)

 

Petey Menz’s Hasty Pudding

Wikipedia calls Hasty Pudding “a theatrical student society at Harvard University, known for its burlesque cross-dressing musicals.” They were described by John Wheelwright in 1897 as “a kindly association of men of all ages in a gay evening of simple enjoyment.”

The meaning of “gay” has changed a bit since then. Hasty Pudding has not.

Presented annually since 1844 — except during 3 war years — the comedy productions still feature exactly 12 male performers (6 play men; the other 6 play women). There is a live pit orchestra, but no computers or synthesizers. The plots are silly, the jokes crude, the production values low, the puns anachronistic and sophomoric.

A typical Hasty Pudding show.

A typical Hasty Pudding show. Those guys are lookin’ good!

But it worked for Hasty Pudding members of yore like Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Randolph Hearst, Alan Jay Learner and Jack Lemmon.

And writing the Hasty Pudding show helped launch the careers of — more recently — comedian Mo Rocca, librettist Mark O’Donnell (“Hairspray”), and Rashida Jones (“Parks and Recreation,” “The Office,” “Boston Public”).

Petey Menz hopes some of that magic fairy dust rubs off on him.

The 2011 Staples graduate is co-writing the 2015 Hasty Pudding show. In a rare exhibition of burlesque cross-dressing musical genius, he also helped pen last year’s production.

Petey Menz

Petey Menz

The 2nd and 3rd times were the charm for Petey and his freshman roommates. They entered the writing competition as a lark that 1st year. “We didn’t know what we were doing,” he recalls. “But it was fun.”

Harvard students are smart. So Petey and his pals figured out what they needed to do to succeed. In the summer of 2013 they were chosen to write the 2014 show. Last year, they were picked again.

Yeah, it takes that long to write — then produce — the show.

It’s not your average theatrical production. There are 30 or so dates in Cambridge (this year’s opening is February 6). Then it goes on the road, for more performances in New York and (I”m sure there’s a reason for this) Bermuda.

“There’s a lot of spitballing in the beginning,” Petey says of the writing process. (The term refers to brainstorming, not the juvenile game that may seem appropriate to a Hasty Pudding production.)

Eventually, Petey’s team came up with the settings: Victorian England last year, medieval Spain this time. Then they had to create scenes (making sure each character had equal stage time — another tradition), write lyrics, and make sure it was all appropriately sophomorically funny.

The bulk of the work is done during the summer. Because Petey and his co-writers were all in different places, they communicated via Skype and Google Hangouts. (I don’t think that’s the way it was done in 1844.)

Hasty pudding logo

The Hasty Pudding logo

It’s a “self-consciously antique form of theater,” Petey admits. “This is one of the last institutions in the world to do theatrical drag shows. But it’s fun to to beef up what started as a skeletal scene, and it’s rewarding to see that jokes you’ve fine-tuned actually get laughs.”

Petey hopes his 2 years as a Hasty Pudding collaborator will help get him a writing job after he graduates this spring. He’s got a joint concentration in English and art history. [Insert your own finding-a-job joke here.]

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead

From the 1920s “lost generation” expats in Paris to the beat poets of 1950s’ Greenwich Village, cultural history resonates with moments in time when great, creative people came together unexpectedly. Without planning to, they created movements of outsize influence.

Perhaps the most famous National Lampoon cover of all time.

Perhaps the most famous National Lampoon cover of all time.

That’s what happened at the National Lampoon in the 1970s. A wildly outrageous, semi-demented group of men and women joined forces to whack social taboos, from politics and race to sex and religion. Nothing was sacred.

Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and like-minded talents used an irreverent magazine to launch records and movies (“Animal House,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation”) that changed the face of comedy, culture — perhaps even America itself.

For years, filmmakers — including an Oscar-winner — tried to capture that special moment. All those projects imploded.

Now Westporter Doug Tirola and Susan Bedusa have done it.

Their company — 4th Row Films — is in the final, frantic post-production days of “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon.” The 93-minute documentary weaves never-before-seen archival footage with the magazine’s beautiful and often shocking art, in a film that is already drawing praise and attention.

The National Lampoon crowd, in the 1970s.

The National Lampoon crowd, in the 1970s.

There’s much more to come. It premieres this Sunday (January 25) at the very prestigious, make-or-break-a-movie Sundance Film Festival.

As a kid in Westport, Tirola saw “Animal House” twice at the Fine Arts Theater. He scavenged for new issues of National Lampoon at Bill’s Smoke Shop. He hauled the now-legendary Lampoon 10th Anniversary Anthology from grad school to his 1st apartment to his home here, when he moved back.

Susan Bedusa and Doug Tirola.

Susan Bedusa and Doug Tirola.

After batting around the idea of a Lampoon history film, Susan Bedusa — a fellow Staples graduate, and Tirola’s longtime producing partner — convinced him to contact the Lampoon‘s owners. At a meeting in Los Angeles, they said they’d cooperate — if the original magazine owners signed off on the concept.

Coincidentally, at the height of its popularity, Lampoon publisher and “Animal House” producer Matty Simmons owned a summer home on Lamplight Lane. Belushi, Radner and other stars came here for parties.

Tirola got the rights to the story — including the artwork that was an important part of the magazine. National Lampoon launched the careers of artists who went on to work at the New Yorker, and for “The Simpsons” and “Home Alone.”

Now it’s a race to finish the sound mixing and color correction. Then it’s on to Sundance, and the Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead premiere.

Afterwards, there will be a party.

Togas are optional.

 

Jeff Seaver Recalls A Constellation Of Stars

Last month’s post about “I Love Lucy” and Westport’s Minuteman statue — plus many of the characters in that story — struck a chord with alert “06880” reader/longtime resident Jeff Seaver. He writes:

I first experienced Westport at age 17, visiting the family of a college friend. Ralph and Betty Alswang lived on Fraser Lane. He was a theater designer of note, and we became friends. Eventually he took me under his wing as an intern in theater architecture. (Mercifully, he later suggested I leave the field and “try something more fun.”) In the meantime I helped work on Lucille Lortel’s White Barn and Playwrights Horizons, among other projects.

At the Alswang home I was exposed to an astonishing collection of the special denizens of Westport. This included the Alswangs themselves, Bob and Eileen Weiskopf, and their delightful children.

Ralph and Betty’s house on Fraser Lane had once been the studio of the sculptor James Earle Fraser. With its stone walls, imposingly large doors and windows, and dark slate roofs, the house was an architectural marvel. I understand that Fraser found the villa in Italy, purchased it and had it disassembled and brought here — along with Italian masons — to be reconstructed, stone by stone.

James Earle Fraser and his bust of Theodore Roosevelt, around 1921.

James Earle Fraser and his bust of Theodore Roosevelt, around 1921.

I am told that Fraser’s original for the cast bronze equestrian sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt with an American Indian (now standing at the entrance to the American Museum of Natural History) was created within those walls. Sculptures were rolled out through the 2-story-tall swinging doors on to a massive concrete loading dock, later converted into a patio.

Ralph and Betty had a lively, eccentric home life: 3 vibrant, smart kids; a pair of neurotic Siamese cats; dogs here and there; huge spreads of food; lots of laughter, storytelling and music; remarkable friends, and deeply held — usually radical — political views, loudly expressed over meals.

Ralph was a larger-than-life character. He built a coffee table sturdy enough to stand on to facilitate the delivery of his fabled orations: smart, opinionated, always hysterically funny. And everyone, it seemed — especially my college chums — had secret crushes on Betty.

The Alswang home was open to neighbors and friends like Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Sydney Poitier and their families; director Otto Preminger; actor Gary Merrill (who had been married to Bette Davis); attorney Leonard Boudine (who lived across the street); Lucille Lortel, and many others.

Some were luminaries, some mere mortals, but all of them fascinating, talented folk. I would stumble out of Ralph’s studio, bleary-eyed from work, and find an assembly of guests lounging over coffee at the outsize dining table or enjoying the sun in back. As a naive teenager, I assumed this lifestyle must be how all adults lived.

Ralph Alswang (5th from left), with a galaxy of stars as they arrivefd for a session of the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington, D. The group includes June Havoc, John Huston, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Danny Kaye, Jane Wyatt and Ira Gershwin.

Ralph Alswang (5th from left), with a galaxy of stars as they arrived for a session of the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington, D.C. The group includes June Havoc, John Huston, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Danny Kaye, Jane Wyatt and Ira Gershwin.

Sad to say, this extraordinary madness was not to last. Betty Alswang, whose beauty (she was a model in her youth) was matched by her wits, died from cancer. As sometimes happens, Ralph died of a heart attack not long afterward. It was a heartbreaking loss, and the aftershocks left holes in many lives.

But the children carried on the tradition of style, talent and smarts. The Weiskopfs’ son Kim, who became a friend, went on to some celebrity as a TV writer in California. Fran Alswang became a TV producer, working with Michael Moore among others. Hope Alswang has a distinguished career as a curator of the decorative arts at various museums. Ralph Alswang was, among other things, official White House photographer for the Clinton administration. The Poitier children who once scampered around the house have found their own special callings.

Ralph and Betty and their circle remain emblematic for me of the greatest attributes Westport had to offer, when its gravitational pull attracted a constellation of brilliant lights in the theater, visual and literary arts.

Given the changes over the past 30 years in Westport, I’m skeptical such a powerful confluence could occur here again. But I feel blessed to have been invited in briefly, if only as a spectator, during that special time.

Jeff Seaver

Jeff Seaver

I later set about crafting my own dynasty. I got as far as designing and building a beautiful loft in Chelsea, filling it with Siamese cats, and marrying another talented artist.

In 1999, after 25-plus years of carving out a successful career as an artist in New York, I began searching for a life outside of the city. I wanted our 5-year-old daughter to experience exotic, rarefied things like grass, birds and squirrels.

One evening, while scouting locations in Connecticut, I looked up and recognized the road that leads to Longshore. I crossed over from there to Compo Beach, parked by the legendary cannons and stared out across the beach, flooded with recollections. I stopped over at Allen’s Clam House, and took a drive back up north to Fraser Lane, where so many other wonderful memories came flooding back.

Poof — the decision was made.

“Gloria,” As You’ve Never Heard It Before

In 2008, the wife of Chris Bousquet’s friend died suddenly. He realized how quickly someone’s world can fall apart, and wondered how anyone can move on after such a tragedy.

Chris Bousquet

Chris Bousquet

The singer-songwriter — he led High Lonesome Plains, and has performed with Roger McGuinn, John Sebastian, Asleep at the Wheel, the Nields, the Turtles and J. Geils – started to write a song about all that.

It didn’t go anywhere. “I was maybe too close to it,” he says. “Or maybe it was not really my song to write.”

A couple of months later, he read about Westport oysterman Alan Sterling, and his boat Gloria (named for an old girlfriend). Bousquet calls it “a profoundly moving story of grief, continual struggle, and the simple triumph of carrying on.”

Having grown up in Clinton, Connecticut, Bousquet always found the sea to be “ethereal and transcendent.” Staring out at the water, he believes in the interconnectedness of all things. So when Sterling noted in the story that a gull might be Gloria watching over him, Bousquet understood.

Gloria (Photo/John Kantor)

Gloria (Photo/John Kantor)

The sea can be warm and caressing, but also brutal. “Alan was well aware of the cold and raw, but it didn’t blind him to the beauty,” Bousquet says. Inspired, he reworked his old song into a new one: “Gloria.”

Bousquet never met Sterling in person. He thought about sharing the song with him, but felt it was presumptuous. Sterling died last July 4. Now, Bousquet wishes he had told the oysterman what an inspiration he’d been.

“He made me appreciate my life — and my wife! — even more,” Bousquet says. “I don’t mean to sound trite. But he reminded me to head out on my proverbial boat, and sail on each day.”

Alan Sterling culling his oysters.

Alan Sterling culling his oysters.

The song was supposed to be part of a compilation CD a few years back. It didn’t happen. But it’s one of his most popular songs during his live performances. Bousquet cherishes the connections “Gloria” allows him to make with audiences.

Now, Bousquet has re-recorded it. It will be on an EP to be released this spring.

But, he says, if any of Alan’s friends want to do something with it, he’ll be glad to help.

“The best songs are the ones that feel like they came from some place outside myself,” Bousquet says. “Like in some sense that gull came down to guide me too — and lead me home.”

(Click here to listen to Chris Bousquet’s haunting song “Gloria.”)

 

Broadway Stars Benefit Orphenians

Adam Kaplan has not forgotten his roots.

Adam Kaplan

Adam Kaplan

The 2008 Staples High School graduate scored some prime roles — Martin Delancey and a newsboy, plus understudy for lead Jack Kelly — in the popular Broadway show “Newsies.” But he has returned to Westport often, enjoying Staples Players productions and  visiting Greens Farms Elementary School music classes.

Now Kaplan is donating his talents to a fundraiser for the Orphenians, the elite high school singing group that helped boost his career. The a cappella musicians have been invited to San Francisco — the only East Coast group to participate in the famed Chanticleer National Youth Choral Festival, this March.

Kaplan has put together an all-star Broadway cast, for a benefit performance. Set to appear with him in the Staples auditorium on Monday, January 26: “Newsies” Tommy Bracco and Molly Jobe; Matt Shingledecker (“Wicked,” “West Side Story,” “Spring Awakening”); Steffanie Leigh (the final Mary of “Mary Poppins”); Robin de Jesús (current star of “Wicked”; 2-time Tony nominee for “In the Heights” and “La Cage aux Folles”); Barrett Wilbert Weed (“Heathers the Musical,” “Lysistrat Jones”) and Kara Lindsay (“Wicked,” “Newsies”).

Proceeds will help all Orphenians be able to make the trip. Click here to order tickets ($40 for adults, $20 for students and seniors). If you can’t attend but would like to contribute, click here.

The 2014-15 Orphenians

The 2014-15 Orphenians