Category Archives: Entertainment

Staples’ “A Chorus Line”: Book It!

In the midst of preparing for their fall musical — Hello, Dolly! —  Staples Players still bask in well-deserved applause from  A Chorus Line.

Their 2013 production will be included in A Chorus Line FAQ. The 400-page book is part of a new “everything you could possibly want to know” series on popular Broadway musicals.

Author Tom Rowan is including a chapter on notable productions around the nation over the past 30 years. What he calls the “remarkable” Staples Players staging is one of only 4 high school versions in the book.

Staples Players: one singular sensation. (Photo by Kerry Long)

Staples Players: one singular sensation. (Photo by Kerry Long)

Directors David Roth and Kerry Long figured that Rowan heard of Staples’ production from Terre Blair Hamlisch. The composer’s widow saw the show in Westport, was enthralled, and invited them to perform a selection at a major New York fundraiser honoring Hamlisch, with Bernadette Peters, Joel Grey and Robert Klein.

Nope.

Rowan said he spent a lot of time watching YouTube clips of various Chorus Line productions from around the world. He stumbled upon Staples, and was amazed by the quality — particularly the dancing. He could hardly believe it was a high school show.

(He loved learning about the Terre Hamlisch connection. That story will be in Rowan’s book too.)

A Chorus Line is one of many Staples Players productions uploaded to their YouTube channel. Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, Little Shop of Horrors — those and many more are just a mouse click away.

Of course, you should see Hello, Dolly! live, when it opens a couple of weeks from now.

Then relive the Staples Player magic — over and over — thanks to the miracle of YouTube.

(Staples Players is always looking for more archival material. If you’ve got some, contact director David Roth: droth@westport.k12.ct.us)

Remembering Ann Brannigan

Terry Brannigan’s mother Ann died peacefully this week, surrounded by loved ones. She lived in Westport with her husband Robert for nearly 60 years. Terry writes:

Many people kn0w Ann as a mother of 3 and grandmother to 9 Westporters, or for her selfless contributions to the town.

Few know the story of Ann’s wonderful career in dance, musical theater and television.  In an era of reality TV fame and extreme divas, her modesty is rare.

Act 1:

She was born in Pittsburgh during the Depression. It was devastating to everyone and every city, but none suffered more than a single mother in a steel town. Times were hard, but Ann was gifted. At 15 she graduated from high school and moved to New York City, along with her mother and grandmother, to pursue an extraordinary career in dance, theater and the newly emerging media called television.

Ann Brannigan

Ann Brannigan

Act 2:

For more than 15 years Ann did not miss a day of work on Broadway. Her credits include Annie Get Your Gun, Brigadoon, High Button Shoes and countless others — including an early stint as a Rockette.

Along the way she fell in love with a handsome stagehand named Bobby Brannigan, while working together on the Broadway production of Two on the Aisle. He was a World War II submariner who left Pittsburgh at 17, and came from a long line of stagehands. Ann and Bob were married at Mahachy’s Actor’s Chapel, between the matinee and evening performances of the shows they were working on.

Robert and Ann Brannigan.

Robert and Ann Brannigan.

Act 3:

In the 1950s, Westport was famous for its arts community, culture and proximity to New York. Eager to start a family but not ready to slow down, the time was right for the young couple to move here.

Another connection to the theatre led Ann to her beloved Old Mill cottage.  Working together on a show, Ann, Robert, Darren McGavin and another cast  member all discovered the peaceful cove, and bought their houses at the same time. Ann described Westport — and Old Mill Cove in particular — as “heaven.”

Ann Brannigan from Roth Magazine, in 1952.

Ann Brannigan from Roth Magazine, in 1952.

Bob commuted to New York to work backstage, and Ann performed for years. Bob’s career included senior roles at Lincoln Center and City Center. Ann transitioned to television, and for many years was part of the regular casts of pioneering shows like “Your Show of Shows,” “Jimmy Durante” and “Danny Thomas.” She finally retired from the stage to raise her 3 children, then cherished her role as grandmother.

Act 4:

Ann turned her focus to her husband, children, grandchildren and community. She never missed a game, performance or chance to be part of her family’s activities. Ann took great pleasure in helping choreograph school performances from Hillspoint Elementary through Staples. But in her unassuming fashion she shunned any reference to her contribution.

What was most striking about Ann’s accomplishments is that she never spoke of them — even when asked. For example, one day she was appalled by the poor health of Kenny Montgomery, owner of the Old Mill Market (now Elvira’s). The former ballerina tended to his medical needs, and volunteered behind the counter until he died.

The performing arts did not pay what it does today. To help put her children through school, Ann worked for years in administrative roles. She served others who had absolutely no idea of the stages she had danced on, or the talent she collaborated with. She was never one to brag.

A recent photo of Ann Brannigan.

A recent photo of Ann Brannigan.

Westport is full of treasures, some more conspicuous than others. In a town rightfully proud of the famous people who live here or pass through, I am sure many will read this post and say, “Ann Brannigan, from Loretta Court? Ann, who always talked about her grandkids? Wow! Who knew?”

Maybe that says it all.

A memorial service for Ann Brannigan will be held this Saturday (October 4, 10 a.m.) at Assumption Church on Riverside Avenue. A reception will follow.

Lia’s “Ices”

Lia Ices just got a nice shout-out from Entertainment Weekly.

On her 3rd album — called “Ices” — the singer-songwriter “still sounds like that art-school girl you had a crush on,” EW wrote.

“But her songs have gotten fuller and lusher. [The album's] warm wash of ethereal vocals and electronics belies its chilly title.”

Lia Ices

Lia Ices

Lia Ices is the stage name of Leah Kessel. She’s a former Staples Player who acted in “Runaways” and “Heidi Chronicles,” before leaving for private school and NYU (where she earned a degree in experimental theater in 2007).

Her influences include Iggy Azalea, the Cocteau Twins and — this will resonate with older “06880” readers — Steely Dan.

According to Elle magazine, she splits time between the Hudson Valley (where she records) and Sonoma, California (where she lives with her winemaker boyfriend).

“I can be super reclusive and hermetic, and then I can be in California and host dinner parties and drink wine,” she says.

The track below — “Higher” — is “a chirpy schoolyard melody spliced with a killer guitar riff,” Elle says. It’s her 1st radio single.

Let’s hope “Ices” turns hot as hell.

 

Dancing With The Stars — And Be One Yourself!

“Dancing With the Stars” is a hit TV show. It’s spawned an entire genre of fundraising events.

Positive Directions is following in step — but with a twist.

Moshe Aelyon -- one Westport star -- will be dancing with another.

Moshe Aelyon — one Westport star — will be dancing with another.

On Saturday, October 18 (6:30 p.m., Patterson Club), the Westport-based youth development and counseling service offers “A Chance to Dance.” There’s the familiar format, sure: 6 local celebrities (including Westport designer Moshe Aelyon, Safe Rides co-founder Julie Mombello and graphic designer Miggs Burroughs) pair with professional dancers for a very entertaining segment, and are judged by a panel including Bill Mitchell.

But everyone else can shake their booty too. There’s also a contest to find the happiest dancer(s).

Anyone can submit a short video of dancing anywhere, any way, to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” song.

You can dance by yourself, with a partner (or more). You can dance well or poorly. You can dance seriously or funnily.

Just dance! Make the Positive Directions folks happy.

(And pay $100. It’s a fundraiser, after all.)

Here’s Liz Beeby’s effort:

The entry deadline is Monday, October 6. The top 40 entries will be shown during the “A Chance to Dance” gala.

The winner will receive “Serenity,” an original artwork by — who else? — Miggs  Burroughs.

But, of course, if you pay your $100 and submit your video to help Positive Directions, you’re already a winner.

(For more details on submitting your video, and ticket information for the event, click the “A Chance to Dance” website.)

Claudine Brantley: A Filmmaker To Watch

In the wake of Westport’s selection as Connecticut’s “Fan Favorite Town of the Year,” plenty of praise was heaped on 3 elementary school girls. They conceived the idea for a promotional video touting the contest, then starred in what ultimately pushed our town to the top.

No one’s talking about Claudine Brantley, who filmed and edited the video.

That’s fine with her. Claudine, who graduated from Staples last June, calls her young colleagues “enthusiastic, adorable and very easy to work with.” They came up with the locations highlighted in the video, and “starred” in it.

But Claudine’s very professional work should not go unnoticed. And her back story deserves to be told.

Born in Georgia and raised in New London, Connecticut, Claudine came to Westport in the middle of sophomore year. Her mother wanted to provide better opportunities for Claudine and her brother Malik, and made considerable sacrifices to get here.

Claudine Brantly

Claudine Brantley

Claudine quickly got involved in the school. She joined the literary magazine Soundings, and the Gay-Straight Alliance. She found a job shelving books at the Westport Library.

And — through a Staples course called Narrative Film — she discovered a passion for video.

“I really like being able to tell stories visually,” Claudine says. “You have so many interactions, and ways to create a vision of something.”

Instructor Jim Honeycutt ranks Claudine with “Staples Hall of Fame filmmakers” like Adam Marcus, Luke Greenfield and Daryl Wein. “The only difference is that she is not in Hollywood — yet,” he says.

He calls her work “unlike most student films. They are intensely personal and profound.”

Claudine cajoles Staples Players into acting in her films. She scours the internet to find people to do voiceovers. Her sound tracks are “ethereal and haunting,” Honeycutt says.

She finds extraordinary royalty-free music to use legally. It sounds like it was written just for her, Honeycutt adds.

Her films “An Interloping Dream” and “Abraham” have been selected for the 2014 All American High School Film Festival.

“Claudine works incredibly hard at developing her craft,” Honeycutt says. “She is very devoted and serious. She has a wonderful heart, and a willingness to fight.”

That heart was on display when she agreed to help 3 Westport girls fulfill their “fan favorite” dream.

“I’m impressed with how involved those kids were, and how at a young age they had such love for their town,” Claudine says.

She credits them with helping her learn more about Westport.

Clearly, Claudine has learned plenty on her own. Now a freshman film and photography major at Parsons The New School for Design, she hopes to focus on documentaries.

In the years to come, she’ll no doubt make films far more important than the one that earned Westport its “fan favorite” honor.

And, no doubt, they’ll make Claudine Brantley a “fan favorite” in the video world.

(A collection of films by Claudine Brantley is available on YouTube.)

 

 

Slice Is Nice!

Hundreds of Westporters — and many more out-of-towners — poured into the narrow streets of Saugatuck today.

They ambled along Riverside Avenue, Railroad Place and Saugatuck Avenue, enjoying our 3rd annual Slice of Saugatuck festival.

Food and drink was the main attraction. Over 25 restaurants and merchanats — including Viva’s, Mansion, Rainbow Thai, Craft Butchery, Saugatuck Sweets, The Duck, Chinese Takeout, Cuatros Hermanos — even 99 Bottles and Dunkin’ Donuts — offered treats.

But there was music too, ranging from School of Rock and folk to steel drums, along with stuff from hair salons, galleries and a tae kwan do place.

The weather was perfect. The vibe was cool.

And — because most people stayed off the roads — even the traffic was fine.

It was a fantastic slice of life, on a wonderful Sunday afternoon. With proceeds benefiting the Gillespie Center food pantry too, what’s not to like?

Tutti's was 1 of many Saugatuck restaurants dishing out some of its most popular items. Lines formed instantly, and stayed long.

Tutti’s was one of many Saugatuck restaurants dishing out some of its most popular items. Lines formed instantly, and stayed long.

The plaza between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk rocked all afternoon long.

The plaza between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk rocked all afternoon long.

What's a street festival without a bounce house? This one was in the Rizzuto's parking lot.

What’s a street festival without a bounce house? This one was in the Rizzuto’s lot.

Mr. Sausage showed up too, to help promote Saugatuck Craft Butchery's carnivorous samples.

Mr. Sausage showed up too, to help promote Saugatuck Craft Butchery’s carnivorous samples.

Downunder was busy all day, offering kayak and paddleboard rides. Nearby, boat owners tied up at the dock.

Downunder was busy all day, offering kayak and paddleboard rides. Nearby, boat owners tied up at the dock.

 

After Nearly 50 Years, The Remains Come Home

The last time the Remains played in Fairfield County was 1966. The legendary rock group was a few months away from opening for the Beatles, on that legendary band’s final tour. Now they were at Staples High School, the alma mater of half their members: guitarist/vocalist Barry Tashian and keyboardist Billy Briggs.

Rock critic Jon Landau had already described the Remains as “how you told a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll.”

That 1966 gig was to raise money for the Orphenians’ — Staples’ select choral group — upcoming tour of the Virgin Islands.

Westporters and Remains Barry Tashian (left) and Bill Briggs flank Staples music director John Ohanian in 1966.

Westporters and Remains Barry Tashian (left) and Bill Briggs flank Staples music director John Ohanian in 1966.

After that Beatles tour, the Remains broke up. Rolling Stone magazine later called them “a religious totem of all that was manic and marvelous about mid-’60s pop.”

They reunited a decade later, for a few dates. But Tashian joined Emmy Lou Harris’ band, and moved to California. In the 1990s, he and his wife — 1964 Staples grad Holly Kimball — formed a Nashville-based duo.

Then, in the mid-’90s, a promoter invited them to play in Spain. They were up for it — and so were their rabid European fans. They played a couple of dates every year since.

In June 2013 they rocked the Bell House in Brooklyn. They were excited about their half-century return to this area: a gig in Fairfield this past April.

But in February, drummer Chip Damiani died of a brain hemorrhage.

In January, Chip Damiani attended the Fairfield History Museum's opening reception for its rock 'n' roll exhibit. He posed in front of posters of his legendary band, the Reamins.

In January, Chip Damiani attended the Fairfield History Museum’s opening reception for its rock ‘n’ roll exhibit. He posed in front of posters of his legendary band, the Reamins.

The loss of their “brother” — whose pounding drums helped drive the group to cult status in the 1960s, and who still played as energetically 5 decades later — stunned the 3 remaining Remains.

But the show must go on. In August — the day after Holly’s 50th Staples reunion, where she and Barry (SHS ’63) played and sang — the band auditioned new drummers. They chose George Correia, who played with Clarence Clemmons and, Tashian says, “locked right in to what we do.”

On Friday, September 26, the Remains return to Fairfield County for the 1st time since 1966. They venue is the Fairfield Theatre Company (7:45 p.m.), and they are as amped as when they played with the Beatles (and Bobby Hebb, the Cyrkle and the Ronettes).

The Remains, back in the day.

The Remains, back in the day.

“When Chip died, we really understood the saying ‘You don’t miss your water till your well runs dry,” Tashian says.

“Losing Chip makes us appreciate what we have even more. We look at each other and say, ‘How could it be 50 years?’ But it is. And we’re committed to each other — to our brothers — totally. We’re spread across Massachusetts, New Jersey and Nashville, but we really are a family.”

In just a few days, they’ll see plenty of Westport fans who for years have been part of that Remains family too.

(For information and tickets to the Remains’ September 26 show, click here.)

Staples Players Earn Broadway.Com Buzz

With school back in session, Broadway.com has scoured YouTube for its Top 5 high school musical performances.

Among the “A+” shows is Staples Players’ 2011 production of “West Side Story.”

The website says:

In a high school musical, finding a bunch of guys willing to even try on a pair of jazz shoes is a rarity. But bafflingly, Staples High School in Westport, CT has assembled a whole team of hoofing high school dudes who pirouette and leap around the stage with ease. Wow, check out those Shark high-kicks!

Very cool — except for the “bafflingly” part.

At Staples, “hoofing high school dudes” are everywhere.

 

Labor Day Blues

Memorial Day has a parade. The 4th of July means fireworks.

Now, Labor Day boasts its own Westport tradition.

The 7th annual Blues, Views & BBQ Festival opened a weekend run today downtown.

With 3 separate events — great music at the Levitt Pavilion; a barbecue competition in the Imperial Avenue parking lot, and kids activities/food trucks/vendors in the library lot — there is something for everyone.

Westport's Emergency Medical Services staff participated in the hotly contested barbecue competition.

Westport’s Emergency Medical Services staff joined the hotly contested barbecue competition.

A number of Westporters — and many more from throughout the region — strolled easily around the grounds. The footbridge connecting the Imperial Avenue and library parking lots got more use than maybe ever. Kayakers drifted up the river to see what was up.

The music was awesome. And the smell of barbecue ribs, chicken and steak was everywhere.

This dude had a great time listening to some blues.

This dude had a great time listening to some blues.

(For information on bands, tickets and more, click on http://www.bluesviewsbbq.com or call 203-505-8716. The festival runs through 9:30 tonight. On Sunday the music starts at noon, and goes straight through to 9:30 p.m.)

Lucy Roth waits as a balloon man creates a unique design.

Lucy Roth (left) waits as a balloon man creates a unique design.

A WPKN fan listens to music at the Levitt.

A WPKN fan listens to music at the Levitt.

Westport 1st selectman Jim Marpe was at the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival, with his wife Mary Ellen and daughter Samantha.

Westport 1st selectman Jim Marpe enjoyed the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival, with his wife Mary Ellen and daughter Samantha.

 

Blues, Views & BBQ Rocks Downtown

The 7th annual Blues, Views & BBQ Festival rocks Westport this weekend. Get ready for a kick-ass lineup of blues, rock, brass and funk music — plus fantastic food, and tons o’ stuff for the kids.

The Spin Doctors and Rick Derringer headline the stage acts. How did they — and many other Big Names — come to town? Westporter Crispin Cioe played a huge role.

Crispin Cioe gets ready to wail.

Crispin Cioe gets ready to wail.

Soon after he and his family moved here 13 years ago, Crispin met Bob Le Rose, The owner of Bobby Q’s and leader in the Downtown Merchants Association, Bob wanted to start a blues festival. Crispin — a longtime musician/ bandleader/ producer/songwriter — knew plenty of bands and agents.

Each year, the pair spends months discussing possible musical acts. They probably eat very well too.

When they hit on the idea of having the Spin Doctors star in Saturday’s show, Bob worried that the festival might stray too far from its blues-based foundation.

Crispin performed and hung out with the band in the 1990s. He knew they were “rootsy/funky/bluesy” — especially live — and that they’d gotten their start at the Wetlands club in Manhattan (a spawning ground for the jam band scene).

Listening to the band’s recent recorded work, they saw movement toward exactly the kind of music featured at Blues, Views & BBQ.

Spin Doctors will headline this year's Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Spin Doctors will headline this year’s Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Likewise, several years ago Crispin and Bob were searching for a way to feature well-known musicians who grew up here, and still live in the area. “Guitar god” Charlie Karp — a Westport native who played with Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles — helped assemble the Westport Heritage Blues Band, a special treat.

This year’s treats include Raw Oyster Cult, a New Orleans supergroup; the high-voltage, horn-drenched street band Big Sam’s Funky Nation; perennial favorite and guitar star Anders Osborne; blues slide guitarist Ms. Rory Block, and the formidable Popa Chubby.

Big Sam's Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)

Big Sam’s Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)

Crispin will play tenor sax with his old pal Bill Kirchen, guitarist and principal songwriter for Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen. The friends go back to the University of Michigan, where Commander Cody was formed.

Lately, Crispin has been working with legendary local band Cracked Ice, vocal great Darlene Love and producer Steven Van Zandt. But on Sunday (August 31) he’ll be at Blues, Views & BBQ, playing alto sax with Rick Derringer on the classic instrumental “Frankenstein.”

If you like great music, excellent barbecue and plenty of fun in your own hometown, you’ll be there too.

(For advance tickets and more information on the festival — which takes place at the Levitt Pavilion and the grounds of the Westport Library — click on http://www.bluesviewsbbq.com or call 203-505-8716. Gates open at 11 a.m. Music starts at noon, and goes straight through to 9:30 p.m.)