Category Archives: Entertainment

“It’s A Wonderful Life” Indeed!

Take out your earbuds. Move over, Spotify. You’re so old school, iTunes.

Staples students are embracing a cutting-edge new technology: radio.

But not just any radio: a 1940s-style radio drama.

WWPT_logoTomorrow (Friday, December 19, 11 a.m.), Jim Honeycutt’s Audio Production class and David Roth’s Theater 3 Acting class collaborate on a radio broadcast of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

They’ll use the original 1947 script — including advertisements from that long-ago time.

Two years ago, a similar WWPT-FM production won 1st and 2nd place awards in the John Drury national high school radio competition. Check it out:

It’s a phenomenal event — and a great undertaking. High school students incorporate live drama skills, sound effects and radio production into an entertaining, uplifting performance.

You can hear it locally on 90.3 FM. Or — in a modern twist unavailable during the Truman administration — you can listen to the livestream anywhere in the world. Just click on www.wwptfm.com, then go to “Listen Live” and “Click here to access the district stream.”

It is indeed a wonderful life!

Mark Naftalin Named To Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

Westporter Mark Naftalin is going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And not just to see the exhibits.

The keyboardist will be inducted in April, along with fellow members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The seminal blues-rock band joins Ringo Starr, Green Day, Joan Jett, Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bill Withers in the “Class of 2015.”

Mark Naftalin (3rd from left) with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

Mark Naftalin (3rd from left) with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

According to the Hall of Fame website, Naftalin — along with bandmates including Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop –

converted the country-blues purists and turned on the Fillmore generation to the pleasures of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Willie Dixon and Elmore James. With the release of their blues-drenched debut album in the fall of 1965, and its adventurous “East-West” followup in the summer of 1966, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band kicked open a door that brought a defining new edge to rock and roll.

 

And they played at Monterey:

 

After leaving the band in 1968, Naftalin — the son of former Minneapolis mayor Arthur Naftalin — produced records, concerts, festivals and radio shows.

He started his own label, recording with Duane Allman, Canned Heat, Percy Mayfield, John Lee Hooker, Otis Rush, Big Joe Turner and James Cotton.

He’s been a sideman on over 100 albums — including the great jangly piano riff on Brewer & Shipley’s “One Toke Over the Line.”

 

Last night, Naftalin reflected on what he calls “a great honor.” He is proud of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s interracial makeup; grateful to have worked with such creative, energetic musicians, and gratified that from the 1960s through today, people tell him the group’s music meant something to them.

“We’ve gotten fervent testimonials that we helped get someone through high school, college or Vietnam,” Naftalin said.

“And a number of musicians have said they were drawn to exploring blues music because of our influence. It’s a real privilege to be a little part of that.”

Mark Naftalin today.

Mark Naftalin today.

He and his wife Ellen — a 1967 Staples High School grad — started coming to Westport in 1991, the year they got married in the house she grew up in. They moved here permanently in 2002.

Naftalin will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April. You can go to Cleveland for the ceremony.

Or you can head to the Westport Historical Society on December 31. From 6-8 p.m. he’s at the electric piano, part of his 7th annual First Night gig.

You can catch “Mark Naftalin and Friends” at the Pequot Library too, the weekend of January 17-18. He’ll play the Steinway concert grand.

It’s a long way from Monterey to Westport. But that detour to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame makes it all worthwhile.

 

4 Reasons To Watch Tonight’s Telecast Of “Peter Pan,” Besides The Fact That On Live TV, Anything Can Happen

  1. Westporter Kelli O’Hara plays Mrs. Darling.
  2. Weston resident Christopher Walken is Captain Hook.
  3. Staples Class of 2004 graduate Gina Rattan is associate director — as she was for the live broadcast of “Cinderella.”
  4. Staples grad Jeffrey Small is site coordinator.
Gina Rattan

Gina Rattan

(“Peter Pan” is live on NBC at 8 pm EST tonight — Thursday, December 4. Of course, you can always tape it…)

 

Rudolph Is No Longer Horny

Last night’s ice sculpture carving — part of the post-Town Hall-tree-lighting festivities held around the corner at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church — was very impressive. Rudolph was one of the creations — complete with his trademark red nose. JP Vellotti was inspired to take a photo.

But when he went back this morning, the very alert “06880” reader was surprised to see Rudolph’s antlers were gone. He took another shot.

Rudolph collage

Before and after.

JP asks: “Did they melt in the sub-freezing temps overnight? Or was someone naughty? Only Santa knows who will get a present or coal in their stocking!”

Yeah, The Doors Played At Staples. Cream, The Byrds And Peter Frampton Too. And…

…also the Yardbirds, Animals, Rascals, and Sly and the Family Stone.

Plus the Byrds, Rhinoceros, Buddy Miles, J. Geils,  Peter Frampton and Taj Mahal. And Steve Tallerico, before he became Steve Tyler.

For years, those of us who grew up in Westport in the 1960s and ’70s have regaled friends with tales of those concerts. They looked at us like we smoked one too many bowls.

But they really happened. And now there is proof.

Smollin book cover

Mark Smollin — a 1970 Staples grad who went on to fame as an artist and designer — was at many of those shows. He’s just produced a massive e-book filled with photos, posters and ticket stubs — plus essays and remembrances by concert-goers and professional musicians — from those amazing days.

Oh, did I mention that tickets were usually just $2 or $3?

Doors posterThe Real Rock & Roll High School: True Tales of Legendary Bands That Performed in Westport CT is a 150-page gem. It opens with an essay by Barry Tashian. Westport’s 1st home-grown rock star — his band, the Remains, opened for the Beatles — provides some context by recalling hunting down 45s at the Melody House on Main Street, listening to jazz concerts at Compo, and going to dances at the Y and Longshore.

Smollin tracked down Ellen Sandhaus, whose brother Dick signed those first legendary shows — while still in high school. (The story of how he and classmate Paul Gambaccini became 17-year-old concert promoters is in the book). Ellen contributed fantastic photos, taken with her Brownie camera.

Cream ticketSmollin used Facebook to find more information. Mary Gai joined Ellen as a writer and editor. Fred Cantor did heavy lifting in the Westport Library newspaper archives. He unearthed proof that — as students who were there have always maintained — the Blues Project, Left Banke and Blues Magoos (twice!) all played at Staples proms.

The buzz grew. People chimed in about bands they claimed played at Staples, but actually were at other local venues. So Smollin added a section on other places like the Nines Club (Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Vanilla Fudge, ? and the Mysterians), and the Westport Country Playhouse (the Critters).

Smollin also gives a shout-out to non-rockers who played in Westport. That’s an impressive list too: Louis Armstrong, Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Chick Corea, Dave Brubeck, Sammy Davis Jr., Ferrante and Teicher, Odetta.

Ginger Baker, Cream's drummer, at Staples in 1968. (Photo copyright Jeremy Ross)

Ginger Baker, Cream’s drummer, at Staples in 1968. (Photo copyright Jeremy Ross)

Finally — because he himself played in a band (called Smoke; they still do reunions) — Smollin included a list of local groups that may not have lasted long, but were legends in their own (and many others’) minds: Triumvirate. The Wild Sect. The Saints. Strawberry Fun Band. Mandrake Root. Styx. (No, not the more famous “Come Sail Away” band.)

The Real Rock & Roll High School is a trip — down memory lane if you were there (or wished you were), into the rabbit hole of amazing musical history if you were not.

The Staples auditorium -- where so many legendary concerts took place -- as seen in the 1970 yearbook.

The Staples auditorium — where so many legendary concerts took place — as seen in the 1970 yearbook.

So if you have any interest at all in great bands and solo artists — and others like Edgar Winter, Livingston Taylor and John Lee Hooker, all of whom also played in Westport — check it out.

I know. It’s only rock ‘n’ roll. But we love it.

(Click to order The Real Rock & Roll High School.)

Bonus track: I mentioned Steve Tyler above. Here’s Aerosmith’s front man giving a hat tip to Staples, during his 1995 induction ceremony at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:

Alisan Porter Knows “Who We Are”

It’s been quite a year for Alisan Porter.

The 1999 Staples graduate — who also played Curly Sue in the movie of the same name, and performed on Broadway in “Footloose” and “A Chorus Line” — gave birth to her 2nd child, talked openly about her sobriety, and has just released her 1st solo album in 6 years.

After many years recording and performing with her band The Canyons, she felt the need to explore musically on her own. She spent time in Nashville writing, and — with friend and fellow Staples grad Drew McKeon — went into the studio. He co-wrote, co-produced and played on the album, called “Who We Are.”

Ali Porter

“We basically sat in her kitchen in California with a guitar and a laptop and started writing a song,” he says, recalling the project’s genesis. “Twenty minutes later we had a demo for a tune.”

They went out and got all-star musicians, veterans of bands for Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Eric Clapton.

In a People magazine story written by yet another Staples grad — Jennifer Garcia — Porter describes her work as a recording artist, mother of 2 (ages 2 1/2 and 6 months), and blogger (“The Lil’ Mamas” is a no-holds-barred, tell-all, not-your- grandmother’s look at motherhood).

“Motherhood always comes first,” she says. “But I knew I wasn’t going to be a good mother if I didn’t continue to do what I love! Music is a part of me and I had to express myself, especially now that I’m a mom. That inspired a lot of the album. My own growing up and watching my children do the same.”

That’s happening in California now. But you can’t take the Westport out of Curly Sue Alison Porter.

 

 

Courtney Kemp Agboh Adds More “Power”

Last summer, “06880” profiled Courtney Kemp Agboh. The 1994 Staples High School graduate — who went on to Brown University, and earned a master’s in English literature at Columbia — is the creator and show runner of “Power,” a Starz series that premiered a month earlier. It was the 1st series she ever pitched.

Last night, Agboh was honored at a star-studded Hollywood event. She was 1 of Ebony Magazine’s “Power 100.” She — and fellow high-achievers like Oprah Winfrey, Pharrell Williams and Jason Collins — joined Quincy Jones, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Courtney Kemp Agboh

Courtney Kemp Agboh

As last summer’s story noted, she was “called the N-word a lot” growing up in Westport. (Her father, Herb Kemp, was a noted advertising executive.) She read college textbooks at age 8, Shakespeare at 10. She made up stories about the pieces on her chess set.

It was a long way from the nearly-all-white Westport of the 1980s and ’90s to Sunset Gower Studios in Los Angeles, where she works today.

And where her executive producer is Curtis Jackson — better known as the rapper 50 Cent.

In Hollywood, it doesn’t get more powerful than that.

Paul, Pasek — And Jackman

Staples graduate Justin Paul ’03 and songwriting partner Benj Pasek are well known on Broadway (“A Christmas Story” was nominated for a Tony Award).

They’re known off-Broadway, and overseas (“Dogfight” was just nominated for an Evening Standard Award for Best Musical in London).

They’re known on TV (NBC’s “Smash”).

Now the talented duo heads to the big screen.

They’ll contribute most of the songs to the new Hugh Jackman film musical, “The Greatest Showman on Earth.” Filming begins this summer in New York.

The movie showcases P.T. Barnum’s life. He was a circus creator and the promoter of Tom Thumb, of course. But Barnum was also the mayor of Bridgeport.

So as far from Westport as Justin Paul’s career has taken him, he hasn’t really left at all.

Justin Paul

Justin Paul

 

Hello, Laramie!

High school theater — at least in Fairfield County — is a special art form. It’s entertaining, provocative, and exceptionally high quality.

This weekend, local audiences can enjoy 2 very different shows. Both are well worth going far out of your way to see.

Staples Players presents “Hello, Dolly!” Directors David Roth and Kerry Long have pulled out all the stops. The classic farce — featuring memorable music and great choreography — promises to continue Players’ long tradition of Broadway-worthy productions.

Meanwhile, Weston High School’s Company presents “The Laramie Project.” The fascinating play draws on hundreds of interviews, conducted in Wyoming in the aftermath of the kidnapping and murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard.

Cast in some of their many ensemble "Laramie" roles are (from left) Jack Seigenthaler, Kevin MacWilliams, Sam Rosenthal and Preston Troxell. (Photo/Peter Friedman)

Cast in some of their many ensemble “Laramie” roles are (from left) Jack Seigenthaler, Kevin MacWilliams, Sam Rosenthal and Preston Troxell. (Photo/Peter Friedman)

Twenty-six students play the parts of 68 Laramie residents, in this complex, well-crafted and many-faceted exploration of life and death in a Western town.

Director Kevin Slater is familiar to many Westporters, for his work with drama troupes in schools here. Cast member Jack Seigenthaler is also well known, for his portrayal of Conrad in Staples Players’ 2013 summer production of “Bye Bye Birdie.”

“The Laramie Project” is presented this Friday and Saturday, November 14 and 15. The Sunday, November 16 matinee will be followed by an on-stage talk-back with Andy Paris. A member of the original cast, he’s Skyped with cast members — providing powerful insights into what is already a stunning show.

(“Hello, Dolly!” is performed on Friday and Saturday, November 14, 15, 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m., with 3 p.m. matinees on Sunday, November 16 and Saturday, November 22. For tickets — including the pre-show gala on opening night — click www.StaplesPlayers.com.

“The Laramie Project” is performed on Friday and Saturday, November 14 and 15 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, November 16 at 3 p.m.  For tickets, click whscompany.com.)

 

 

Paula Poundstone Pounds The 1 Percent

Paula Poundstone owes me a new pair of boxers.

I peed myself laughing at her Saturday night show. The comedian — best known for her regular appearances on NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” — rocked a sellout crowd at the Westport Country Playhouse.

It was a benefit for Homes With Hope. Between ticket sales and a live auction, the event raised huge bucks — 12% of their annual budget — to help fight homelessness. As a brief video by 4th Row Films pointed out, it’s a problem even in this prosperous town.

Paula Poundstone

Paula Poundstone

Poundstone knew her audience. She picked a few random people. There was, incredibly, former Homes With Hope director Pete Powell (he’s an Episcopal priest — as an atheist, she had great fun with that), as well as a CPA, and a guy in budgeting for a film company (with, to Paula’s great delight, several assistants).

The theme throughout the night was Westport’s affluence. She joked about the difference between the pledges made at the Playhouse (2 people offered $20,000 each) and her kids’ PTA event (“we start at $1, and go down from there”).

She asked what the main industry in Westport is. “Money,” someone said. All night long, Poundstone returned to the idea of folks in the audience taking care of each other’s money.

It was all in good fun. This was a well-heeled crowd, but they were raising funds for their much-less-fortunate fellow citizens, who live here too.

Let no good deed go unpunished.

The theme of Paula Poundstone's jokes -- and some Facebook comments.

The theme of Paula Poundstone’s jokes — and some Facebook comments.

As a public figure, Poundstone updates her Facebook page often. Just before the show began, she posted: “I’m in Westport, Connecticut. I’m trying to reach out to the disenfranchised members of the 1%.”

Her fans responded. “You just keep taking care of the comical needs of those poor uptight old white folks Paula,” one wrote. “We appreciate it.”

“Good luck,” another said. “I hear that crowd is too lazy to work for a living.”

A woman in Westport on business huffed, “wouldn’t you know, the 1% grabbed all the tickets for themselves! Typically entitled, these folks are, I swear.”

“Talk to ‘em straight, Paula,” a fan commented. “They need to hear from you what’s really going down outside their protected bubble.”

Over 700 people “liked” the post. Presumably, they liked her dig at the “1%.”

That’s fine. We loved Paula Poundstone. She loved Westport — and gave a great hour-long performance. And everyone loved raising oodles of money for Homes With Hope.

But she still owes me a new pair of boxers.