Category Archives: Entertainment

When The Music Died

Sally’s Place — the last record store in Westport — closed 2 years ago. It marked the end of an era, for devoted fans like Keith Richards and all the rest of us regular Joes.

Once upon a time, record stores were stacked up here like 45s on a spindle.* Sally bought her beloved store after she left Klein’s. At one point, there were not 1 but 2 Sam Goody’ses within shouting distance of each other on the Post Road, a musical version of today’s nail spas or banks.**

The Record Hunter occupied space next to Remarkable Book Shop — the now-forlorn corner of Main Street abandoned by Talbots. Jay  Flaxman oversaw that store, allowing teenagers like me to hang out, discover Richie Havens and Phil Ochs, and very occasionally even buy something.

Long before my time there was Melody House. A Main Street fixture, it apparently featured “listening booths” that were quite the rage in the doo-wop days.

Jean Rabin

Jean Rabin

Overlooked in most memories is Record & Tape of Westport. Clunkily named, and a bit removed from downtown — located in Compo Shopping Center, where either Planet Pizza or the Verizon store is today — this was simply one more spot to buy (duh) records and tapes.

But it too was a great place, and a labor of love. Owner Jean Rabin presided joyfully over its narrow aisles. She knew each customer’s likes, and enjoyed recommending (in her gentle Southern accent) new artists based on those preferences. If you didn’t like something, she gave a full refund — no questions asked.

It must have been hard, running an independent record store in a town filled with others (and a couple of chains), but she never complained. She loved music, she loved the diverse group of customers who shopped there, and she loved Westport.

Though she lived in Trumbull, she spent time here even after closing her shop. This past summer, I saw her at Compo. We talked about many things — including music.

Jean Rabin died last week. She was 79 years old.

Years from now, I can’t imagine anyone writing such a fond remembrance of Pandora, Spotify or iTunes.

(Visitation is tomorrow [Thursday, October 8], 6-8 p.m. at Spear-Miller Funeral Home, 39 S. Benson Road, Fairfield. A memorial service is set for 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9, at  Greens Farms Congregational Church. Donations may be made in Jean’s honor to the American Heart Association or Susan G. Komen for the Cure.)

*Kids: Ask your parents.

** Clever reference: One of the stores is actually, today, Patriot Bank.

Annie Keefe, Arthur Miller And Marilyn

Westport Country Playhouse associate artist Annie Keefe has had a legendary life in theater.

Before coming here, she spent more than 20 years at Long Wharf. In 1994 she worked on the world premiere of “Broken Glass” — a riveting story of Kristallnacht and Jewish identity. Playwright Arthur Miller was there for most rehearsals.

Annie Keefe and Arthur Miller. (Photo/T. Charles Erickson)

Annie Keefe and Arthur Miller. (Photo/T. Charles Erickson)

Keefe recalls:

The material was fascinating, dense and complex, and we were the first people to explore it. It was thrilling to watch the actors, along with Arthur, tease out the plot and build the characters. It was a complicated and difficult birthing process.  Director John Tillinger and Arthur were longtime friends, and there were post-rehearsal conversations I wish I had had the sense to focus on. But there were production notes to be sent and schedules to be made and things in the rehearsal hall to reset for the next day.

On Wednesday (October 6), the curtain goes up on the Playhouse production of “Broken Glass.” Keefe looks forward to artistic director Mark Lamos’ interpretation.

She’s also thinking about Arthur Miller. The legendary playwright’s connections with the Playhouse — and this area — are strong.

This will be the 6th Miller production at the Playhouse. “Death of a Salesman” was 1st, in 1966. “The Price,” “All My Sons” (twice) and “The Archbishop’s Ceiling” followed.

In the late 1950s, Miller lived here with his then-wife, Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller.

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller.

A few years ago, Daniel Brown wrote about the couple for the arts journal AEQAI.

One morning, when he was 12, he saw Miller and Monroe at Weston Market. She wore blue jeans and sunglasses. A babushka covered her head. Brown wanted an autograph; his mother said no, she deserved privacy. He could, however, say “Good morning, Mrs. Miller.”

She replied, “Hello, little boy.” But she looked unspeakably sad.

Brown left the store with his mother.

“Mom,” he asked, “why did Marilyn Monroe look so sad? Doesn’t she have everything she wants? And who is that old guy she’s with?”

(For more recollections from Keefe, click here for the Westport Country Playhouse blog. For information on “Broken Glass,” click here. For Daniel Brown’s full recollection of Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, click here. For Mark Lamos’ thoughts on Miller, click the YouTube video below.)

(Hat tip: Ann Sheffer)

Jarret Liotta’s “Home Movie”

Some people know Jarret Liotta as a Westport News writer. Others know him as a parent volunteer, with Staples Players and Coleytown Middle School. Some even recall him as a former teacher at Saugatuck Elementary School.

But the Staples High School Class of 1983 graduate is at heart a movie maker. It is, he says, “what I do best.”

Jarret Liotta

Jarret Liotta

And though he’s proud of his 2 feature-length films — “How Clean is My Laundry” (shot in Westport in 2002) and “The Acting Bug” (Los Angeles, 2009) — he has never been more passionate about a project than his current one.

Called “Home Movie,” it draws on lessons learned in L.A., where Liotta worked for several years at Fox Searchlight.

The main character is based on Liotta’s mother. He calls her “a larger-than-life alcoholic narcissist that some people in Westport will certainly remember — fondly, I hope.”

He futzed around with the idea for 2 years. Finally this spring, he wrote a script that he’s thrilled with.

“Home Movie” is about a young woman who comes home after her father’s death. When she arrives — in a town not unlike Westport — she begins to suspect that her mother may actually have killed him.

It’s a comedy, but a dark one that he hopes shows some heart. It lies somewhere among “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Fargo,” with fun twists and a surprise ending.

Liotta plans to shoot in Westport, with plenty of community involvement.

Westport’s own Cynthia Gibb — a Staples grad, film and TV star, and the writer’s first choice to play the mom– loves the script. She is interested in doing “Home Movie,” if possible.

But first things first. And high on that list: financing.

Liotta has organized an Indiegogo campaign. His goal is $250,000.

Some Westporters are already involved. Liotta hopes for more. “It’s very exciting to make a real movie. It begins locally, but will develop into something quite special,” he says.

“I hope people take a little leap of faith and fly with this,” he adds. “I’m taking a big leap to follow my dream. But as the man said, you’ll never fly if you don’t jump off!”

(To contribute to Jarret Liotta’s Indiegogo fundraising campaign, click here.)

The Pope, Stephen Colbert — And Luke Rosenberg

Pope Francis owns the media this week — and Stephen Colbert is no exception. The “Late Show” host devoted last night’s entire show to the charismatic pontiff.

The final segment featured 2 choral groups: The YMCA Jerusalem Youth Chorus (with Christian, Jewish and Muslim youths) and the Choir of St. Jean Baptiste, affiliated with the Upper East Side cathedral of the same name. In the pope’s honor they sang a churchly version of “Joy to the World” (aka “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog,” the old Three Dog Night ditty).

In the back row was Luke Rosenberg. His day job is choral director at Staples, where he’s taken the program to heavenly heights. One of his side gigs is singing with St. Jean Baptiste.

Luke Rosenberg is 2nd from left in the back row -- he's the guy with the beard.

Luke Rosenberg is 2nd from left in the back row —  the guy with the beard.

English is not Pope Francis’ forte. But if he happened to watch Colbert last night in his hotel room — or perhaps on an iPad in the back seat of his Fiat — chances are he would have found Luke’s choir’s rendition very joyful indeed.

(Click here for the “Late Show” segment. It begins around the 37:00 mark. Despite Pope Francis’ critiques of capitalism, you’ll have to sit through several commercials before it runs.)

Dustin Lowman’s Ship Comes in

In a world filled with young Westporters who dream of business school, summer i-bank internships and Wall Street careers, Dustin Lowman stands apart.

He’s a Middlebury College graduate — not unusual in this town — but he’s forged a distinctly different path. Dustin is a guitar-playing singer-songwriter, and he’s ready to make music his career.

If that sounds a bit Bob Dylan-esque, there’s a reason. Dustin has been a Dylan disciple since his mother borrowed CDs from the Westport Library. He evokes the early-’60s Dylan in his writing, playing and voice.

Dustin Lowman

Dustin Lowman

Still, Dustin Lowman is distinctly his own man. And a very talented and confident one too.

Much of that confidence stems from his upbringing here. It began with trumpet at Kings Highway Elementary School, then continued at Coleytown Middle, and band and orchestra at Staples.

Julia McNamee — his teacher for 7th grade workshop, 9th grade English Honors and 11th grade AP English — stressed creativity every day, from class discussions to essay topics. Dustin’s junior research paper was on Woodstock.

“Indulging the farthest corners of your mind” was crucial to him as a teenager, Dustin says.

Also important: Mike Zito and Jim Honeycutt’s Media Lab at Staples. They helped him record, and as a senior in 2011 let him and Noah Weingart make a full-length film.

“They gave us a lot of rope,” Dustin recalls. “We absolutely relished indulging our creative sides.”

The Dressing Room was another important influence. Dustin sang at that now-closed restaurant with older musicians like Michael Mugrage and Tor Newcomer.

He performed Dylan and Springsteen covers, and original numbers too.

The audience nurtured him. “I really felt they were saying, ‘Music is what you’re supposed to be doing,'” Dustin notes.

Dustin Lowman 'Folk Songs'He recorded his newest album — called, simply, “Folk Songs” — in his mother’s Westport home, as she prepared to move. That provided some of the poignancy an artist needs.

He designed the front cover from beach glass he collected with his mother at Compo Beach, over the course of his childhood. That too helped ground him, and his music.

All 9 songs are originals. All are compelling — particularly if you like Dylan, channeled through someone born decades after his folk-rock years.

The album dropped on Monday. It’s on Soundcloud, and other online outlets like Spotify (which Dylan definitely did not have, back in the day).

Dustin Lowman moves to Nashville next week. He hopes to make his mark on the music world.

It’s a different path from many of his Westport and Middlebury friends. Bob Dylan would be very proud.

(To hear Dustin Lowman’s “Folk Songs,” click here. “You can pay for it if you want,” he says. PS: You should!)

The 2nd Fattest Housewife In Westport

Hey, it’s not me talking. Here’s the Deadline Hollywood website:

This is a contender for the catchiest project title this pitch season: ABC has put in development “The Second Fattest Housewife In Westport,” a single-camera family comedy from novelist/TV writer Sarah Dunn, producer Aaron Kaplan of Kapital Entertainment and ABC Studios.

“The Second Fattest Housewife In Westport” is narrated by Katie, who is being described as a (slightly) larger wife and mother raising her flawed family of 3 in a wealthy town filled with “perfect” wives and their “perfect” offspring.

So what’s the deal? Is this just a coincidental made-up name, the TV equivalent of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry or Beaver Cleaver’s Mayfield?

It can’t be our Westport. The 2nd fattest housewife here works out every day at Joyride.

(Hat tip: Tyler Paul)

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Leslye Headland’s Sleeping With Other People

Leslye Headland — the Staples High School Class of 1999 playwright, screenwriter and director best known for the play and film “Bachelorette” — has just written and directed a new film.

Leslye Headland

Leslye Headland

“Sleeping With Other People” opened Friday in Los Angeles. I was looking for a way to describe it — Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis play platonic and relationship-averse New Yorkers — but I can’t beat The Daily Beast“a thoroughly millennial romantic-comedy billed as ‘When Harry Met Sally,’ for assholes.”

The Daily Beast continues:

(Headland) followed up her acclaimed 2013 raunchy, warts-and-all ladybro comedy ‘Bachelorette’ with a raunchy, warts-and-all spin on a once-bountiful genre the studios have long forgotten how to make: The rom-com….

Consider it a real-talk rom-com for the self-obsessed, self-destructive Tinder generation — even though nary a dating app is to be found in the film. These characters have enough dating drama to deal with without having to swipe left and right and sext strangers.

Meannwhile, the Los Angeles Times says:

Leslye Headland wears her commitment to filmmaking on her sleeve — or at least on her forearms. One is tattooed with the problem-solving aphorism “What would Lubitsch do?” while the other has a quote from the endearing ’80s artifact “War Games.”

That mix of classical style with a contemporary twist, knowing when to take things seriously, when to laugh and a boldness to make it all one’s own, makes for a good summation of the mind-set of the writer-director …. Headland’s work bubbles with the energy of right now.

(Hat tip: Roy Fuchs)

Get Your Lobster On!

All summer long, Compo’s South Beach is the site of scrumptious-looking lobster bakes.

As summer ends (officially), there’s one last lobster cookout. And everyone is invited.

Westport Rotary‘s LobsterFest is set for this Saturday (September 19, 3-7 p.m.). It’s a great event — 2 lobsters or a New York strip steak plus corn, cole slaw, potato salad and all the beer and wine you can drink — for a great cause (Westport Rotary does amazing service, here and around the globe).

The beach is a fitting spot for lobster, of course. But it’s also familiar territory to Damon Grant. The percussionist headlines this year’s entertainment.

Damon Grant

Damon Grant

Before he became a musician, the world-class sideman — who has worked with Madonna and Parliament Funkadelic, and will be seen soon in “Daredevil” — dreamed of becoming a marine biologist.

Growing up in Norwalk, he had fish tanks all over his parents’ house. During high school, he worked at the Maritime Aquarium.

After a biology teacher turned him off to science, he became increasingly drawn to music. At Norwalk High School, he drummed in nearly every ensemble.

Grant earned a B.A. in jazz performance from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He’s just released a new album, Prevailing Melodies.

He and his fellow musicians will play “mellow, beach-y” music on Saturday. In other words: Music to eat lobster by.

(Tickets are $50 each, available at, at Joey’s By the Shore and from Rotary Club members. Funds generated benefit over 30 local non-profit organizations.)


Slicing Through Saugatuck

You never realize how many restaurants are in Saugatuck — until they start giving away free* food.

Viva’s, Julian’s, Rizzuto’s, Tutti’s; the Whelk, the Duck, Rainbow Thai and Tarry Lodge — all those and more handed out their specialties at today’s Slice of Saugatuck.

Add in Saugatuck Sweets, Garelick & Herbs, Craft Butchery — plus Dunkin’ Donuts and the Mobil Mini-Mart — and it’s a good thing there was lots of walking.

Today’s Slice also featured musical bands of kids and kids-at-heart; a steel band and calypso band (different spots); a bouncy house, and much more.

The only party poopers were a couple of restaurants that opted not to participate. And the private parking lot across from Dunville’s was completely closed, even though most tenants have fled.

That’s okay. We can deal. And if you’re reading this before 3 p.m. Saturday, stop! You’ve still got time for the Slice. It runs until then.

PS: Bands play at Luciano Park until 5.

*With the purchase of a $10 ticket.

Tutti's went all out -- and had some of the longest lines.

Tutti’s went all out to offer great food.

The band Forester traveled from Bethany to play.

The band Forester traveled from Bethany to play on the plaza.

What kid doesn't like getting in a fire truck?

What kid doesn’t like getting in a fire truck?

Harvest does not take over the old Mario's spot until late October. But they were at the Slice of Saugatuck too.

Harvest does not take over the old Mario’s spot until late October. But they were at the Slice of Saugatuck too.

Downunder offers kayak rides. The boat cruising up the Saugatuck River may or may not have been part of the Slice.

Downunder offers kayak rides. The boat cruising up the Saugatuck River may or may not have been heading to the Slice.

Tarry Lodge was big on desserts.

Tarry Lodge was big on faro salad.

A young visitors checks off every restaurant she visited.

A young visitor checks off every restaurant she visited.

Here She Comes … Penny Pearlman!

On Sunday night, the current Miss America — Kira Kazantsev of New York — passes her crown to a new  woman who (in the words of the pageant’s founder) “represents the highest ideals. She is a real combination of beauty, grace, and intelligence, artistic and refined.”

Media hype? Epitome of misplaced values? Dusty relic?

Penny Pearlman does not think so.

The Westport resident believes that women need a lot more than a great body and nice smile to be named Miss America.

Pearlman says contest winners are not just pretty. They’re also pretty smart,

Also passionate, insightful and eloquent.

Those are not just her thoughts. She spent several months traveling across the country. She interviewed 22 former Miss Americas.

Pretty Smart bookNow — on the eve of the 95th annual pageant — is a great time to talk about a book she wrote after all that. Pretty Smart: Lessons From Our Miss Americas portrays these women as beautiful and intelligent enough to win — and smart enough to make the most those victories.

Pearlman is not a veteran writer. She worked for many years in healthcare, including consulting and as a vice president at Bridgeport Hospital.

She also earned an MBA from Wharton, and has a master’s in art therapy.

“Every 5 years I get restless,” she says. “I always have to do something different.”

As a consultant, she thought about the qualities of successful people. She realized that Miss America winners exemplified all those traits.

Pearlman had not watched the pageant since she was a child, back in the 1950s and ’60s. She hadn’t really thought about it, either.

Penny Pearlman

Penny Pearlman

But the idea of Miss Americas as successful women stuck with her. She decided to write a book about them, then signed on with the Westport Writers’ Workshop to hone her skills.

Still, she was a nobody. When she asked former winners to chat, no one responded.

So Pearlman did what resourceful people (like Miss Americas) do: She tried a different approach.

In January 2007, she flew to Las Vegas. (That’s where the pageant relocated for a few years — with a different date — in an unsuccessful attempt to shed its Atlantic City baggage.)

She waited in a theater lobby for former Miss Americas to appear, after a preliminary event. Several agreed to talk.

Two weeks later, Pearlman was in Louisville with 2000 winner Heather French. They had a great conversation.

That opened the door to other interviews. Over the next 8 months, Pearlman met 22 Miss Americas. They included big names, like  Lee Meriwether (1955) and Mary Ann Mobley (1959). (Arguably the most famous of all — Bess Myerson — was too ill to talk.)

After winning the Miss America title, Phyllis George became a businesswoman, actress and sportscaster. She was also First Lady of Kentucky.

After winning the Miss America title, Phyllis George became a businesswoman, actress and sportscaster. She was also First Lady of Kentucky.

The conversations were wide-ranging, insightful and fun. Phyllis George (1971) took Pearlman to the Carlyle in New York. Judy Collins recognized George, and came over to chat. George ended up writing the forward to Pearlman’s book.

The interviews convinced the author that her premise was right.

“All the women have different personalities, and different looks,” Pearlman says. “But they all had a dream, and the drive to achieve it.”

Miss Americas went to schools like Harvard and Stanford. Several earned graduate degrees, even Ph.D.s.

“They are intelligent, articulate women,” Pearlman notes. “But they don’t sit on their laurels. All of them saw Miss America as a platform to jump off, and do bigger things.”

In 1989 the pageant added a social cause component. This is not window dressing. Pearlman says that winners have embraced — passionately and personally — causes like drunk driving, literacy and AIDS awareness.

She also sees the Miss America contest as feminist. “Long before Betty Friedan, it’s emphasized college, and the achievements of women,” Pearlman insists.

Pretty Smart focuses on Miss Americas. But, Pearlman says, “it’s really about how to be a winner in any field. And how to inspire people to follow their dreams.”

Pretty smart on her part, too.

(Penny Pearlman speaks about her book at 6:30 p.m. tonight [Thursday, September 10] at the Westport Historical Society. Two former Miss Connecticuts will be there too. There is a $10 donation, and reservations are required; call 203-222-1424. Click here for more information.)

(Hat tip: Prill Boyle)

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