Category Archives: Entertainment

From Westport To Anatevka And Syria, With Love

For the past 2 weekends, Staples Players’ production of “Fiddler on the Roof” awed and inspired packed audiences.

The show’s run ended last night. But its magic lives on.

The plight of early 20th century Russian Jews resonated with the teenage cast and crew. They made connections with world events today. At each performance, Players collected money for Save the Children’s Syrian Children’s Relief Fund.

At the end of last night’s final show, Players president Vig Namasivayam announced that audiences had donated $4,750 to the cause.

Staples Players:  Take a bow!

The symbolic check, presented to Save the Children after last night's performance.

A symbolic check, presented to Save the Children after last night’s performance.

(To add your own donation, click here.)

Tommy Greenwald Hangs At The White House

Tommy Greenwald spent Monday practicing his command to the taxi driver: “The White House, please.”

When he actually got in the cab, he added: “And not for the tour.”

He and his wife, Cathy Utz, were headed for the Alexander Hamilton gate on 15th Street. After 3 airport-like security screenings — and an “unglamorous” entrance through a tent area, rather than “strolling through the front door,” as he’d imagined — the Westport couple entered the White House.

Tommy — a longtime Westporter and Staples Class of 1979 grad — is a co-founder of Spotco. The New York agency specializes in Broadway and entertainment advertising. A client is fellow Westport resident Harvey Weinstein.

Tommy Greenwald invitationThe film executive helped arrange “Broadway Day” at the White House. Students from across the country came together to enjoy performances, and learn about acting, singing and dancing. Andrew Lloyd Webber was there. Kristin Chenoweth served as host.

Michelle Obama welcomed everyone to her home. (Her husband was on a business trip, to Turkey.) Among the guests — thanks to Weinstein — were Tommy and Cathy. He got them tickets, because Tommy had created a pro bono video for the event. It airs Thanksgiving night on TLC (Optimum channel 28, 8 p.m.).

Cathy Utz and George Washington.

Cathy Utz and George Washington.

Neither Tommy nor Cathy had been in the White House before. He borrowed a tie from his son Joe. “I hadn’t worn one in 7 years,” Tommy notes. “That was the most stressful part — figuring out what to wear so I wouldn’t get tossed out.”

After being herded into a holding area — filled with things like “Benjamin Harrison’s dinner setting,” Tommy says — the group filed into the East Room. Tommy says it’s “just like any other small performance space, except for all the military people there.”

Three days after the Paris attacks, he and Cathy felt grateful to meet the men and women who protect America.

Michelle Obama - photo Tommy Greenwald

First Lady Michelle Obama enters the East Room. (Photo/Tommy Greenwald)

The First Lady strode in. “She looked fine!” Tommy says.

She gave an introductory speech; then the hour-long concert began. That was followed by a “big nosh cocktail reception.”

It was like any other social event, Tommy says, “except every room was ridiculously gorgeous, with portraits of presidents and first ladies.”

There was nothing saying “White House” that he could steal, he says — “just napkins in the bathroom.” He took a few, for his office staff in New York.

“I was hoping for better tchotchkes,” Tommy admits. “Still, it was great.”

Being around Broadway and film stars, Tommy says, “I’m usually pretty jaded. But sitting 5 feet from Michelle Obama was pretty cool. My wife said she’s never seen me so wide-eyed.”

Tommy Greenwald at the White House piano. I asked if it was the same one Richard Nixon played. Tommy did not know -- but it was definitely the one Andrew Lloyd Webber sat at just a few minutes earlier.

Tommy Greenwald at the White House piano. I asked if it was the same one Richard Nixon played. Tommy did not know — but it was definitely the one Andrew Lloyd Webber used just a few minutes earlier.

Once the concert was over though, all the “incredible organization” ended. Tommy calls it “an interestingly informal free-for-all.”

Soon enough, it was back in a taxi. I did not ask Tommy what he told his driver on the return trip.

Zito And Honeycutt Grab Radio Gold

It’s a good thing the Staples Media Lab is big. There’s room for TV production classes, a radio station and recording studio, plus plenty of high-tech equipment and offices.

Teachers and students need all that space to make magic. And, to store all the trophies they win for their work.

The latest hardware was handed out last weekend at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. As usual, Staples won several John Drury Awards — the country’s top honors for excellence in high school radio broadcasting.

But this year was extra special. Jim Honeycutt and Mike Zito were named Co-Faculty Advisors of the Year. It’s the 1st time a school has had 2 honorees — and it came just a few months before both legends retire.

The pair were cited for their long service to WWPT-FM; their cutting-edge work, and their contributions to the school and community. Nominating letters of support poured in from Staples athletic director Marty Lisevick, citing the duo’s work in creating robust sports coverage; assistant principal James Farnen, attesting to their dynamic classroom environment, and past and present students, describing the instructors’ sometimes life-changing impact.

Mike Zito and Jim Honeycutt (rear) stand with WWPT-FM's Jack Caldwell and Cooper Boardman -- and some Drury Award trophies. Behind them is a mural -- painted by Staples art students -- on the wall outside the Media Lab.

Mike Zito and Jim Honeycutt (rear) stand with WWPT-FM’s Jack Caldwell and Cooper Boardman (and some Drury Award trophies). Behind them is a mural — painted by Staples art students — on the wall outside the Media Lab.

Sunday’s awards ceremony was emotional, Zito admits. He and Honeycutt have known one each other since the 1970s — when neither was yet teaching.

Honeycutt was a musician, who built the sound system for Barnaby’s in Bridgeport. Zito was the DJ there.

“We were in and out of each other’s lives for years,” Zito says. “Then we had the good fortune of establishing the media department at Staples.”

He arrived at the high school 14 years ago, from Coleytown Middle School. Honeycutt — formerly a Long Lots Middle School social studies and Staples computer teacher — had already moved into TV, radio and recording instruction.

WWPT- FM has won many Drury Awards. In 2011, it was named best high school station in the US.

WWPT- FM has won many Drury Awards. In 2011, it was named best high school station in the US.

The Media Lab now encompasses WWPT-FM and the Staples Television Network — both after-school activities — and classes in TV, radio, film, audio production and graphics.

Broadcast coverage includes live sports events, Staples Players’ shows, Candlelight and other concerts, graduation, even elections.

“On Back to School Night and when we talk to 8th grade parents, we like to say that there are many ways kids can find their place at Staples,” Zito says. “Some do it in arts, athletics or science. Others find a home here.”

For he and Honeycutt, being honored for helping students feel comfortable — and discover a new passion, perhaps even their life’s work — is “a real nice cap to our own careers.”

But the teachers are just as proud of the other Drury Awards won last weekend.

Cooper Boardman, Adam Kaplan and Zach Edelman were honored for Best Sports Play-by-Play radio broadcast. It was not even a Staples game — the trio earned kudos for their work on the girls basketball state finals (Wilton vs. South Windsor) at Mohegan Sun.

Boardman arranged that coverage on one day’s notice.

Boardman, Edelman and Jacob Bonn came in 2nd, in the same category, for their broadcast of the Trumbull-Stamford FCIAC basketball championship.

In addition, Boardman placed 2nd (Best Sportstalk Program) for his interview of ESPN personality Jonathan Coachman; Boardman, Edelman and Bonn took 3rd for Best Sportscast (“WWPT Sports Update”). Jack Caldwell was a national finalist for his Sportstalk interview with hockey goaltender Mike Liut.


But wait! There’s more!

Honeycutt’s Audio class and David Roth’s Theater 3 class took both 1st and 2nd place for “Best Radio Drama – Adaptation.” They were cited for parts I and II of “A Christmas Carol.”

Finally, WWPT was runnerup for Best Radio Station in the country. It’s the 6th consecutive year the FM outlet was either 1st, 2nd or 3rd.

It was quite a weekend for WWPT, and their advisors. So what’s ahead for the duo, once they retire in June?

Honeycutt will enjoy his grandchildren, who live nearby.

Zito and his wife head to Austin, Texas. “It’s a great music town,” he notes. “I hope to get into radio there.”

He will not win any more Drury Awards. But SXSW — watch out!

To watch the award-winning live radio adaptation of “A Christmas Carol,” click below.



Players’ “Fiddler” A Show For The Ages

David Roth always liked “Fiddler on the Roof.” He just didn’t love it.

The longtime Staples Players director chose the show as his acclaimed troupe’s fall mainstage production.

Now he’s fallen in love with it. And — thanks to all that’s happening on the world stage — his high school actors are passionate about it too.

Jacob Leaf as Tevye in

Jacob Leaf as Tevye in “Tradition.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

“I knew ‘Fiddler’ was important because it exposes teenagers to what was happening at that point in history,” Roth says of the musical that opens this Friday.

“But I never expected it to resonate so much with the contemporary world.”

In the months since the show was chosen, the Syrian refugee crisis has exploded. The parallels with “Fiddler’s” story line — families and communities torn apart, then scattered all across the globe — help students connect yesterday and today.

They’re doing more than just talk about it. At the show this weekend and next, Players will raise funds to help female Syrian refugees. Women were chosen in part, Roth says, because “Fiddler” is a story of matchmaking.

“In the beginning, it was hard for kids to relate to that concept,” Roth notes.

Samantha Chachra (Tzeitel) and Remy Laifer (Motel) in

Samantha Chachra (Tzeitel) and Remy Laifer (Motel) in “Miracle of Miracles.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

When they studied the role of Chava — the eldest of the 3 daughters, who marries a Christian — he and his actors talked about religious tradition. None of the Staples students could really relate to the distress over intermarriage, epitomized by Tevye’s harsh comment, “You’re dead to me.”

But they did connect that to the current issue of same-sex marriage. Roth’s actors know that even in 2015, people are ostracized for marrying a same-sex partner. “Kids do understand what it means to go against norms and traditions,” the director says.

There’s another reason Roth has grown to love “Fiddler.”

“I’ve realized it’s an almost perfect, musical,” he says. “There’s great storytelling, songs and dance, and a fantastic balance of humor and pathos. That’s why it’s one of the most popular shows of all time.” The 5th Broadway revival opens soon.

But you don’t have to travel that far to see “Fiddler on the Roof.” The Staples curtain rises on Friday.

(“Fiddler on the Roof” runs Friday and  Saturday, November 13, 14, 20 and 21 at 7:30 p.m. Matinees are set for Sunday, November 15 and Saturday, November 21 at 3 p.m. Ticket sales are strong — so to order online now, click here.)

Helium Brothers Land In Westport

Toad’s Place may be Connecticut’s favorite indoor music venue.

But that’s New Haven. Westport once had live music too. Anyone living here in the 1970s and early ’80s remembers 3 great spots: Grassroots. Players Tavern. Tin Whistle.

Each was different. Grassroots was a folk-oriented coffee house next to National Hall (then Fairfield Furniture), on the Post Road just over the river.

Players Tavern was a rockin’ place, with great bands and a less-than-observant attitude toward things like legal IDs.

Tin Whistle was a restaurant/bar (now the site of Westport Hardware Mumbai Times), with a variety of music.

This undated menu from Players Tavern mentions upcoming gigs by Papa John Creach, James Montgomery, Pat Metheny , James Cotton, Gil Scot Heron, Dave Edmonds, Nick Lowe -- and the Helium Brothers.

This undated menu from Players Tavern mentions upcoming gigs by Papa John Creach, James Montgomery, Pat Metheny , James Cotton, Gil Scot Heron, Dave Edmonds, Nick Lowe — and the Helium Brothers. (Click on or hover over to enlarge.)

Nowadays, you can hear live music on Bobby Q’s roof (in summer), the Black Duck (occasionally), and the Levitt Pavilion (but that’s not the same).

And, from time to time, at places like the Unitarian Church.

Every so often, they sponsor the Voices Cafe coffeehouse. There’s one this Saturday (November 14, 8 p.m.). What makes it “06880”-worthy is that the headline act is the Helium Brothers.

Thejazz/bluegrass/country/rock group has been around for 40 years. Recently, they performed a reunion show at Toad’s Place.

But they’re no strangers to Westport. Back in the day, they opened for former resident Johnny Winter.

And they performed regularly at — yes — Grassroots, Players Tavern and Tin Whistle.

Whatever goes around, comes around.

Even if it’s helium, brother.

Helium Brothers

Nile Rodgers: A Man For These Times

Today’s New York Times Men’s Style feature on Nile Rodgers — nominated 9 times for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but never an inductee — starts off this way:

“My attitude is that there are plenty of buildings that want to have me. Why would I want to live in a building where they don’t?” said Mr. Rogers, drawing a metaphor from Manhattan real estate, where he learned over the years that he was sometimes too famous or too black to appeal to everyone’s tastes.

As it happened, Mr. Rodgers was milling about on a recent afternoon not in his Upper West Side co-op but in his six-bedroom compound in Westport, Conn.

The view of the Long Island Sound stretched for miles, the furniture included Louis XIV chairs and ancient Chinese beds, and the walls were covered in platinum records he earned producing hits for Madonna, David Bowie, Chic and Sister Sledge.

The story is an intriguing look into our neighbor’s recent collaboration with Kylie Minogue, Janelle Monae, Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams and Hugh Jackman; his gig next spring at Coachella; his past encounters with cocaine (it’s been replaced with stevia), and his Westport life since 1994 (including his battle with prostate cancer).

To read more about the full story about this fascinating — and very stylish — Westporter, click here.

Nile Rodgers

Nile Rodgers

Soundwall Hangs In Westport

For decades, sound engineers have worked to make home audio speakers better. The music in your living room, media center, wherever, is now concert hall quality.

Meanwhile, designers have tried to make the speakers themselves look nicer. They’re handsome — but not exactly works of art.

Unless they really are.

Soundwall is an innovative concept — and company — that marries original artwork with high fidelity audio. Framed art — or art made on creative surfaces — hangs on your wall. It plays rich sound. The entire canvas resonates — because the entire canvas is actually a speaker.

That’s not all. The artwork can play whatever music you wish, via any app — or audio (songs, interviews, anything) curated by the artist.

Soundwall art hangs above a sofa.

Soundwall art hangs above a sofa.

Soundwall art is handcrafted in Colorado. The office is in Tribeca. But its Westport roots are strong.

CEO Aaron Cohen has spent his career in media. A dotcom entrepreneur who sold 3 companies, he retired early and taught internet history at NYU. A year ago he and his wife Nina left the city, with their son and daughter.

They found a great house — with much more space than they were used to. “Any New Yorker could relate — we had empty rooms and empty walls,” Cohen recalls. “What goes there?”

Aaron Cohen

Aaron Cohen

Around the same time, 2 engineer friends in Boulder had created Soundwall. They asked Aaron and Nina to help.

The timing was fortuitous.

“When I looked under the hood, what I thought was a flat plane speaker company was much bigger,” he says. “I realized that the art I like the most is where I know the artist, or have a relationship with it. Soundwall was a chance to make ‘connected art’ — art that evolves, or is interactive, or takes its inspiration from its installation.”

Over the past year, Soundwall has evolved. The company now controls its own printing. They can make almost any size of artwork — and a variety of styles.

Cohen is particularly proud of a large format original Brigitte Bardot piece.


But a Westport couple also asked Cohen to turn their wedding into a Soundwall.

Soundwall’s evolution includes audio messages that go along with the artwork. So — in addition to choosing, say, a Spotify playlist — a piece can play words from the artist, or anything else he or she chooses to add.

“Art can fade into the background,” Cohen notes. “But when you add meditative music, or your own playlist, or an interview with the artist, you look at that artwork a lot more. It becomes much more immersive, and you become more engaged.”

Soundwall art in a home office.

Soundwall art in a home office.

Meanwhile, Soundwall has engaged art- and music-lovers far from Colorado, New York and Westport. Earlier this week, Prince Nikolaos of Greece and Denmark sold his Soundwall photography at Christie’s in London.

That’s a few thousand miles from Westport. But sound travels fast.

And these days, Soundwall travels far.

Soundwall logo

For Your Viewing Pleasure

There’s a lot to see and hear in Westport. No one can do it all.

But if you missed 2 recent Staples High School-related events, YouTube can help.

A couple of weeks ago, the music department presented a fantastic concert: “The Art of Folk Music.” One audience member said “it equaled or surpassed many a NYC production.”

To hear Luke Rosenberg’s superb choral groups, click below:

Last week, David Roth’s Theater 3 acting class and Jim Honeycutt’s audio production class collaborated on a WWPT-FM live radio broadcast of “Dracula.” It was just like 1939: the Orson Welles Mercury Theater original script, period commercials, sound effects, the challenge of conveying a story completely with actors’ voices and sound effects.

The media lab shot the show. Here you go:


Love And Marriage And Westport

A few weeks before moving to Westport 4 years ago, Théo Feldman told her next door neighbor in Los Angeles: “I’m moving to Connecticut, to a town called Westport.” To her shock, Feldman’s neighbor said that their mutual friend who lived nearby, Stephanie Landon, was moving there too, in just a few weeks.

Feldman and Landon exchanged walks in L.A.’s Fryman Canyon for ones at Compo Beach. They also became involved in the community, joining the board of a local charity. Now the 2 women are co-chairing Hadassah of Westport’s Fall Fundraiser: ¨Love and Marriage — An Evening of Comedy.¨ It’s set for Saturday, November 14 at Temple Israel.

But the coincidences don’t stop there.

Dani Klein Modisett

Dani Klein Modisett

“Love and Marriage” is based on the new book “Take My Spouse, Please,” by Dani Klein Modisett. She’s a Los Angeles comedian and author — but also a Staples High School graduate.

Feldman and her husband David had frequented Klein Modisett’s comedy shows in Hollywood. When they heard she was doing a show in New York for her book launch, they went to see it (and her). Feldman quickly realized she had to bring the show to Westport.

The show also includes Marla Schultz, Emmy Laybourne, Elisa Zuritsy, Alyssa Reiner, David Alan Basche and others. They’ll tell hysterical stories about marriage (maybe love, too).

Klein Modisett is excited to return to her hometown. Even though — with all those connections — she could almost as easily have done the show in LA. And had a full Westport audience.

(For ticket information and more, email

Werner Liepolt’s Ghoulish Halloween Rediscovery

In 1972, Werner Liepolt was a Bedford Junior High School English teacher. Today, as Halloween approaches, is a good time to remember those long-ago days.

Fellow Annenberg School of Communications graduate Christopher Speeth had secured a soon-to-be-demolished amusement park as a set, raised enough money to rent a 35mm camera and hired some actors. Knowing of Liepolt’s off-Broadway credits, he asked him to write a horror movie.

Werner Liepolt, back in the day.

Werner Liepolt, back in the day.

Liepolt told his 9th graders about his script. It involved a carnival that consumed its customers. He tested scenes on them, and revised it based on their reactions.

“My students were my idea of a perfect horror movie audience,” Liepolt recalls. “They were impeccable critics of the macabre.” The film that emerged was “Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood.”

It was released for a limited run at Texas drive-ins. Liepolt saw it at one screening. His students never did. The movie disappeared.

A former student managed a seafood restaurant and store. For years, every time Liepolt bought shellfish or went to dinner, he asked about the film. The teacher never had any news. But “his faith in it convinced me of its worth,” Liepolt says.

Four decades later — in 2003 — others realized that worth too. Speeth dug the movie out, sent it to Lucas and Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios, and convinced them to remaster it.

In 2007 British horror film aficionado Stephen Thrower saw a screening. He gave Speeth and Liepolt’s work a chapter in his acclaimed, encyclopedic “Nightmare USA.”

Malatestas Carnival of Blood

Word spread. Amazon sold copies of the DVD.

Liepolt’s son Jamie and some classmates at College of the Atlantic unearthed it, and screened it. He alerted his dad that “Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood” was alive. (Or, Liepolt notes, “had joined the ranks of the walking dead”).

Last month, Arrow Films — which negotiated the rights to redistribute the film — asked Liepolt for an interview. A crew from LA arrived at his Westport home several days ago. They’ll use 40 minutes as part of a DVD bonus package.

“I was as surprised as they were that I remembered so much about the writing and the shoot,” Liepolt says. They may even include a digital copy of the shooting script that he preserved.

Werner Liepolt today.

Werner Liepolt today.

Liepolt also provided Arrow with photos of actors he recruited for the film. Herve Villechaize — famous for his roles in a Bond film and the “Fantasy Island” TV series — began his theatrical career in Leipolt’s American Place Theater production of “The Young Master Dante.” He said he wanted — theatrically — to commit a murder in a certain gruesome way. Liepolt obliged.

The writer also recruited Lenny Baker, who went on to headline on Broadway (“I Love My Wife”) and starred in films (“Last Stop Greenwich Village”).

“That ‘Malatesta’ emerged from the crypt astonishes me,” Liepolt says. Thrower is not surprised, though. He said it “more than deserves a spell in the cult spotlight.”

There is a Facebook page for the film, so Liepolt’s 9th graders from the 1970s can finally track down and see the film they heard about 40 years ago. There’s also a website, and Arrow promises a number of promotions.

“It’s amazing fun that people are enjoying what I helped create so long ago,” Liepolt says. “What makes me sad, though, is that there are so few remaining who helped create the film.”

Halloween is here soon. What better way to get in the mood than a screening of Werner Liepolt’s great — and now rediscovered — ghoulish cult classic?