Category Archives: Entertainment

Hannah Bukzin Has Some Chops

Hannah  Bukzin is a busy girl.

When she’s not volunteering as an EMT or interning with a catering company, the rising Staples sophomore can be found cooking. Her style is “classic dishes with a modern twist.” Her favorite creation is hanger steak marinated with chimichurri sauce, and a side of roasted potatoes.

But in April, Hannah found time to head to the Food Network studios in New York. There, she spent a full day filming a segment for “Chopped Teen Tournament.” The show airs Tuesday, July 29 (10 p.m.).

What makes her story particularly noteworthy — besides the fact that she is a local girl who may or may not make good (Hannah is sworn to secrecy) — is that she’s completely self-taught.

Hannah Bukzin, on the "Chopped" set)

Hannah Bukzin, on the “Chopped” set)

Hannah has been interested in cooking ever since age 6, when she saw her first — surprise! — Food Network show. The mystery and variety of ingredients drew her in.

Almost a decade later, she applied to the “Chopped” teen show. After interviews, a camera crew came to film her at EMS headquarters — and watch her cook. (That dish was pan-roasted bronzino with quinoa salad.)

She made the cut, and joined 15 other teenagers. They competed in 3 30-minute rounds, creating dishes with 4 ingredients that (a press release says) “could stump even top professionals.”

Did I mention that Hannah was the only one of the 16 who does not attend a culinary program in a specialized high school? In fact, she has not even taken one of Staples’ highly regarded culinary classes yet.

“Everything I know is in my head,” she says.

food network logoBut like any well-trained cook, Hannah knew she had to prepare. A chef friend of her parents trained her, using his own “mystery ingredients.” She is “not much of a baker,” Hannah says, so she practiced a few desserts just in case.

Filming took an entire, long day. As in any kitchen, there were surprises — and not just at the stove.

“I was amazed that the judges judged us like we were adults,” Hannah reports. “They told us the truth as if we were 30 or 40 years old, not 14 to 17.”

But in some ways, Hannah is closer to 30 or 40 than 15.

As soon as our interview was over, she was out the door.

Work beckoned. The catering company she’s interning with had a wedding.

On the Vineyard.

Jose Feliciano, Mimi Levitt Launch New Pavilion

Saying “I look forward to returning for years to come,” 93-year-old Mimi Levitt shined with excitement as she welcomed Westport’s newest jewel: the refurbished Levitt pavilion.

The $9 million public/private project — propelled by a $4.5 million grant from the Levitt Foundation — represents a complete overhaul of an already intriguing downtown attraction.

With a soaring, sail-inspired, state-of-the-art stage; a killer sound system; amenities like dressing rooms, food concessions, ramps and restrooms — plus a completely renovated riverwalk that now extends all the way to the point behind the pavilion — this Levitt marks the 2nd transformation of a former landfill.

Parks and Rec, politicians, architects and construction folks all took their bows.

Then Jose Feliciano took over. His kick-butt show is just the start of a summer filled with entertainment.

And there was not a mosquito in sight.

A small portion of the large crowd, and the new Levitt stage.

A small portion of the large crowd, and the new Levitt stage.

The one and only Jose Feliciano. The Weston resident donated his fee to the Levitt building fund.

The one and only Jose Feliciano. The Weston resident donated his fee to the Levitt building fund.

The lawn was full -- but there was plenty of room to relax.

The lawn is full — but there’s still plenty of room to relax.

Mimi Levitt -- 93 years young -- and her daughter Liz Levitt Hirsch.

Mimi Levitt — 93 years young — and her daughter Liz Levitt Hirsch.

Dancing in the aisle, to Jose Feliciano.

Dancing on the grass, to Jose Feliciano.

Freda and Carleigh Welsh: 2 of the driving forces behind the Levitt Pavilion's success.

Freda and Carleigh Welsh: 2 of the driving forces behind the Levitt Pavilion’s success.

The new Levitt has real restrooms. And they are already in use.

The new Levitt has real restrooms. And they are already in use.

The landscaping extends beyond the stage, out to the point where the Levitt juts into the Saugatuck River. A newly enhanced riverwalk adds to the beauty.

The landscaping extends beyond the stage, out to the point where the Levitt juts into the Saugatuck River. A newly enhanced riverwalk adds to the beauty.

Cool Weather For Very Hot Art Show And Book Sale

It’s a Westport rite of summer: Artists and art patrons bake on the blacktop at the annual Fine Arts Festival. Book lovers swelter in the Jesup Green tent, at the library book sale.

It’s a satisfying — if sweaty — search for gems.

This year is different. The temperature is in the mid-70s. There is no humidity. Clouds are keeping crowds away from the beach.

Compo’s loss is downtown’s gain.

Art show culptures frame the Saugatuck River.

Art show sculptures frame the Saugatuck River.

One of 130 artists shows off his work.

One of 130 artists shows off his work.

There is more artwork -- plus food and kids' activities -- on Gorham Island, adjacent to the Parker Harding lot.

There’s more art — plus food and kids’ activities — on Gorham Island, adjacent to the Parker Harding lot.

What's an arts festival without music. Bands play under a tent, next to the Saugatuck River.

What’s an arts festival without music? Bands play under a tent, next to the Saugatuck River.

Some book sale patrons can't wait to start reading what they've bought. Or maybe they're deciding whether  to buy.

Book sale patrons read up before deciding whether to buy.

The Westport Library book sale depends on the services of hundreds of volunteers.

The Westport Library book sale depends on the services of hundreds of volunteers.

Lots of people no longer needed their copies of this book. Lots of others were ready to buy them.

Lots of people no longer needed their copies of this book. Lots of others were ready to buy them.

The Downtown Merchants Association’s 41st annual Fine Arts Festival runs today — Saturday, July 19 — until 6 p.m., and tomorrow (Sunday, July 20) from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., at Parker Harding Plaza and Gorham Island. Across the Post Road, the Westport Library book sale is on today until 6 p.m. It continues tomorrow from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Everything is half-price on Monday. On Tuesday, July 22 (9 a.m.-1 p.m.) it’s all free (donations are accepted).

 

 

Johnny Winter’s Summers

Johnny Winter was found dead in a Switzerland hotel room late last night.

The 70-year-old albino guitarist/singer — called one of the 100 all-time greatest guitarists by Rolling Stone — was legendary throughout the blues/rock  world.

He also spent some legendary summers here, in the late 1960s and ’70s.

Raisin’ Cain: The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter says that to escape stifling summers in New York City, he “always rented a big summer house with a pool in Westport, Connecticut for vacations and rehearsals.”

One day, the book says, the house caught fire. Winter says the firefighters told him, “Get the fuck out of here….Don’t get anything, just get out of here.”

He adds, “They stole some grass we had too, those motherfuckers.”

Johnny Winter

Johnny Winter

Winter’s band White Trash played a concert in the Staples auditorium on July 11, 1971. But there was much more informal music.

A Staples graduate from the mid-’70s recalls that Winter and his brother Edgar would “hold court at the Playhouse Tavern [most recently the Dressing Room restaurant] on summer nights. The beer, drinks and aroma flowed freely.

“They often were joined by group members like Rick Derringer. Other rock stars would surprise the audience, like Joe Cocker and his Mad Dogs and Englishmen, as they prepared for their famous road show that followed.”

He adds: “Rock on, Johnny. RIP. 70 years young.”

 

Come To The Cabaret — Again!

Life is a cabaret, old chum.

And every decade or so, “Cabaret” comes to Westport.

Staples Players — the legendary high school acting troupe — first performed the darkly decadent show in 1984. Directed by Al Pia, it starred David Roth as the MC. It’s a difficult role for anyone, but the senior nailed it.

Pia reprised the show in 1992.

In 2004, Players produced “Cabaret” again. David Roth was once again involved — this time as director.

He’s still at the Staples helm, and once again he’s staging the show. “Cabaret” runs next weekend — July 24 through 26 — as Players’ Summer Theatre Production.

Jack Bowman (emcee) and the Kit Kat Girls. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Jack Bowman as the emcee, and the Kit Kat Girls. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Just as every Broadway and London production and revival has been different, so too have the Staples versions.

But, Roth says, while previous Players incarnations have stuck closely to the original Joel Grey interpretation, the current production combines that version with the one now in its 2nd revival in New York. This one is “much more theatrical,” Roth says. Everything seems to take place inside the Kit Kat Club — even the scenes in Cliff’s rooming house.

And, the director adds, “the master of ceremonies is very much present throughout every scene of the play. In the other versions, the 2 worlds are very separate.” Jack Bowman plays Roth’s old role.

Still, next weekend’s “Cabaret” retains ties to the past. Besides Roth, choreographers Kat and Jess Eggart both danced in Pia’s 1992 production.

Sally Bowles (Claire Smith) and Cliff (Jack Baylis) share a moment in "Cabaret." (Photo/Kerry Long)

Sally Bowles (Claire Smith) and Cliff (Jack Baylis) share a moment in “Cabaret.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

“The show has always meant a lot to me, and I’m excited to share that with the kids,” Roth says.

“Kerry and I also want to share the message with students and audiences about people being sucked into an attractive world that turns out to be far uglier than they ever imagined. That’s very important too.

“The idea of people living in a great, dreamlike world that becomes a nightmare is as valid today as it has ever been. The image of dreaming or sleepwalking runs through the entire play. And it’s very present in our production.”

Emcee (Jack Bowman) and the Kit Kat girls perform "Willkommen." (Photo/Kerry  Long)

Emcee (Jack Bowman) and the Kit Kat girls perform “Willkommen.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

“Cabaret” resonates with Staples principal John Dodig too. As interim principal, he attended the 2004 production. Leaving the auditorium, he recalls thinking, “This can’t possibly be a public high school.”

He was awed by the professionalism of the voices and dancing. And, he says, “I was amazed that a suburban community would support a high school doing a show with such a dark and risqué theme.”

Dodig calls “Cabaret” the moment he first thought of applying for the permanent principal’s position.

Ten years later, Dodig is still principal. Roth still directs Players.

And another fantastic production of “Cabaret” is about to begin.

(“Cabaret” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, July 24, 25 and 26, and at 3 p.m. on Saturday, July 26. Tickets are available at www.StaplesPlayers.com

Fine Arts Festival Works Out Just Fine

Up in Vermont, Edward Loedding heard the reputation of the Westport Fine Arts Festival: It was a great show, but if you were stuck on Gorham Island, you were dead. It was hot as hell, and very few people ventured over.

So for several years, Loedding did not apply for a spot. Two years ago, he gave it a try.

He was put on Gorham Island — and had a “wonderful” experience. Last year, on Parker Harding Plaza, was even better.

Westport is now a highly prized spot on Loedding’s calendar. And he’s happy wherever he’s assigned.

 

"Sunset Barn," by Edward Loedding.

“Sunset Barn,” by Edward Loedding.

Loedding — a very talent photographer and digital artist — will be in Westport this weekend, for the 41st annual Art Show. (He’s in booth #64-65, along the river.) He joins over 135 artists — 39 of them new — showing works in drawing, mixed media, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, watercolor, glass, fiber, wood, jewelry and ceramics.

Plus music, food, street performers, face painters, a magician, a balloon artist and mime.

"Don't mime me," this guy said last year at the Westport Fine Arts Festival.

“Don’t mime me,” this guy said last year at the Westport Fine Arts Festival.

Loedding loves it all — especially the art-lovers.

“A high percentage know what they’re looking for, and appreciate it,” Loedding says. “I do 20 shows a year up and down the East Coast, and that’s not always the case.”

A photographer -- and potential customer -- takes a shot of some intriguing art along the river, in 2011.

A potential customer takes a shot of some intriguing art along the river, in 2011.

Westport’s Elizabeth Marks Juviler will be there too. She’s involved in many local activities — Girl Scout leader, PAL cheerleading coach, Young Women’s League president, Historical Society board member, Westport Country Playhouse staffer — but she is also a noted artist.

Juviler has participated in the Downtown Merchants Association’s “Art About Town” event, and sells in galleries and design stores, but this is her 1st time at the summer show. “As a Westport artist who has purchased art there, I wanted to be in the Fine Arts Festival,” she says. “It’s a goal I set for myself.”

Westport — its landscapes, nature and beach — inspire Juviler’s work. Three years ago, she began incorporating recycled newspapers and magazines onto her canvases. She combines headlines, words, pictures and layers of paint to create art that is “a moment in time.”

Scores of artists — and hundreds of art lovers — will have their time this weekend. And whether they’re on the river or Gorham Island matters not at all.

(The Westport Downtown Merchants Association’s 41st annual Fine Arts Festival is set for this Saturday, July 19 from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and Sunday, July 20 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., at Parker Harding Plaza and Gorham Island. Meanwhile, across the Post Road, the Westport Library hosts its “best ever” book sale, from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. both days.)

Artists relax near the work on Gorham Island, in 2009.

Artists relax near their work on Gorham Island, in 2009.

Andrew Liporace Knows When To Hold ‘Em

Last Friday — at the end of Day 3 of the World Series of Poker — just over 1/3 of the original 1,864 players remained.

And at the top of those 746 was Andrew Liporace. Yes, the same Andrew Liporace who, 10 years ago, had just graduated from Staples High School.

If he could just keep going, he had a shot at $10 million.

Andrew Liporace

Andrew Liporace at work.

The 45th annual event ended yesterday. Unfortunately, Andrew was no longer #1.

In fact, he was far down the list: #159.

I would say, “you win some, you lose some.”

But Andrew walked away with a cool $52,141.

He sounds like a winner to me.

(Hat tip to Louis Pietig)

Doobies, Meatloaf, Buckwheat And Willie Share A Westport Stage

On Sunday, Jose Feliciano lights a (figurative) fire under the new Levitt Pavilion stage.

The singer/guitarist/songwriter is a very appropriate act for the already-sold-out grand opening of the redesigned bandshell (and — be still, my heart and bladder) actual bathrooms. He’s popular, talented and a fantastic performer.

Jose Feliciano (Photo/David Bravo)

Jose Feliciano (Photo/David Bravo)

But the Weston resident — who is donating his fee back to the pavilion’s building fund — is hardly the 1st Very Big Name to appear at the Levitt. In fact, a look back at nearly 40 years of headliners reads like a Billboard Who’s Who.

Foreigner. Frankie Valli. The Doobie Brothers. Southside Johnny. Blues Traveler. Tom Jones. Don McLean. Kenny Loggins. Smokey Robinson. Roberta Flack. Tito Puente. Judy Collins. Al Hirt. Cab Calloway. Andy Williams. Ray Charles. Count Basie. Buddy Rich. All have performed benefit concerts (the only time the Levitt sells tickets, though some folks sit on Jesup Green and enjoy the concerts gratis).

Some artists did not have to travel far. In fact, they could have walked to the Levitt. Michael Bolton, Ashford & Simpson, Meatloaf, Corky Laing and Neil Sedaka are Westporters who headlined Levitt shows. Dave Brubeck lived in Wilton.

Keith Richards

Keith Richards

Weston’s Keith Richards made a memorable appearance at a Willie Nelson concert. (Willie drove here in his famed tour bus.) Keith ambled onstage with his guitar, said “I’ve always wanted to play with Willie,” and performed 2 memorable duets. You can’t make this stuff up.

Some of the shows were not as memorable — hey, it happens. The Drifters and Temptations may have included an actual Drifter and Tempt, but they were clearly past their sell-by date.

So were the Beach Boys, who had the misfortune of being moved to the stifling Staples fieldhouse because of bad weather.

Chuck Berry and Little Richard were the actual guys, but they too were a bit long in the tooth.

Yet those few dogs are more than overshadowed by the dozens of great shows. Not many suburban towns boast open-air, summer shows by Huey Lewis & the News, America, Dave Mason, the Four Tops, Dickey Betts, the Chieftains, Chuck Mangione, John Sebastian, Robert Goulet and Tony Bennett.

Buckwheat Zydeco

Buckwheat Zydeco

My favorite memory, though, may be Buckwheat Zydeco. It’s a long way from Louisiana to Westport, and this might have been the whitest audience he ever saw. But he and his band — with their accordion, guitar, keyboard and (my favorite) washboard — had hedge fund managers, housewives (and househusbands) dancing in the grassy aisles.

Those aisles are now re-sodded. There’s a new stage, concession stands, and (did I mention this earlier?) actual bathrooms.

On Sunday, there will also be Jose Feliciano. And the start of another 4 decades of remarkable entertainment, down by the river.

(No free tickets remain for Sunday’s Jose Feliciano concert. To join the wait list, email levitt@westportct.gov. The lawn opens to ticket-holders at 5 pm. Click the Levitt Pavilion website to see more upcoming attractions. )

 

 

 

Jose Feliciano Lights Up The Levitt

It’s been a while.

But the Levitt Pavilion — for 40 years a Westport summer treasure — is almost ready to open its new facility. The handsome bandshell (with lush new lawn) will burnish our reputation as a town that loves arts and entertainment, and is always ready to host a good time.

So it’s very appropriate that the grand opening event features a hometown hero: Jose Feliciano.

(I know, he lives in Weston. But he’s real close to the Westport border.)

Jose Feliciano (Photo/David Bravo)

Jose Feliciano (Photo/David Bravo)

The 9-time Grammy winner/Hollywood Walk of Fame star/namesake of New York’s Jose Feliciano Performing Arts School/Billboard Magazine Lifetime Achievement awardee/Baseball Hall of Fame honoree (for his 1968 World Series rendition of the national anthem)/and writer-singer-guitarist of “Feliz Navidad” — perhaps the most popular Christmas song ever recorded — takes the stage on Sunday, July 20 for the 1st-ever performance at the new Levitt.

And — because Jose Feliciano is not just a fantastic artist, but a phenomenal human being — he will donate his fee to the ongoing Campaign for a New Levitt Pavilion.

Doors open — okay, the restraining rope will be lowered — at 5 p.m. A ribbon cutting ceremony takes place at 6. And then, at 7, Jose Feliciano will light our fire.

(The event is free. However, tickets will be issued in advance, beginning Tuesday, July 8, online at http://www.levittpavilion.com and at the Pavilion office, in the Parks and Recreation Department office at Longshore.)

Jose Feliciano and his wife Susan, at home in Weston.  (Photo/Dorothy Hong for Wall Street Journal)

Jose Feliciano and his wife Susan, at home in Weston. (Photo/Dorothy Hong for Wall Street Journal)

Kelsey Shockey Will Happily Make Your Day

Kelsey Shockey has had a tough life. But she may be the happiest girl ever to graduate from Staples.

Kelsey Shockey handled a camera at the 2012 graduation. Today, she gets her own diploma.

Kelsey Shockey handled a camera at the 2012 graduation. Today, she gets her own diploma.

The senior — who earns her diploma a few hours from now (and is a state finalist tennis player) — always has a smile. She makes each day brighter, for everyone.

Her “Happy Tips” on the “Good Morning Staples” TV show are legendary.

Last night, she took joy one step further.

She spoke at baccalaureate — and capped off her speech with a video. Produced with Jim Honeycutt and Mike Zito, it shows a variety of Staples folks singing, dancing, heading soccer balls (!), and generally being happy, all to the tune of Pharrell Williams’ song of the same name.

There are appearances by students, teachers, coaches, custodians, paraprofessionals, cafeteria ladies — even principal John Dodig and superintendent of schools Elliott Landon show up.

Staples is a high-pressure, high-stakes place. But it’s also a school filled with people who care — and who genuinely want every student to feel welcome and loved. And to be happy.

Check out the video. Kelsey Shockey will make you smile. As she has done every day, for 4 years, at the school she graduates from today.

(Click to be taken directly to YouTube.)

(Every year, Jim Honeycutt produces a 2-DVD set graduation package. It includes baccalaureate, graduation, the best of “Good Morning Staples,” Homecoming, highlights of proms, plays, concerts — you name it. Ordering details will be available next week at the Staples High School home page.)