Category Archives: Entertainment

“Saugatuck Cures”: The Movie

Saugatuck Cures

I don’t know what’s weirder about “Saugatuck Cures,” a family-friendly comedy set for release on June 30:

  • The name, which won’t resonate with 99.9999999% of American moviegoers (and does not exactly roll off the tongue).
  • The plot: “Drew and his best friend Brett set out on a road trip to pose as ex-gay ministers using exuberant high jinks to scam churchgoers, all in order to raise money for his mother’s experimental cancer treatment.”
  • The only pre-release review I saw (“dynamic … whole-hearted” — Edge). When was the last time you heard a movie described as “whole-hearted”?
  • The fact that it was filmed on location in Saugatuck. Okay, not our Saugatuck. This is the one in Michigan. But still.

There is one Westport connection — kind of. The TV evangelist in “Saugatuck Cures” is played by a guy named Kurtis Bedford.

Bonus fun fact: The film’s budget was $200,000 — the caterer’s rounding error for major films. 

(Hat tip: Dan Lasley)


But wait! That’s not the only Saugatuck Westport/Michigan connection.

Alert “06880” reader Kate Davis finally got around to watching “Still Alice.” In the movie, the daughter of Julianne Moore — a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s — performs at the “Saugatuck Theater.”

Intrigued, Kate googled it — and found a link to a “Red Barn Saugatuck” in Michigan.

Is that a Midwest way of remembering that before the Nisticos’ current restaurant by Exit 41, they owned the Arrow down at Exit 17?

Broadway Salutes Kevin Gray

Kevin Gray — a very talented member of Staples Players in the 1970s, who became the youngest actor to play the lead role in “Phantom of the Opera,” and acted in or directed more than 150 productions — died in February 2013, of a massive heart attack. He was 55.

Kevin Gray and Dodie Pettit.

Kevin Gray and Dodie Pettit.

Kevin met his wife, Dodie Pettit, in “Phantom.” She starred in “Cats” on Broadway, and worked with Staples Players in a summer production of that show.

For the past 15 months, she has been recording a tribute CD for Kevin. She gathered over 170 Broadway singers, including 10 from the “Phantom” cast, 3 Tony Award winners, and cast members from “Miss Saigon,” “The King and I,” “Titanic,” “Jekyll and Hyde” and more. Each had a personal connection to Kevin and Dodie. All donated their talent.

Westport is well represented, by Terry Eldh, Adam Riegler, Paul McKibbins, and of course Dodie.

Westport was an integral part of Kevin’s life. He was born and raised here. He attended Westport schools. Dodie still lives in the town he loved.

So she is particularly proud that the CD will be showcased for the 1st time on WWPT-FM (90.3). This Saturday (May 30, 4-5 p.m.), the Staples High School radio station will play songs during the “Adam and George” show.

Dodie will chat about the CD, and performers will call in to share their stories.

Kevin Gray CDAll proceeds go to scholarships in Kevin’s name, at his alma mater Duke University, and the University of Hartford’s Hartt School, where he taught (and where the Kevin Gray Foundation was organized by Westporters Peter Byrne and Jamie Wisser).

(Don’t live in the WWPT-FM listening area? No problem! Click here to listen to the livestream. The CD is available for sale on iTunes, Amazon and by clicking here).

Harvey Gabor Helped Teach The World To Sing. The Rest Is History.

The “06880” tagline is “Where Westport meets the world.”

The whole world. Even the make-believe world of “Mad Men.”

It took me a while, but I finally tracked down Westport’s real-life connection with the make-believe Don Draper.

Coke ad 3On the heels of last Sunday’s much-talked-about, social media-saturated series finale, new light has been shined on the once-beloved, now-super-syrupy Coke commercial.

Coke adCoke adCoke adCoke ad Thanks to the interwebs, everyone who wants to know now does know that Bill Backer, creative director on the Coca-Cola account at McCann-Erickson, scribbled “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” on a napkin after his London flight was diverted to Shannon, Ireland.

And — 44 years after the fact — once again the New Seekers’ song has burrowed its way into our brain.

But few folks remember that it was McCann-Erickson art director Harvey Gabor’s idea to bring 500 multi-colored, joyful, blue jeans-and-dashiki-and-sari-clad, Coked-out faces onto an Italian hillside, for a phenomenally expensive (at the time) $250,000-plus shoot. Without that visual, the song — and commercial — would have been about as memorable as anything Pepsi did at the time.

And fewer still know that Harvey Gabor was — ta da! — a Westporter. (Okay, he only lived here from 1983 to ’91 — working for a local agency that no longer exists — but this is still a great story.)

Though the “Hilltop” ad is a classic, it took a ton of work. Bad weather — first in London, then in the new site of Rome — caused frustrating delays. Gabor had to find a new “lead female” (a British governess pushing a baby carriage in the Piazza Navona). Some of the best shots came as his crew dodged power and telephone lines.

Harvey Gabor (right) shooting the "Hilltop" ad in Tuscany.

Harvey Gabor (right) shooting the “Hilltop” ad in Italy.

Gabor — who is now 81 years old, retired and living with his wife Barbara in Michigan — went on to win 4 gold medals, 5 Clios and over 100 certificate awards for print and TV ads.

The “Hilltop” commercial, meanwhile, has been inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame

It’s the real thing.


Harvey Gabor in 2012.

Harvey Gabor in 2012.

Click below for a fascinating video of Harvey Gabor visiting — and talking with, teaching at and learning from — Google’s New York headquarters, on an updated Coke campaign:

(For Harvey Gabor’s website — including information about his book Peeing With David Ogilvy, click hereFor the official Coca-Cola version of the making of the ad — including great details like how Harvey discovered the lead female role pushing a baby carriage — click here. Hat tip: Neil Brickley)

“Art About Town” Floods Main Street

Once a year, downtown turns into a pedestrian mall. It’s “Art About Town” — one of Westport’s newest traditions.

Part art exhibit, part street fair — and all fun — it’s a great way to kick off a month-long exhibit of art (for sale!) by 65 artists, in 60 locations.

It started an hour ago. If you’re reading this before 8:30 p.m. on Thursday — there’s still time to go.

Just don’t think of parking on Main Street.

There were plenty of great artist demonstrations tonight. But none was more impressive than Rosiejon. She has no arms -- so she uses her feet. Amazingly, she has been painting for just a year.

There were plenty of great artist demonstrations tonight. But none was more impressive than Rosiejon. She has no arms — so she uses her feet. Amazingly, she has been painting for just a year.

Harry Moritz graduated from Staples in 2010 -- and from Pratt less than a week ago. Here's one of his creations.

Harry Moritz graduated from Staples in 2010 — and from Pratt less than a week ago. Here’s one of his creations.

Another kind of artist is performer Jared Rydelek. This was just his warmup.

Another kind of artist is performer Jared Rydelek. This was just his warmup.

This young man may be trying out for Art About Town -- the 2035 version.

This young man may be trying out for Art About Town — the 2035 version.

Joyce Landon is among 65 artists who is showing downtown, for the next month. Her works can be seen in the TD Bank lobby.

Joyce Landon is among 65 artists who is exhibiting downtown, for the next month. Her works can be seen in the TD Bank lobby.

It Won’t Be Long…

…until the Levitt Pavilion opens for another season.

This guy at the Westport Arts Center — across the river — can hardly wait.

WAC with Levitt in distance

Party On Main Street!

A lot has happened downtown in one year.

“Tunnel Vision” — Miggs Burroughs’ spectacular 16-image transformation of the long-dingy pedestrian tunnel between Main Street and Parker Harder Plaza — was unveiled last May. Today it’s a destination — not a nightmare.

The Westport Downtown Merchants Association‘s big sidewalk-and-lamps project is nearing completion.

So let’s party!

Tall, older dancers and shorter, younger ones performed at last year's Art About Town party. They'll be back this Thursday for more fun.

Tall, older dancers and shorter, younger ones performed at last year’s Art About Town party. They’ll be back this Thursday for more fun.

The WDMA’s annual “Art About Town” opening night street celebration is set for Thursday (May 21, 5:30-8:30 p.m.). It’s a unique, family-friendly combination of original works, interactive art demonstrations, funky live music, dancing, street performances, food and drinks at pop-up cafes — all in the middle of traffic-free Main Street.

Westport Arts Center educators will help everyone create small wall signs using crazy colors, funky patterns, buttons and beads.

Artists give impromptu demonstrations in the middle of Main Street.

Artists give impromptu demonstrations in the middle of Main Street.

And — going back to that “Tunnel Vision” anniversary — Miggs gives “tours” of his work at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m.

The party kicks off a 4-week art event. Hundreds of original works by local artists will fill more than 60 shops and restaurants. Downtown becomes one big gallery. All works are juried, for sale, and on display until June 21.

Of course, plenty of art is sold long before then. Some even goes during the opening party.

Hey — this is Westport. We move fast.

Except through Miggs’ tunnel.


Miggs Burroughs, in his "Tunnel Vision" creation.

Miggs Burroughs, in his “Tunnel Vision” creation.

Brian Keane Honors B.B. King

Brian Keane has spent 40 years in the music industry. The Staples High School Class of 1971 grad has composed the music for hundreds of films and television shows, produced over 100 albums, and won a ton of Grammys, Emmys and Peabodys. He’s earned fame scoring television documentaries (including Ric Burns’ “New York,” “The Donner Party” “Ansel Adams” and “Andy Warhol.”

Brian Keane in his home studio, in Monroe.

Brian Keane in his home studio, in Monroe.

But in 1980, all that lay ahead. He was playing guitar one week night at the Village Gate, backing up jazz legend Larry Coryell. John Scofield, John McLaughlin and George Benson were also there. Brian was excited, anticipating a “shootout” between so many great guitarists.

After his set, he went backstage. There, in the dressing room, was B.B. King. He was on tour in the area, had the night off, and Benson asked him to sit in.

Brian recalls:

“B.B. was very kind, welcoming, and sweet to me. I don’t know if he actually heard me play, but he was complimentary. I was a cocky 29-year-old kid, and still considered technique and harmonic sophistication as the true measures of musicianship. I was polite and respectful, but in my mind B.B. King was not what I considered a player of high awareness music at the time.

B.B. King died Thursday, age 89.

B.B. King died Thursday, age 89.

“After I played with Larry and met B.B., I listened in the wings as guitarist after guitarist took amazing solos, trying to outdo each other. I was at a stage in my musical development where I thought of music almost like a competition. Towards the end of the night they did a blues with all the name guitarists (not me), and brought B.B. King out as a special guest.

“I was astounded that B.B. King played a more effective solo using about 3 notes than all these other great guitarists played, using about 3000 per second!

“B.B. King taught me that night that the emotion a musician conveys in his music, even if simple, can be far more powerful than I had considered — and more profound. I never looked at guitar solos, or music, in quite the same way again.

“Thank you B.B.King for your music, and for being a messenger of love, compassion and empathy to so many, for so long.”

Staples Seniors End With Class

On Monday, several hundred Staples High School seniors head off on internships. From hedge funds to organic farms, and ad agencies to pre-schools, they’ll spend 4 weeks learning about life in the real (work) world.

A week after that, they graduate.

Principal John Dodig will “graduate” with them, too. But in the last weeks of his 47-year career in education, he instituted a new tradition he hopes will last for decades.

When classes ended today for seniors, administrators invited them to a cookout on the football field. A band played (really well). Seniors ate, played, and hung out together for the last time until prom.

It was a classy end of classes, for a very classy class.

Alexander Baumann (left) and Jack Baylis both contributed to Staples in many ways.

Alexander Baumann (left) and Jack Baylis both contributed to Staples in many ways.

Will Dumke (keyboard) and Andrew Puchala (guitar) rocked the house -- er, football field.

Will Dumke (keyboard), August Densby (drums) and Andrew Puchala (guitar) rocked the house — er, football field.

This Old House #13

Trust your instincts.

Westport Historical Society house historian Bob Weingarten thought that last week’s “mystery house” was the current site of Dream Spa — the handsome building at the entrance to the Crate & Barrel shopping center, between Green’s Farms Elementary School and Fortuna’s.

Then he thought it wasn’t. But research by the inestimable Wendy Crowther and others convinced him he was right all along. (Click here to see a 1930s photo of the house, and comments.)

This week’s house is a great one.

This Old House May 13, 2015

We know exactly where this very handsome home once stood. According to a state database of WPA photos, the house — built around 1823, and owned originally by “Wheeler or Capt. Gresham Bradley” — was “formerly situated on the present site of the Fine Arts Theater in State Street.”

That’s great. But the Fine Arts Theatre opened around 1920 — more than a decade before the photo was taken. It closed in 1999, and is now Restoration Hardware. And State Street has been renamed the Post Road.

So where was this house when the photo was taken?

Hopefully it has not been torn down in the interim.

If you know its whereabouts, click “Comments” below. The WHS is seeking info on this and other “mystery houses,” in preparation for an upcoming exhibit on the changing face of Westport.

Bonus photo: Here is what the Fine Arts Theatre looked like, a decade or 2 after it opened.

Fine Arts theatre black and white

Sam Wilkes Has “The Voice”

At Staples, Sam Wilkes was all music, nearly all the time. He played in the band, jazz band and orchestra. (He also took as many English courses as he could: 4 in senior year.) In high school, he says, “I learned how to learn.”

After graduating in 2009, Sam headed to the University of Southern California. He was in the 1st class of the new Popular Music Performance program.

Sam Wilkes

Sam Wilkes

That’s where he met Rozzi Crane. The singer-songwriter has been a background vocalist for Don Henley and Sergio Mendes, and was featured on the Maroon 5 song “Come Away to the Water.” She was the 1st artist signed to Adam Levine’s 222 Records label.

Sam is her bassist, and her band’s musical director. Which is how — last Tuesday — he found himself, with Rozzi, on “The Voice.”

“We nailed it,” Sam says. “They used the 1st take.” It was a great learning experience, he says. Making music on TV was unlike anything he’d ever done before.

As Rozzi rockets to fame, Sam is right beside her. But he’s also playing in a chamber ensemble, and with the likes of Jason Collier and “Quincy Jones Presents.”

If Staples indeed taught Sam Wilkes “how to learn,” he studied very, very well.