Category Archives: Entertainment

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.)

Sweet Sounds Of Summer

First came the redevelopment of Saugatuck.

Then came Saugatuck Sweets.

Now we’ve got “Sweet Sounds of Summer.” It’s a weekend concert series promoted by (cue the marketing tie-in) Saugatuck Sweets, the candy and ice cream store that is part of a sizzling new riverside scene.

The series kicked off Saturday night, on the plaza between Sweets and The Whelk. The band – Adult Swim — proves you’re never old to play rock ‘n’ roll.

Members include Westporters Karen Greenblatt, Trish Boyle and Jonathan Schwartz. They met at Fairfield’s School of Rock (which should change its tagline of “Inspiring Kids to Rock on Stage”).

Adult Swim rocks along the river.

Adult Swim rocks along the river.

The 2 female guitarists started playing a couple of years ago. Greenblatt took piano lessons as a youngster, but stage fright prevented her from even playing at a recital.

She’s now following through on a dream of playing in a band — and in public.

Public it was on Saturday. The plaza is right off Riverside Avenue. So besides the good-sized crowd, everyone walking and driving by saw and heard the music.

The Adult Swimmers have fun. But they’re serious about their craft. They rehearse once a week. They performed recently at the Acoustic Cafe in Bridgeport, and have 2 upcoming gigs at Bobby Q’s.

Their music spans several decades. It includes lesser-known songs, like the Rolling Stones’ “Loving Cup.”

A small portion of the big crowd, after the sun went down.

A small portion of the big crowd, after the sun went down.

The concert series continues Fridays and Saturdays, with new groups and singers all the time.

How sweet is that!

(Hat tip to Fred Cantor, for the story idea and research.)

 

Westport Art, All About Town

Bad weather postponed last week’s annual Art About Town celebration.

Last night, the weather was perfect. Thousands of Westporters of all ages — including many, many kids — romped as Main Street was transformed into an art-, entertainment- and fun-filled pedestrian mall.

The street party kicked off an exhibition of art in stores throughout downtown. Art About Town is sponsored by the Westport Downtown Merchants Association.

John Videler captured these great images:

Art About Town - by John Videler

Art About Town 2 - by John Videler

Art About Town - by John Videler

 

Dan and Nicole Donovan

Claveloux family

Celebrating Westport’s Tunnel Vision

Finally, Westporters have a reason to head toward — rather than flee from — the downtown pedestrian tunnel.

For decades, the walkway between Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza has been as scary as the underpass in A Clockwork Orange.

Today — thanks to Miggs Burroughs’ creative eye, and the magic of lenticular photography — the passage is positively art gallery-like.

16 photos — each 32 inches square — depict Westporters “connecting” with each other. (Like a tunnel connects 2 sides — clever, huh?)

But these are no ordinary images. Gazing at a certain angle, you see one thing; take a step in either direction, and it’s a different photo entirely.

Miggs has picked his models — and photographed their images — with great care. For example, here are the 2 images of Holocaust survivor Anita Schorr, and a friend’s 8-year-old granddaughter:

Anita Schorr and 8-year-old, lenticular image by Miggs Burroughs

Anita Schorr and 8-year-old,  lenticular image by Miggs Burroughs

These shots are of Cathy Onyemelukwe, and her husband Clem:

Cathy Onyemelukwe and Clem Onyemelukwe,  lenticular image by Miggs Burroughs

Cathy Onyemelukwe and Clem Onyemelukwe,  lenticular image by Miggs Burroughs

And here’s Oscar’s owner Lee Papageorge, and his wife. (Miggs calls this one “Super Nova.”)

Lee Papageorge and wife,  lenticular image by Miggs Burroughs

Lee Papageorge and wife,  lenticular image by Miggs Burroughs

The project took a year to complete. It’s sponsored by the Westport Downtown Merchants Association and the tunnel’s landlord (who knew?), Win Properties.

Information about all 16 photos is available at TunnelVisionArt.com — and via a QR code at the Main Street end of the tunnel.

You’ll learn that one of the photos is of the artist himself, and his girlfriend Liz Beeby. Here he is:

Miggs Burroughs with a lenticular image of himself and Liz Beeby

The tunnel was unveiled a few minutes ago. It’s all part of the WDMA’s “Art About Town” festival, in full swing now through 8:30 p.m. tonight (Thursday).

Main Street is closed to traffic for the event. So park in Parker Harding, and walk through the tunnel. The destination will be as fun as the journey.

 

All The World’s Deborah Grace Winer’s Stage

Deborah Grace Winer grew up in both Westport and New York. But it was here — not the big city — that she fell in love with the magic of theater.

From a young age, she was enchanted by the Westport Country Playhouse. Everything about it — the shows, the cast, even the red benches — thrilled her.

She saw Betsy Palmer, June Havoc and Luci Arnaz. She particularly enjoyed watching her godmother — Myrna Loy — in “Barefoot in the Park.”

Deborah Grace Winer

Deborah Grace Winer

“It’s not just ‘summer theater,'” Deborah says. “It’s Grade A, right before New York. It’s big theater, for everyone.”

At 15, she apprenticed at Lucille Lortel’s White Barn Theater. She rode her bike to the magical spot off Newtown Turnpike every day.

“It was almost like a private social club,” Deborah remembers. “There were only 150 seats, for great stars who wanted to try out new work.”

The next year, at the Playhouse, she became Estelle Parsons’ dresser. Deborah has gone on to a life in theater — she’s a playwright whose work was developed at Lincoln Center, produced Off-Broadway and read at the Playhouse — but whenever she sees Parsons, now in her 80s, they laugh about that summer.

Now she’s headed back to the Playhouse. On June 3, the curtain rises on “Sing for Your Shakespeare.” It’s a world premiere — there’s that Playhouse magic again — musical revue, exploring through song, dance and verse how the popular American songbook has been inspired for decades by Shakespeare’s works.

Sing for your Shakespeare logoDeborah co-conceived the show, with Playhouse artistic director Mark Lamos. It originated at the 92nd Street Y, where she’s the artistic director of the Lyrics & Lyricists concert series.

Despite moving full-time to New York, Deborah has retained her ties to the Playhouse. She was inspired by the theater’s renovation, particularly little touches like keeping wood from the old stage in the new wings. “Those are the same boards Helen Hayes walked!” she says.

She’s tremendously excited to return. She praises Lamos’ “creativity, scholarship and stature,” while describing the unlikely pairing of show tunes and the Bard.

“If he were alive now, Shakespeare would have hung out at Lindy’s, eating cheesecake,” Deborah insists. “This sort of follows up on that kind of Shakespeare. There are lots of funny and fun songs, and some surprising discoveries. Plus, the cast is fantastic.”

Recalling so many wonderful memories from her past — cookouts and beach parties with Playhouse actors and crews; taking the last train to Westport from Grand Central, filled with Broadway stars heading home — Deborah says, “I am so thrilled to come back! My whole childhood and history are there. It’s like someone gave me the keys to the candy store.”

Or, as Shakespeare said — in an entirely different context — “sweets to my sweet.”

(Click for tickets and more information for “Sing for Your Shakespeare.”)

The "Sing for Your Shakespeare" team.

The “Sing for Your Shakespeare” team.

 

 

Staples Music Program Doesn’t Miss A Beat

In just 2 years, Luke Rosenberg has taken his place with the legendary Staples High School choral directors George Weigle and Alice Lipson.

On a scale of 1-10, last night’s spring concert was at least an 11. A variety of choirs, choruses and ensembles wowed the crowd with a host of Broadway songs, from Les Mis, Fiddler on the Roof and many others.

The love between dozens of performers and their director was evident, as Rosenberg grew emotional honoring his graduating seniors.

To see what he has done in his brief time wielding the baton, check the 2 videos below.

The 1st is “Tap-Tap,” a Haitian song with some of the most intricate rhythms and harmonies you’ll find anywhere on the planet. It’s performed by the Orphenians — the elite singing group that, because of today’s manic teenage schedules, manages to rehearse just once a week.

The 2nd is “Seasons of Love,” the haunting melody from Rent performed by the underclass chorus and chorale. Soloists are Kate Griffin — a freshman who stuns the audience — and sophomore Nick Ribolla.

Music is just one of the many things our high school students do. And they do it very, very well.

Art About Town, Tunnel Unveiling Postponed

The Westport Downtown Merchants Association’s Art About Town opening night street party — and the unveiling of the “Tunnel Vision” pedestrian walkway project between Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza — have been postponed until next Thursday (May 29), due to the same type of weather we’ve had for way too long.

The DMA says:

We wish everyone a wonderful Memorial Day weekend and will see everyone next Thursday, when downtown Westport will be alive with original art, live music, art demonstrations, interactive art experiences for all ages, unique street performances, delicious food.

Original art by local artists is already on display, and will be for sale at select shop and restaurants until June 15.

 

A past scene at Art About Town.

A past scene at Art About Town.

 

 

Players Carry “Infinite Black Suitcase” To Stage

So many plays are comedies, or at least light. Who wants to leave the theater depressed?

And high school theater is especially known for light fare. Who wants teenagers to think about death?

David Roth and Kerry Long do.

The directors of Staples Players have chosen Infinite Black Suitcase as this spring’s major Black Box production. It’s got its light moments, but it is definitely a serious drama.

Which makes it perfect for Players, the high-school-in-name-only troupe that seems to break boundaries every time the curtain rises.

They’ll do it again May 29, 30, 31 and June 1. Players is the 1st high school group to stage the show — and this is the 1st production ever on the East Coast.

Dan (Jack Bowman, left) is dying of AIDS. Stephen (Joe Badion) is his partner.

Dan (Jack Bowman, left) is dying of AIDS. Stephen (Joe Badion) is his partner. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Roth was searching for a play with a big ensemble, and challenging roles. “This script really spoke to me,” he says. “It’s well written. It demands a lot of the actors. And the stories are fascinating.”

Infinite Black Suitcase is about death and dying in a small Oregon town. A series of vignettes follows a group of occasionally intersecting characters as they face tough, real-life situations: a sick wife. A dying partner. Feuding exes. Suicide.

How do you let go of a loved one when you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye? How do you start dating again after losing a spouse? What happens when you’re at the end of life, but your husband owns a burial spot with his 1st wife?

The responses are very real, very honest. And the teenage cast rises to the occasion.

Katie (Claire Smith) tries to decide who gets custody of her children after she dies.: her current husband (Jacob Leaf, left) or her ex, the children's father (Jack Baylis). (Photo/Kerry Long)

Katie (Claire Smith) must decide who gets custody of her children after she dies: her current husband (Jacob Leaf, left) or her ex, the children’s father (Jack Baylis). (Photo/Kerry Long)

They’re helped not only by Roth and Long, but also playwright EM Lewis. She’s very excited to work with a high school group, and has answered actors’ and directors’ questions about character, plot and setting. She’s opened up to them about her own experiences with death and dying, which frame many of the vignettes.

She says:

I’m very pleased that Staples has chosen to produce my play. Some themes are complex, which might discourage some high schools from tackling it. But people shouldn’t underestimate high school students’ ability to explore and understand emotionally complicated questions of the human heart.

“It’s so great to work on such a new work,” Long says. “And having access to the playwright’s insights is extra special.” Lewis’ voice comes through strongly; her script, Roth says, is “very modern.”

While all this sounds morbid, Infinite Black Suitcase is ultimately very touching, thought-provoking — even humorous. Each character has depth, is involved in a strong (though difficult) relationship, and faces true conflict.

Rehearsals have been filled with discussion. Roth and Long invited a grief specialist to talk with the cast.

Will Haskell (left) and Scott Yarmoff play siblings dealing with their brother's suicide. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Will Haskell (left) and Scott Yarmoff play siblings dealing with their brother’s suicide. (Photo/Kerry Long)

“It’s a very different show,” one actor said. “But I’ve learned a lot. It’s always good to do something different, and get out of our comfort zone.”

Players’ talented seniors are going out with a bang. The younger actors are getting a real-life lesson in theater.

Everyone is learning about death. And life.

(Infinite Black Suitcase will be performed at 7:30 pm on Thursday, May 29; Friday, May 30 and Saturday, May 31, and 4 pm on Sunday, June 1. It contains mature language. Click here to order tickets.) 

(If your browser does not take you directly to the YouTube trailer, click here.)

 

Nile Rodgers Works The Westport Crowd

Sure, Nile Rodgers’ “Booked for the Evening” honor was last week.

But the video was just posted on the Westport Library’s website. If you weren’t there — even if you were — it’s worth watching.

The musician/producer/composer/arranger/Chic co-founder is as talented a speaker as he is a musician/producer/etc.

Nile Rodgers

Nile Rodgers

He describes buying a house in Westport in 1979, after receiving a multi-million-dollar royalty check for “We Are Family” (to avoid New York taxes, among other things).

He hung out at clubs like Backstage and the Brook. Donna Summer and Ashford & Simpson lived here. “It was really, really fun,” Nile says. “I thought, ‘the suburbs are amazing!'”

He talks about being treated at Silver Hill, which earned applause from the large crowd. He’s been sober for nearly 20 years, which got an even bigger hand.

Nile went to Toquet Hall with Madonna (to see if kids were dancing to their music).

But one of the coolest days was a book signing at the Westport Library. They ran out of books — and scurried to Barnes & Noble to replenish the supply.

Click below for the full 13-minute speech. Nile Rodgers makes all of us in Westport feel like family.