Category Archives: Entertainment

“And A Nightingale Sang” In Westport

The Westport Country Playhouse‘s current production — “And a Nightingale Sang” — is a love story about a working-class British family in World War II.

Though the effects of war were felt much more strongly in Europe, the US — and Westport — was hardly unaffected.

Theatergoers are reminded starkly of that, thanks to a video the Playhouse produced. It drives home the play’s central theme: that in times of personal and historic unrest, the human spirit still grows.

The video includes Westport Town Crier newspaper clippings (with many familiar names, like the 8 Cuseo brothers who served); ration books; a Connecticut War Garden card, and air raid instructions for our town.

The play’s title is based on a popular 1940s song, “And a Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.” It’s a haunting tune — and an equally powerful video and show.

(“And a Nightingale Sang” runs through June 27. For ticket information, click here.)

Yankee Doodle Comes To Town

For 108 years, June in Westport has meant 2 things:

  • The end of school
  • The Yankee Doodle Fair.

For longer than any man or woman here has been alive, the Westport Woman’s Club event has signaled the start of summer. It’s also the long-lived civic organization’s main fundraiser, helping them help dozens of local charities and provide important scholarships to Staples grads.

I’m sure that back in the pre-internet, pre-TV, pre-radio (!) day, there were lots of old-fashioned, carnival-style fairs. I remember them at Compo Beach, the empty lot where Barnes & Noble now sits, and (of course) Festival Italiano.

The Yankee Doodle Fair is the only one still alive. Generations of Westporters have fond memories of it.

Some have more tangible images.

Ann Sheffer - Yankee Doodle FairIn 1952, 4-year-old Ann Sheffer attended the Fair. She keeps a photo of herself on a carousel (left) — and gets a kick out of watching 21st-century 4-year-0lds ride them.

When Ann was growing up, many Woman’s Club members were either artists themselves, or married to artists. Affordable portrait drawing was a big Yankee Doodle Fair attraction.

Howard Munce — who at nearly 100 years old is still 8 years younger than the Fair — drew portraits at the Fair. So did Miggs’ Burroughs father, Bernie.

But Bernie didn’t draw his son. The charcoal portrait below was done around 1956 by Westporter Tom Lovell. He later became a famed book cover artist and painter of Western art, whose works sold for up to $400,000.

This portrait of Miggs probably cost $1. But he still has it.

Miggs Burroughs by Tom Lovett

Years after sitting (while watching all his friends going on rides), Miggs went on to curate the Woman’s Club Art Show Fundraiser last month. It featured local artists — and honored Ann Sheffer’s aunt, Susan Malloy. Interesting how the Yankee Doodle Fair connects them all.

Linda Gramatky Smith remembers the Yankee Doodle Fair too. Every year, her parents — Hardie (“Little Toot” author/illustrator) Gramatky and Dorothea Cooke — took turns in the portrait booth.

Her father’s diary from June 28, 1956 notes he went to the Fair that day with famed artists Ward Brackett, Dolli Tingle, Herb Olsen, Donald Purdy, Arpi Ermoyan and Johnny Gannam.

But they were not just drawing caricatures. In 1953, Hardie Gramatky matted a watercolor as a gift to the Fair. Just one more Westporter helping the Westport Woman’s Club make money.

This year’s edition opens tomorrow. There’ll be many chances for today’s kids to make their own memories for years to come.

A caricature by T.C. Ford

A T. C. Ford caricature

Besides the traditional rides and games, new this year are a “Children’s Garden” area, a photo opp board, a “Fountain of Wishes,” face painting (fun or fierce), sand art, and (Saturday and Sunday only), caricaturist T.C. Ford (with his sidekick, all-natural henna artist Brigid Fleming).

The timing is perfect. School is out. Summer is about to begin. After 108 years, things still haven’t changed.

The Yankee Doodle Fair runs Thursday and Friday (June 18 and 19, 6-10 p.m.), Saturday (June 20, 1-10 p.m.) and Sunday (June 21, 1-5 p.m.) at the Westport Woman’s Club, 44 Imperial Avenue. Admission is free! Click here for more information.

The 6th Time’s The Charm!

If the acting profession teaches you anything, it’s to keep following your dream.

Kelli O’Hara has been a noted Broadway star for years. But it wasn’t until last night — after 5 previous nominations — that the Westporter scored a Tony.

She snagged theater’s biggest prize as Best Actress in a Musical, for her portrayal of Anna in the revival of “The King and I.”

O’Hara is married to Greg Naughton. He grew up in Weston, son of famed actor James Naughton.

Another Westport big winner — in another way — was Tom Greenwald. He’s the chief strategy officer at SpotCo, a New York ad agency specializing in entertainment.

They handled advertising for 16 Tony-nominated shows — including Best Musical “Fun Home” and Best Play “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”

This being Westport, I’m sure there are more Tony connections. If you know of any — other than “Hey, I watched the ceremony last night!” or “Well, producer Harvey Weinstein’s ‘Neverland’ didn’t win anything” — click Comments.

Congrats to Kelli, Tom — and hopefully many other Westporters too!


Filmmakers Fight To Save F. Scott’s Home

In 1920, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald spent a memorable summer in Westport.

It’s taken a lot longer — more than 2 years — for another pair of locals to make a film about the literary-and-fast-living couple.

But the video project began even way before that.

A 1996 New Yorker story by Westport writer Barbara Probst Solomon linked Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby to this town. But the piece was “ignored by Fitzgerald scholars,” says filmmaker Robert Steven Williams. So he and Staples grad/social studies teacher/historian Deej Webb embarked on their own project.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in front of what appears to be their Westport home.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in front of what appears to be their Westport home.

They interviewed more than a dozen academics. They dug into Fitzgerald’s archives at Princeton, and presented at a Fitzgerald Society Conference in Alabama. They even interviewed one of the writer’s granddaughters in Vermont — a woman who rarely speaks to anyone.

“What we uncovered was not only surprising,” Williams says. “It made us realize that the Westport Fitzgerald home was much more than just about Gatsby.”

So when clips of their film — Boats Against the Current — are shown at the Fairfield Theater Company on Monday (June 8, 7:30 p.m.), viewers will learn about much more than F. Scott, Zelda, the Roaring ’20s and Westport.

Williams and Webb draw attention to the fact that the home the Fitzgeralds rented — on Compo Road South, adjacent to the Longshore entrance — is for sale. And unprotected.

According to Williams, that means that “anyone could buy it, and make it tomorrow’s ‘Teardown of the Day.'”

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald slept -- and partied -- here.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald slept — and partied — here.

Williams and Webb will discuss — using over an hour’s worth of clips — why “Westport needs to save this home.” They’ll be joined by Professor Walter Raubicheck (a Fitzgerald scholar from Pace University), and Westport Historical Society executive director Sue Gold.

After all, like Gatsby itself, the Fitzgeralds’ home is a classic.

(For ticket information, click here.)


Staples Players’ “Metamorphoses”

Last weekend, Staples Players tackled some tough topics with their Black Box production of “The Laramie Project.”

This week, they stretch themselves with “Metamorphoses.”

Mary Zimmerman’s play — based on Ovid’s ancient poem — consists of 10 vignettes. Each depicts a different Greek myth, involving love or desire in some form.

It’s heady stuff for the ensemble cast of 15 actors. And they’ve figured it all out on their own. The entire show is student-produced.

Wellington Baumann, in "Midas."

Wellington Baumann and Simone Barr, in “Midas.”

Director Evan Klasky has tried to accent the physical and visual aspects of each myth. With a background in dance, he’s added movement to every vignette. It’s not something you ordinarily see — or even think about — with high school students.

But these are no ordinary teenagers.

Assistant director Pedro Da Silva and Klasky have “applied what we learned at Staples to this show,” the director says.

“We were both in the same Myth and Bible Honors class. I think we’ve been able to understand and approach this play in a much deeper manner than if we hadn’t taken the class.”

It’s a stretch, for sure. But what is high school, after all, if not a time for metamorphosis?

(“Metamorphoses” will be presented this Thursday, Friday and Saturday — June 4, 5 and 7 — at 7 p.m., in Toquet Hall. Click here for tickets.)

“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