Category Archives: Staples HS

Pedro Da Silva’s Legacy

Two years ago — as a Central High School sophomore — Pedro Da Silva heard an announcement about Open Choice.

“I think I was the only one who listened,” he says, referring to the lottery that brings Bridgeport students to Westport.

Though he was in Central’s magnet school program, Pedro wanted more. “It was a tough environment to learn in,” he explains.

He was accepted. Even before his 1st day as a Staples High School junior, he noticed a difference.

Staples sealWhile registering for classes, guidance counselor Deb Slocum  “ran over the entire building, looking for an AP US History textbook for me,” Pedro says. “She went to such a huge extent to help.”

When school began, he noticed a great academic difference. He had to drop a couple of AP and Honors classes. Even so, he struggled to keep up.

“In Contemporary World Issues they were talking about the Ottoman Empire,” Pedro recalls. “I had no idea what that was.”

He wrote down everything that was unfamiliar. At home each night, he researched what he did not know.

The first month was tough. Fortunately, Pedro found his new classmates very friendly. “I thought they might be snobby,” he says. “But everyone was so nice. I noticed the atmosphere immediately. It’s so warm and inviting. Mr. Dodig (the principal) has built such an accepting school.”

Joining Staples Players and Choir helped too. “At Staples you’re not judged for liking the arts,” he says with relief.

Pedro Da Silva, standing proudly at Staples.

Pedro Da Silva, standing proudly at Staples.

Pedro acted in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” and last year’s One-Act Festival. Next month, he’s directing a One-Act. In the winter he’s on the swim team. He’s vice president of the St. Jude’s Charity Club.

Now — as he prepares to graduate in June — Pedro wants to do one more thing.

He wants to leave a legacy.

Through a college application Facebook group, he met a boy in Kansas. “He lives in an area like Fairfield County, where some communities are much more affluent than others,” Pedro says. His friend created an inter-district student government. Each school sends 2 representatives. They meet monthly, sharing ideas about connecting their schools while breaking down barriers and social stereotypes.

Pedro would love to do the same thing with Westport, Fairfield and Bridgeport.

“Stereotypes are not real,” he notes. “There are really nice people everywhere.”

Central HSWhen Pedro announced he was leaving Central, his Bridgeport friends warned him that Westport kids could be snobs. Staples students have their own ideas about Bridgeport students.

“We’re all just teenagers going through the same issues,” Pedro says. “We should be able to advocate together, and learn from each other.”

Pedro has already made a start. He’s brought Central friends here, to see Players shows. Now, he’s talking to Dodig and the Student Assembly to move his idea forward.

Meanwhile, he’s waiting to hear back from colleges. And he’s gearing up for his senior internship, at the Southwest Regional Mental Health Board in Norwalk.

Pedro will leave Staples with many good friends, wonderful memories, and an important lesson.

“No matter who you are, or what your background is, you can excel,” he says. “At Staples, I’ve been able to set my sights high, and learn how to accomplish as much as I can.”

Real Pugsley Pumps Up Coleytown’s “Addams Family”

What do you do after you’ve acted in 2 huge New York musicals: “The Addams Family” and “Shrek”?

You help middle school kids put on those same shows.

And — if you’re Adam Riegler, in Westport — that’s hardly a comedown.

Adam Riegler (right) in "The Addams Family." (Photo/Joan Marcus for

Adam Riegler (right) in “The Addams Family.” (Photo/Joan Marcus for

Riegler’s the Staples High School junior who — while still at Saugatuck El — played young Shrek, then followed up as Pugsley (he did online schooling and tutoring in lieu of Bedford Middle).

It was a fantastic experience. But Broadway roles for teenagers are rare, so Riegler is now a normal 11th grader.

He’s known Ben Frimmer — the director of Coleytown Company — for years. Last year, when “Shrek: The Musical” became available for schools, Frimmer asked Adam to help.

The duo clicked. So this year, as Frimmer prepared for “Addams Family,” the partnership was a natural.

Riegler’s official title is “associate director.” He helps run rehearsals, and works with individual actors.

A pair of Pugsleys: Adam Riegler (right) works with Coleytown's Oscar Hechter.

A pair of Pugsleys: Adam Riegler (right) works with Coleytown’s Oscar Hechter. (Photo/Kerry Foley)

Oscar Hechter — Coleytown’s Pugsley — is a 6th grader. “That’s young!” marvels 5-years-older Riegler. “I’m helping him bring out his character. Like, his song at the end of Act I — it’s really emotional, but in a comic way. We talk about how to do that.”

“Addams Family” includes several scenes with fathers and daughters. “These kids have no experience with being old,” Riegler notes. “Mr. Frimmer and I are working on making it natural — not ‘acting.'”

The middle schoolers have heard that Riegler was on Broadway, but most of them don’t really understand how impressive that is. One boy did — and said he was glad not to have known that before his audition.

The best educations work both ways. Riegler says he is learning too: how to work with children, with actors in general, and how to be a director.

Riegler is keeping busy in other ways too. He’s going for film and TV auditions, hoping for his next big role.

This weekend though, he’ll be in the Coleytown auditorium, as proud as any parent in the house.

(Two other Staples students are working on the Coleytown show: Johnny Donovan is assistant director, while Jane Schutte is assisting with choreography. “The Addams Family” is performed this Thursday, Friday and Saturday [March 27, 28 and 29, 7 p.m.], at Coleytown Middle School. For tickets and more information, click on [search for “Westport”], or call 203-341-1666.)

Coleytown Company's "Addams Family" cast includes (clockwise from left): Anella Lefebvre (Morticia), Georgia Wright (Gomez), Maggie Foley (Wednesday) and Oscar Hechter (Pugsley).

Coleytown Company’s “Addams Family” cast includes (clockwise from left): Anella Lefebvre (Morticia), Georgia Wright (Gomez), Maggie Foley (Wednesday) and Oscar Hechter (Pugsley). (Photo/Kerry Foley)

Katie Orlin’s Croatian Skating Adventure

As a rule, “06880” does not run sports stories. For one thing, “sports pages” in all the local papers do this well. For another, once I report on one team’s 6th grade YMCA basketball championship, I’ll have to do it for every other team, in every other league and sport.

But rules are made to be broken. Some sports stories are definitely “06880”-worthy.

Like Katie Orlin representing the US at the World Junior Synchronized Skating Championships in Croatia.

Katie Orlin

Katie Orlin

The Staples High School sophomore recently returned from Zagreb. She was there as a member of the Skyliners, a tri-state area team that competes in the very difficult sport formerly called “precision skating.”

Sixteen skaters flow as one tight unit at high speeds, while completing difficult maneuvers. Judging is based on teamwork, precision, speed, difficulty and performance. Katie calls it “Rockettes on ice.”

The Skyliners placed 6th out of 24 teams, from 19 nations. They were beaten only by teams from the synchronized skating-mad countries of Finland, Russia and Canada.

Katie has been skating since 1st grade. Her mother signed her and her siblings up for lessons at the Stamford Twin Rinks so they’d gain a skill needed for birthday parties.

Katie flourished. She competed in freestyle the next year, then moved on to “synchro.” She loved the team aspect, and her coach.

But it’s a time-consuming, exhausting sport. Katie skates at Stamford Chelsea Piers, and in Westchester and Monsey, New York. Saturday practices can last all day. “Shorter” sessions during the week are still long: 1 hour off the ice, 2 hours on.

Katie loves the girls, and the competition. She’s traveled all around the East Coast, to France, and now Croatia.

Katie Orlin (left) in action.

Katie Orlin (left) in action.

Her Staples friends “kind of” understand what she does. When they ask about an event, she finds it easier to show a video than explain.

Her Staples teachers have been very interested and cooperative, she says. She gets work before she leaves on a trip, and does plenty of independent and online studying.

Synchronized skating is just one of Katie’s activities. She’s also on Student Assembly, and is a member of the Circle of Women club.

What’s next, now that she’s seen Zagreb?

Katie is not sure. But, she says, in June a decision will be made about adding synchronized skating as an Olympic sport.

So — if everything falls into place — Katie may be headed a lot farther than Croatia.

The 2018 Winter Games are in Pyeonchang, South Korea.


Alexander Chatfield (Lex) Burns: The Sequel

A post earlier today described the travails of Alexander Chatfield Burns — the high-flying New Yorker who, according to the Wall Street Journal, may be implicated in multi-million dollar problems at his former company, Southport Lane Management.

Alexander Chatfield Burns today... (Photo/

Alexander Chatfield Burns today… (Photo/

Burns did not go to Yale, as he claimed. He said he grew up in Westport, but no one here had heard of Alexander Chatfield Burns.

That’s because he went by the names “Lexy” (Coleytown Elementary and Middle Schools) and “Lex” (Staples).

He was in Staples’ Class of 2005, several classmates and parents confirm. However, his photo does not appear in the Staples yearbook — nor is he listed as a senior without a photo.

His photo is shown in the Class of 2004 yearbook, as a junior. That year — as commenter Jeff Mitchell notes — the Norwalk Hour listed him as a 2nd honors student.

...and Alexander (Lex) Burns as a junior, in the 2004 Staples High School yearbook.

…and Alexander (Lex) Burns as a junior, in the 2004 Staples High School yearbook.

One parent recalls him as being “brilliant — really ‘out there’ smart” at Coleytown Middle. She adds: “I think he may have won a huge award for coming up with some new idea having to do with fuel or gases or something. It was a big deal in the science world.”

She says that he went on found a New York film-making company that was very successful, “considering his young age and the short period of time he’d been working on it.”

Somewhere over the next few years, it seems, he turned his attention to Wall Street. The results are not good.

Tess Meisel’s “Love Begins”

The death of Tess Meisel — a 12-year-old Coleytown Middle School musician, actor, environmentalist and fun-loving girl — in a 2011 Maine motor vehicle accident rocked all who knew her. Her friends vowed never to forget her.

Fellow Coleytown Company actor Vig Namasivayam — now a Staples junior — grew close to Tess’ mother, Suzanne Tanner. She’s a composer of musical biographies. During a 2013 visit, they got the idea of making a musical celebrating Tess’ life.

Suzanne wrote the music and lyrics. She asked Vig to direct it.

He was hesitant at first. But it grew into an amazing story, with a great cast. Vig now calls it “my pride and joy.”

where the love begins“Where the Love Begins” is a mother’s tender memoir of the child-rearing years, from birth on. Suzanne will be onstage, at the piano, reflecting on a turbulent but profoundly poignant period in her life, by being a narrator of sorts.

She hopes the show will inspire others  to cherish time with their loved ones, and offer perspective on what is truly important in life: family, friendship and faith in the beyond.

The show will be performed in the Staples auditorium on August 21, 22 and 23. All proceeds go to the Tess Meisel Scholarship Fund — helping students who share Tess’ passions for the environment, musical theater and poetry — and other related charities.

But to give away money, Vig and his friends first have to raise funds — for costumes, sets, lights and auditorium rental and a special program, filled with Tess’ poetry.

The 1st benefit for the show is Saturday, April 11 at Toquet Hall. Cast members will perform songs from “Where the Love Begins.” Members of Wreckers in Tune and the band C4S will also play.

Tess Meisel

Tess Meisel

A number of Staples students are acting and doing tech work. Samantha Galvao, who was in the car crash with Tess, is technical director. Others are doing lighting, stage managing and choreography. Suzanne — Tess’ mom — will help instruct the actors and musicians.

She and Vig are honoring Tess’ commitment to environmentalism by using recycled items and making ecologically responsible choices.

It’s pretty clear that the love that began for Tess continues long after her death.

[For tickets to the Toquet Hall benefit via Facebook, click here. There is also a “GoFundMe” site for donations — click here to help.]

A Memorable Staples-Broadway Connection

Staples Players is in the midst of another this-is-like-Broadway run. “Sweeney Todd” wowed audiences last weekend. Tickets may sell out soon for this weekend’s final shows.

Audience members awed by the teenagers’ performances say to themselves, “If only I had enough talent to get on stage…”

Rondi Charleston at 19 -- the year she auditioned for "Sweeney Todd."

Rondi Charleston at 19 — the year she auditioned for “Sweeney Todd.”

One Westporter does more than just think it. She remembers vividly the day 36 years ago when she auditioned for that very show.

In 1979, Rondi Charleston was a 2nd-year student in Juilliard’s drama department. She was called to audition as an ingenue in the original production of “Sweeney Todd” on Broadway.

Charleston sang for the casting director. The next day she was called back to sing for director Hal Prince, in a big, historic theater.

Prince liked what he heard. She was called back again. This time, Stephen Sondheim was there.

Charleston was not nervous. “I was young and naive,” she laughs.

Charleston made it to one of 3 finalists. Eventually the role — Johanna, a classic Sondheim ingenue — went to someone a bit older and more seasoned.

Rondi Charleston and Emma Ruchefsky.

Rondi Charleston and Emma Ruchefsky.

Charleston is enjoying watching the current Staples Johanna — and not just because she almost played it herself.

One of the double-cast roles is Emma Ruchefsky — Charleston’s daughter.

“Life has come full circle,” the former actor says. “I couldn’t be happier or more thrilled that she is getting the chance to put her stamp on this role. I have so much respect for the work that all these kids do!”

Congrats to Emma, and Rondi — a “stage mother” everyone can love.

(Staples Players performs “Sweeney Todd” this Friday and Saturday, March 20 and 21. For tickets and more information, click on

Johanna (Emma Ruchefsky) and Anthony Hope (Jack Baylis). (Photo/Kerry Long)

Johanna (Emma Ruchefsky) and Anthony Hope (Jack Baylis). (Photo/Kerry Long)


David Qiu Gives A Little Love

When David Qiu heard that the White House was sponsoring a Student Film Festival — and the theme was the impact of service, and giving back — he realized he had a perfect setting. Staples High School places a great emphasis on those 2 ideals.

David — now a junior — created a 3-minute video. It’s entirely student done. Filmed all at Staples, it’s filled with scenes of small, random acts of kindness. Each one leads to another.

Julie Kempner adds great vocals to a “Give a Little Love” cover, backed by Phil Foisie (guitar), Ivan Feder (drums), Nate Fanning (cello), and — on piano — David Qiu himself.

There were over 1500 entries in the Film Festival. David’s earned honorable mention.

Soon, it will be posted on the website.

But you can watch it right now, below:

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

Remembering Bob Genualdi

Robert Genualdi — known to generations of Westporters as Staples’ superb orchestra conductor, who went on to further careers and renown as headmaster at Fairfield High School, then director of the Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestras — died yesterday morning in Bridgeport. He was 84.

Genualdi was part of Staples’ legendary 1960s music department, teaching and leading with John Ohanian, George Weigle (who turned 87 on Friday) and John Hanulik. A string bass player, he received degrees from the University of Miami, Northwestern and Bridgeport. He played under the baton of Arthur Fiedler.

Robert Genualdi

Robert Genualdi

Genualdi’s love for music led him to play in symphonies and chamber music ensembles; judge competitions in many states; conduct at festivals; and compose several music compositions, and 2 works for full orchestras.

Genualdi moved into administration, serving as Staples’ vice principal in 1971-72, then acting principal twice (1972-73, and 1975).

In 2004, I interviewed Genualdi for my book, Staples High School: 120 Years of A+ Education. He said:

When I came to Staples in 1960 I had already spent 8 years teaching in northwestern Illinois, so I was not a novice. But Staples was by far the biggest school I had ever worked in.

It was such an exciting place, in many ways. The students were bright and ready to learn. There was a decent amount of diversity, with old-line Westporters and people who had recently moved in from other places.

And then – the icing on the cake for me – there were the arts. You had parents who were professional musicians, artists and actors, and they were so involved in making Staples a place that supported the arts. It was a very exciting time for me.

The campus was volatile, in a largely positive way. There was something wonderful about the way people interacted with each other. And the teachers very much cared about students, and the school.

Bob Genualdi, doing what he loved at Staples in 1970.

Bob Genualdi, doing what he loved at Staples in 1970.

I had terrific opportunities there, in the classroom and then as an administrator. (Assistant superintendent of schools) Frank Graff got me out of the classroom. I’d been the Westport Education Association president, and he berated me – kindly. He said if I really wanted change to happen, I could do it from the inside. It was easy to criticize from the outside, but he wanted me inside.

When I was acting principal, there was a lot going on: modernization, a reduction in staff because of declining enrollment, and the Staples Governing Board was being challenged by the Board of Education for taking too much power. I was in the middle on a lot of those issues.

It was a special school – a wonderful, unique place. It started with the staff, then the students, and of course the community. And not just parents of kids in the school – you had alumni, and people like Alan Parsell and Ed Mitchell. Plenty of people had a lot of pride in Staples, because it was the only high school in town.

Robert Genualdi, from the 1976 Andrew Warde High School yearbook.

Robert Genualdi, from the 1976 Andrew Warde High School yearbook.

After Staples, Genualdi became a high school administrator in Fairfield. The 1976 Andrew Warde yearbook called him a “truly sincere, honest, and open human being (with) a real concern for others.”

His 3rd career was as music director and conductor of the Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestras. He spent more than 25 years there, before retiring in 2007.

With his wife, violist Dorothy Straub, Genualdi helped organize and produce the national Jenny Lind Competition, for years a staple of Bridgeport’s Barnum Festival.

Funeral arrangements will be announced Monday, by the Spear-Miller Funeral Home in Fairfield.


Christopher Hanulik Plays “The Beast”

In Westport, the name “Hanulik” is well known, and much revered. John Hanulik — who died in 2005, at 71 — taught singing, band, orchestra and music theory to thousands of elementary, junior and senior high school students, for nearly 40 years.

In Los Angeles, “Hanulik” belongs to Christopher. Principal bassist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, he brings his father’s lessons — and his own inherited passion — to an international audience.

The Los Angeles Times recently profiled 4 members of the orchestra, in words and video. Hanulik had a leading role in the story, called “Tales of Obsession and Perfection.”

Christopher Hanulik (Photo/Los Angeles Times)

Christopher Hanulik (Photo/Los Angeles Times)

Hanulik — himself a Staples grad — and his fellow musicians are “at once perfectionists and realists,” the Times says, “chasing mathematical structures into beauty.”

They are also well paid. Principal players earn much more than the base salary of $150,124 — plus overtime.

But getting onto the Los Angeles Philharmonic stage is “tougher than winning admission to Harvard.”

Hanulik earned his spot in 1984 — fresh out of Juilliard. “He has steady hands and a boyish mischievousness,” the Times reports. But “over the years Hanulik, 51, has come to rely on muscle memory.” He calls his 25-pound instrument “the beast,” and notes:

I’ve got to be working scales and arpeggios to keep in shape. The bass is a physical instrument. Your body won’t let you do things you once could. It’s like an athlete. You have to guard against overuse, stress on ligaments and tendinitis.

His Italian bass is 265 years old. It cost $30,000 in 1987 — and is now worth $250,000.

The job of his section, Hanulik says, is to “lay down a sound as plush as a carpet,” for the rest of the orchestra to float upon.

Christopher Hanulik (far right) and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. (Photo/Los Angeles Times)

Christopher Hanulik (far right) and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. (Photo/Los Angeles Times)

In addition to his job with the Philharmonic — and their international tours — Hanulik teaches at UCLA, and privately. He’s also on the Aspen Music Festival faculty.

He worries about the future of classical music. It must venture in new directions — but not too far. Last year, the Seattle Symphony played with rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot.

“Do we really really need to be doing that?” Hanulik wonders. “How does that translate into coming to hear Beethoven’s Seventh?”

Meanwhile, back in Westport, a new generation of teachers — the successors to John Hanulik — does their best to inspire the next generation of Christopher Hanuliks.

(To see the video of Hanulik, click here. Hat tip: Dave Donovan)

Westport’s Newest American Idol

Millions of viewers across the US have seen Randy Jackson’s replacement on “American Idol”: Scott Borchetta.

A dozen or so oldtime Westporters probably say “hmmmm…”

Back in the day, the Post Road was filled with mom-and-pop grocery stores (think Calise’s, without the hot foods). The owners worked hard, and served their neighborhoods well.

One — near Old Road, about where the Lexus dealer and Anthropologie are now — was owned by a Mr. and Mrs. Borchetta.

Scott Borchetta

Scott Borchetta

Their son Mike graduated from Staples in 1961, then went off to California. He became a noted record promoter for labels like Capitol, RCA and Mercury.

Later Mike moved to Nashville, to start his own independent record promotion company.

Scott is Mike’s son. He was a race car driver, then founded Big Machine Records and discovered Taylor Swift.

Now he’s “American Idol”‘s house mentor. The show, of course, is all about hard-working, unknown people trying to make it big.

Sounds like 3 generations of the Borchetta family, right?

(Hat tip: Dick Alley)