Justin Paul’s Lin Manuel Miranda Moment

Justin Paul. Lin Manuel Miranda. Ben Platt. The March For Our Lives.

That’s quite a combination.

Yesterday, the 4th #Hamiltondrop video was released. The series features monthly “Hamilton”-inspired mashups, combined with other well-known songs.

The one mixes “Hamilton”‘s “Story of Tonight” with “You Will Be Found,” from “Dear Evan Hansen.” That tune was written by Staples High School graduate Justin Paul, and his songwriting partner Benj Pasek.

The mashup is sung by Miranda and Ben Platt, a Tony Award winner for his portrayal of the “Hansen” title character. Broadway.com says it may be the best of the entire series.

The video includes quick shots of Justin, sitting on a couch watching the recording. It was made just a couple of hours after he visited Staples High and Coleytown Middle Schools. He was exhausted, but excited.

Proceeds from downloads (click here) go to this weekend’s march, organized by teenagers to draw attention to gun violence and political inaction.

Emma Gonzalez — a Parkland High School student, political activist and march leader — tweeted: “I just listened to it and I can’t stop crying. I’m gonna listen to this forever holy heck.”

“Merrily” Broadway Star Boosts Staples Players’ Show

It wasn’t easy.

Serial snowstorms knocked out crucial rehearsals. Plus there were the normal teenage challenges of putting on a complex show, alongside the usual demands of school, family and social life.

But Staples Players has scored another success with “Merrily We Roll Along.” Opening weekend audiences loved the troupe’s interpretation of the 1981 Stephen Sondheim musical — based on a 1934 play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart — that Players first staged in 2003.

Senior Charlie Zuckerman plays Charley, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and former best friend of Frank (the lead character, played by Nick Rossi).

Charlie Zuckerman, Avery Mendillo and Nick Rossi perform “Old Friends” in “Merrily We Roll Along.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Lonny Price originated the role of Charley on Broadway. It ran for only 16 performances, and 52 previews. But “Merrily” has since taken on a life of its own. Audiences have learned to love its intricacies.

And in 2016 Price directed “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened,” a documentary about “Merrily”‘s original Broadway production, and the hopeful young performers whose lives were transformed by it.

Price’s documentary was named one of the New York Times’ top 10 films of 2016.

Lonny Price, Ann Morrison, and Jim Walton in “Merrily We Roll Along,” and today. (Right photo/ Martha Swope; left picture/Bruce David Klein)

Price will be in the audience for this Friday’s Staples production (March 23, 7:30 p.m.). Afterward, he’ll lead Players’ first-ever talkback. Audience members are encouraged to stay, and enjoy insights from the Broadway icon.

In addition to his “Merrily” and “Best Worst Thing” credits, Price directed Glenn Close in “Sunset Boulevard,” “Audra McDonald in “110 in the Shade,” and Danny Glover in “‘Master Harold’ … and the Boys.” He’s a 3-time Emmy winner.

Price also collaborated with Westporter Andrew Wilk — executive producer of “Live From Lincoln Center” — on broadcasts of “Camelot,” “Candide” and “Sweeney Todd.” For years, he has heard Wilk rave about the high quality of Players’ productions.

Now he’ll see for himself.

“Andrew has excellent taste,” Price says. “So when he asked me to check out their production of ‘Merrily,’ I was eager to see their take on a show that has meant so much to me for the last 37 years.”

You’ll be inspired by “Merrily We Roll Along.” You’ll love Lonny Price’s talkback.

And if you want to get the most out of both, you can watch “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened” on Netflix — or right here:

(“Merrily We Roll Along” will be performed on Friday and Saturday, March 23 and 24, 7:30 p.m. Click here for tickets. A few tickets may be available in the lobby at 7 p.m.)

Pic Of The Day #336

Green’s Farms post office: 06838 (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Medical Marijuana User Offers The Real Dope On Dispensaries

Recent proposals to build 2 medical marijuana dispensaries in Westport — at the sites of the former Bertucci’s and Blockbuster — have caused plenty of controversy.

They’ve also raised many questions — and led to many misconceptions — about medical marijuana in general, dispensaries in particular, and the laws surrounding both.

An alert “06880” reader — who uses medical marijuana, and who for health privacy issues prefers not to be named — writes:

In trying to dispel myths about medical marijuana dispensaries, it’s important to understand how they work. Some people think it’s like going to get milk. Others think legions of people will pour into Westport to use the facility.

There was even a suggestion that we move the dispensary downtown, to boost our economy. The idea was that many patients would buy their pot, then shop.

None of these are true. And none are possible.

To get a medical marijuana license, you must be pre-qualified by your physician. You then must see a state registered and licensed medical practitioner, who submits your paperwork.

The practitioner must see identification with your birth date, address and more. It’s like going to the TSA office for a pre-check or Global Entry card.

But you actually need more than that. You have to bring medical records, and at least 2 different pieces of first class mail addressed to you at the location where your driver’s license or passport says you live.

After the practitioner scans all this information, you pay. It’s a yearly fee. The license is good for only one year. Then you do the process all over again.

Here is the important part. When you go through all this, you must designate which dispensary you will use.

It is not the Wild West. You must pick one dispensary. Your license is valid at only one Connecticut dispensary.

Westport will be able to know — in real time — how many patients will use the dispensary. We will know exactly how many people are coming here to get medical marijuana. And we will know who they are.

Once all of this gets sent to the state, it takes up to 3 months to get your license (though temporary licenses can be received within 30 days). That is, if everything was scanned and submitted properly.

Before you set foot in the facility, you need to bring your regular ID (most likely a driver’s license) and your state-issued medical marijuana ID.

At the door, you put both IDs onto a scanner. The person on the other side takes a few minutes to verify your information. She takes a picture of you, and finally buzzes you in.

Each time you enter, a record is kept for the state — with your picture. It’s more like using your safe deposit box than buying a quart of milk.

Of course, there’s more.

Before going to the one location you have picked, you must make an appointment with the pharmacist at that dispensary. He goes over your medical condition with you, and makes recommendations. He also tells you what your per-month usage is.

There is a purchase limit every month. The amount is enough to treat the symptoms of your disease. I assure you, it is not nearly enough for a patient to become a pot dealer.

Medical marijuana is expensive. In fact, it’s about 3 times more expensive than the equivalent street value. It seems very unfair to the sick and infirm to be price gouged, but that’s the reality.

There currently is no price regulation. Allow that to sink in. If prices are crazy in Bethel, imagine what dispensaries will charge in Westport.

There will not be a steady stream of “riff-raff” coming into our town. Economics point to a much wealthier Fairfield County clientele using the facility. People will not go out of their way to come to Westport. They’ll go to the facility closest to them.

As for the facility itself, location is important. There must be enough handicap parking.

Is it possible to get medical marijuana without being seriously ill? Yes. Some people will skirt the law.

However, most patients are visibly, seriously ill.  Many have prosthetic limbs or oxygen tanks. They use wheelchairs and walkers.

Most people who go into a dispensary don’t even buy pot (as in, the plant). Smoking does not go well with most diseases. Instead they get oils, pills, strips for the tongue, tea or edibles (which are gross — they taste like you’re eating grass. Real grass).

A variety of medical marijuana edibles.

So: no dispensary downtown. People getting medical marijuana are not shopping and strolling. They are sick.

If we really want to help people in need, the dispensary location must be well thought out. It should be in the back of the building. It isn’t right or fair to have seriously ill people hanging out on the Post Road waiting to get in, while everyone drives by and watches.

We need to stop thinking of a dispensary as dirty, and start thinking of it as a medical facility. Your kids are not strolling in to get pot. No one is. Dispensaries are so innocuous in appearance that unless we had this town-wide debate, you’d never know they are there.

Compassionate Care — a medical marijuana facility in Bethel,

So how come medical marijuana can’t be sold in a pharmacy?

A couple of reasons. One is that there is no price regulation.

Another is that it is not FDA-approved.

Also, according to federal law, all pot is illegal.

As for the concerns about what will happen If pot becomes legal. I have no idea. I assume Planning & Zoning will deal with it the same way they deal with wine shops, or people who want to open restaurants that serve alcohol.

But that isn’t really the issue. Medical marijuana dispensaries are not being set up in anticipation of legalization. Medical marijuana is completely different than recreational pot.

That’s not the discussion we should be having. Do we want to offer to help people now, in our town, or would we rather keep making people in need drive 40 minutes away to get relief?

That’s the only question you need to answer.

Hurricane Irma, Long After The Storm: A Westport Native Reports

“News of St. John” is a blog about St. John, in the US Virgin Islands. Sort of an “06880” for 00830.

Since September — when Hurricane Irma devastated much of the Caribbean — “News of St. John” has had plenty to blog about.

So when blogmaster Jenn Manes described “A Very Powerful Story About Hurricane Irma and St. John” as “the most powerful article” she has read about the disaster, readers took notice.

Writer Devin O’Neil watched from a distance as 200-mile-an-hour winds battered the island where he grew up.

But O’Neil also has Westport ties. He writes:

My fraternal twin brother Sean and I were 5 years old when our mom Christie decided she was tired of commuting from Westport, Connecticut, to New York City. So in December 1985 she and her boyfriend bought a 41-foot sailboat named Yahoo. We packed everything we owned into 19 duffel bags, and headed south.

St. John, half of which is covered by Virgin Islands National Park, offered singular beauty—and plenty of places to anchor our new floating home. Mom took a job as a landscaper in Fish Bay and eventually got her real estate license.

Devon O’Neil (right) with his brother Sean and mom Christie. (Photo/Steve Simonsen Photography)

Sean and I fell in with a rat pack of kids who congregated after school to play tackle football, catch tarantulas and lizards, and crawl under barroom floors in search of quarters. We grew up boogie boarding and surfing on the south shore. One day we took turns reeling in a 350-pound shark, next door in the British Virgin Islands.

Fish Bay sounds nothing like Compo Beach.

Devon writes lovingly of his carefree childhood, and movingly of the storm: the frightening fear of living through it, and what he saw when he returned 2 months later. (Spoiler alert: Richard Branson compared the damage to a nuclear strike.)

It’s a long piece. But — long after Hurricane Irma has faded from our mainland consciousness — this strong story by a Westport native is well worth reading. Click here for the full link.

(O’Neil’s story was originally printed in Outside Magazine. Extremely alert “06880” reader Regina Masterson spotted it on “News of St. John.”)

One small part of Hurricane Irma’s impact on St. John, US Virgin Islands.

Accidental Activists Forge Powerful Paths

Audrey Bernstein was never an activist. Quiet, smart and hard-working, the Staples High School sophomore dedicated herself to the school paper Inklings (she’s the features editor) and the tennis team.

Classmate and friend Kaela Dockray — like Audrey, a native Westporter — was similar. She’s Inklings’ sports editor, and plays field hockey.

Then came Parkland.

The school massacre in Florida affected Audrey deeply. She had a hard time going to school.

Her US History Honors teacher, Cathy Schager, told her, “If you feel anxious about something, advocate for it.”

When Staples suffered its own near-tragedy — a student was overheard making threats, and had an assault rifle at home — Audrey was rocked again.

“I realized then I had to do something,” she recalls. “And I had to do it now.”

The Parkland shooting did not hit Kaela as hard. But the Staples incident made her realize that the potential for tragedy was real.

As she thought about how the Florida students reacted, she realized she needed to do something too.

A few days later, Audrey and Kaela heard that Delaney Tarr and Sarah Chadwick — 2 Parkland survivors — would be speaking at an International Women’s Day event in New York.

On the spur of the moment, they headed to the city.

“We figured there would be thousands of people,” Kaela says. “There were like 40.”

Delaney and Sarah told their stories. They urged young people to join the gun reform conversation.

Kaela and Audrey were captivated. They wanted to speak personally with the Parkland girls, but journalists swarmed them first.

After 30 minutes of waiting the Westporters gave up, and left.

But — in what Audrey calls “fate” — Sarah and Delaney soon walked right past them.

“We both started crying,” Kaela says. “We idolized them.”

The Staples students told their Parkland counterparts how much their stories meant. Audrey said, “You’re the main reason I get up and go to school.”

To their surprise, Audrey and Kaela found that Sarah and Delaney were just “normal teenagers.” The Floridians asked to take the Westporters’ picture for their own Instagrams — and then followed them on social media.

“They told us that we’re the future leaders,” Kaela says.  “They kept saying that they’re proud of us.”

From left: Parkland survivors Sarah Chadwick and Delaney Tarr, with actress and activist Rowan Blanchard, join Staples High School sophomores Kaela Dockray and Audrey Bernstein in New York. The hashtag was the motto of the International Women’s Day event, emphasizing the power of women and the necessity for them to take charge.

So when plans were announced for a Staples walkout on March 14 — as part of a national movement in response to gun violence — she and Audrey knew they had to take part.

And they would not just help organize the event. They’d speak. Publicly.

“I have stage fright,” Audrey admits. “I’ve never done anything like this. But I was motivated by their pride in us. I had to get over my fear, and use my voice.”

“I don’t speak in class,” Kaela adds. “And now I was going to speak in front of 1,000 people?”

Both did — with passion and poise.

Their speech emphasized that young people have the most crucial voice in the school/gun debate. The reason: It affects them the most.

They also noted the importance of giving voice to beliefs — no matter how hard it might be.

A portion of the large crowd in the Staples High School fieldhouse. (Photo/Charlie Colasurdo, courtesy of Inklings)

Feedback was fast, and positive. “Random people stopped me in the hall, and thanked me,” Kaela says.

“I can’t believe you did that!” friends and family told Audrey.

Shaking her head in wonder, she says, “I don’t know how I did that myself!”

The girls are not stopping there. This Saturday they head to Washington, DC to join the “March For Our Lives” rally.

And they’ve started an Instagram page, focusing on advocacy. You can follow Audrey and Kaela there: @StudentsStaySafe.

You can also follow them as they continue down the new and exciting path they’ve discovered: political activists.

Westport and America: The future is not in good hands.

It’s in great hands.

Pic Of The Day #335

Compo Beach neighborhood (Photo/Katherine Bruan)

Celebrate With Olive My Stuff

Generations of Westporters loved Oscar’s. One of the main reasons was longtime owner Lee Papageorge.

Another reason was Ali. One of Lee’s 2 daughters, she grew up in the downtown hangout. Like her father, she welcomed regulars and newcomers with friendliness and energy.

Ali always loved retail and service. Last March, she started opened a consignment shop. Olive My Stuff is named after her youngest daughter, Olive — Lee’s grandchild.

Ali, Lee and Olive Papageorge.

Her store is on Main Street — in Monroe. She would love to be on Westport’s Main Street, but rents are prohibitive.

Her goal is to build her business, move here, and serve some of her dad’s former customers.

This Saturday (March 24) marks her first anniversary. She’ll celebrate with prizes, refreshments, and pop-up vendors.

Olive My Stuff is hip and eclectic. Oscar’s fans will recognize Ali’s unique style.

Plus, they’ll see a photo of Lee Papageorge, in a place of honor at the front counter.

(Olive My Stuff is at 590 Main Street, Monroe.)

Ali Papageorge, in front of Olive My Stuff.

Photo Challenge #168

In 1906, Westport got a library.

It was a gift from Morris Jesup. A successful businessman, whose money came from selling railroad supplies, he endowed the building on on the Post Road (then called State Street), near Main Street.

The cornerstone was laid in 1906. Michael Calise, Daine Silfen, Matt Murray. Michael Brennecke, Stephanie Ehrman, Rosalie Kaye, Lawrence Zlatin, Janice Strizever, Robert Mitchell, Bobbie Herman, Eva Lopez Reyman, Jonathan McClure, Seth Goltzer and Dede Fitch all recognized Lynn U. Miller’s image. To see last week’s photo challenge, click here.

The library grew, expanded west, then took over the 2nd floor. In 1986 it had outgrown its original home, and moved across the street, past Jesup Road and up the hill, to landfill that had once been the town dump.

The old library is home now to (among others) HSBC Bank, Starbucks and Freshii.

Today, the library is in the midst of another transformation. But none of it would have been possible without Jesup’s philanthropy.

The Westport Library was not Jesup’s only gift. He was a major benefactor of the American Museum of Natural History. He also commissioned a 5-year anthropological expedition to Alaska and Siberia. The northernmost piece of land in the world, at the tip of Greenland, is named Cape Morris Jesup.

In 1908 — just before he died — he donated his old home as a parsonage for the Saugatuck Congregational Church.

This week’s photo challenge comes from Molly Alger. If you know where in Westport you’d find this Stonehenge-like formation, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Molly Alger)

Remembering Buell Neidlinger

If you read the comments section on “06880,” you know Buell Neidlinger. He wrote often about old-time Westport, music, and topics of the day.

Buell commented most recently on Friday morning. That afternoon, he died. He was 82 years old.

Buell was one of the most interesting readers I know. He led a rich, fascinating life, most notably in the music world. Read on to learn more.

Buell Neidlinger (Photo/Drew Kampion)

A resident of Whidbey Island, Washington, he arrived in Westport in 1938, at 2 years old. His parents rented a house on South Compo Road. Buell went to Bedford Junior High, then St. Luke’s in New Canaan.

He spent one year at Yale, then floated around. He returned to Westport, working in Frank Zack’s “high-class haberdashery” downtown.

He sold aluminum windows. Meanwhile he practiced bass in a warehouse, playing along to records.

Max Kaminsky, a famous jazz trumpeter renting in Westport, convinced Buell to move to New York — superb advice. He backed Billie Holiday when she played clubs, during the last years of her life.

In 1957, Buell Neidlinger played at the Newport Jazz Festival with pianist Cecil Taylor. (Photo/Bob Parent)

The first hit record Buell played on was Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” He went on to play and record with Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, the Beach Boys, Elton John, Dolly Parton, the Carpenters, the Moody Blues, Barry White, Whitney Houston, Ringo Starr and Bill Monroe.

He hung out with Pablo Casals — in Westport. (Click here to read about that encounter. For more on his youth here, and his Westport recollections, click here.)

Buell had not been back to Westport in decades. But he discovered this website, and rediscovered his hometown. That meant a lot to him.

From time to time, he would call. “This is Buell,” he’d begin. Though we never met, we felt like old friends. In a gravelly voice, he’d describe some long-ago adventure in town. He’d ask about an old landmark. Then he’d apologize for taking my time, say, “I’ll talk to you soon,” and hang up.

Buell died suddenly — just hours after commenting on “06880.” His Whidbey Island friend Drew Kampion sent more details on his extraordinary life:

Buell’s gone, but the music lingers on through nearly 70 recordings made in a 60-year career in the music business. As a bassist, he backed up many who became household names. But name recognition or not, Buell could hold his own in any musical setting.

Buell Neidlinger (center), flanked by Roy Orbison and T Bone Burnett.

He was born in New York City on March 2, 1936 into a privileged life. He was exposed to great musicians from an early age. His music training began at St. Thomas Choir School at the age of 7, where he also began playing the cello. He became accomplished on the instrument.

At Yale University he became interested in the bass. By age 25 his jazz apprenticeships with Joe Sullivan, Herbie Nichols, Dick Wellstood, Vic Dickenson and Oran “Hot Lips” Page had led to recording and performance gigs with Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Rex Stewart, the Gil Evans band, and Cecil Taylor (whose bassist he was for 7 years).

Composer Gunther Schuller encouraged Buell to further expand his classical abilities (and hired him to participate in history-making Third Stream concerts at Circle in the Square). He also joined Sir John Barbirolli’s Houston Symphony, and moonlighted around Texas with Arnett Cobb, Little Esther Phillips, Bobby Blue Bland, and James Clay.

The recipient of a Rockefeller performance grant in 1965, Buell worked closely with composers Mauricio Kagel, Sylvano Buscotti, George Crumb, and John Cage to develop new string playing techniques and sounds, giving premier performances of their compositions worldwide. He freelanced with Stokowski’s American Symphony, City Center Opera, the Budapest and Amadeus string quartets, and small ensembles led by Igor Stravinsky, Karl Richter, and Schuller.

In 1967 he became a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Erich Leinsdorf, and joined the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music, where he helped establish the jazz department.

In 1971 he moved to Los Angeles to teach at CalArts. He was chosen by Neville Marriner to be principal bass with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, a post he held for 8  years.

Buell Neidlinger and his wife, Margaret Storer, on the Warner Brothers sound stage in 1993. The big blue trunk carried his 1785 Italian bass.

In LA Buell began an extensive recording career. He played in hundreds of major Hollywood movies from the early 1970s to the late ’90s. He recorded with Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, The Eagles, Elvis Costello, Earth Wind and Fire and Frank Zappa, to name a few. He also produced recordings of his jazz ensembles, toured Europe and America, and produced other artists, such as Leo Kottke.

In his spare time he presented master classes in chamber music and jazz at Aspen, Tanglewood, Eastman School of Music, Harvard, New York State University, Rotterdam Conservatory, and the annual San Luis Obispo String Seminar.

Buell was larger than life. The same passion he brought to his music carried over into his relationships, sometimes resulting in fireworks. He was rarely lukewarm about anything. He brought a full set of emotions to everything he did. He cared deeply about music and our world. Those who knew him intimately found him to be an extraordinarily sensitive and kind man, and felt privileged to be his friend or musical associate.

His wife, Margaret Storer, was also a professional bassist. They were an elite team on the studio and film circuit in Los Angeles, and after they moved to Whidbey Island. They were married for 36 years. She was his love and his rock. He also leaves behind two children, Mike Neidlinger and Miranda Neidlinger.

In his later years, Buell played around Whidbey Island in many venues. He could be found entertaining customers as Billy the Cellist, playing Bach cello suites at the local coffee shop, or with his favorite string quartet, while eating chocolate and telling stories of his long life in the music business.

Buell Neidlinger playing in a coffee shop on Whidbey Island. He called himself “Billy the Cellist.”