Category Archives: Arts

Hot Times For Arts Festival, Book Sale

Folks moved slower than usual. They drank more water.

But art and book lovers are hardy bunches. Artists and volunteers are too.

The 46th annual Fine Arts Festival took over Main Street today.  Painters, photographers, sculptors, printmakers, ceramicists and jewelry makers showed their creations.

Bands played music. Kids played with art materials. The Artists Collective of Westport sponsored an interactive — and very active — tent on Taylor Place.

Artists came from across the US. Westport was well represented too. Among the local exhibitors: Susan Lloyd …

… and Nancy Breakstone (who knows a thing or two about keeping cool):

The Fine Arts Festival continues today until 5 p.m. It’s on again tomorrow (Sunday, July 21), from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The predicted high is again 96 degrees. So do what this art aficionado did, and head downtown:

Meanwhile, a few yards away, crowds lined up before dawn. When Westport Library Book Sale volunteers opened the flaps at 9 a.m., 500 people waited.

They were not disappointed. The enormous tent held everything from fiction, history and cookbooks to Judaica, Cliff Notes and old magazines.

Inside — in the very well-air conditioned transformed library — buyers filled big bags with more books, CDs, DVDs and vinyl.

The big tent, as seen from the library steps. (All photos/Dan Woog)

The book sale continues today until 6 p.m. It’s on tomorrow (Sunday) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday is half-price day (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). On Tuesday everything is just $5 a bag (9 a.m. 1 p.m.).

It cools way down to 81 on Monday. That’s a welcome relief, after today.

Minstrel History Comes To Levitt

As chair of TEAM Westport — our multicultural commission — Harold Bailey thinks a lot about how our town addresses race.

The topic is everywhere nationally, from politics and policing to religion and sports. Some discussions are superficial; others, quite nuanced.

Westport is not the most racially diverse place on the planet. But we are tied inextricably to the national conversation.

The recent “Remembered…” exhibition at the Westport Historical Society revealed — with stark photos, words and artificats — that kidnapped, enslaved Africans were critical to the founding and growth of this place.

Bailey says that Our Native Daughters do something similar on a national scale, for American music. Conceived by 4 gifted women, and spurred by a MacArthur “genius grant,” the group reclaims minstrel music of the 1800s from the tropes generated by whites wearing blackface. The quartet redefines that music, through its African-American roots.

In the process, Bailey says, “they vividly portray the ways in which the enduring storytelling and bonds from black women have been the bedrock of the African-American family, from antebellum America to the present.”

Our Native Daughters

That’s powerful stuff. This Tuesday (July 23, 7:30 p.m.), Westport gets a chance to see and hear it in an intimate setting.

Our Native Daughters perform a special, ticketed concert at the Levitt Pavilion. TEAM Westport and the WHS co-sponsor the event.

We’re in great company. The next day, the group performs at The Smithsonian Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, DC. On Sunday they’ll be at the Newport Folk Festival.

The Levitt date actually launches Our Native Daughters’ tour. A crew from the Smithsonian Channel will be on hand to film this show.

NPR says Leyla McCalla’s delivery is “characterized by willowy sereneness and subtly jazzy phrasing,” Allison Russell’s by “feathery, softhearted trills and curlicues,” Amythyst Kiah’s by “flintily soulful resonance,” and Rhiannon Giddens’ by “lithe expressiveness and regal bearing.”

Banjos are key. But all 4 women play several instruments.

The Levitt is well known for the variety and quality of its programming. Rock, blues, military bands, kids’ music, comedians — in over 40 years, audiences have seen it all.

Seldom however has there been a concert with historical significance, one that can promote reflection and dialogue at such a fraught time in our nation’s history.

The Levitt is a relaxing, wonderful place of summer entertainment. On Tuesday, Our Native Daughters’ artful, eye- and ear-opening music takes us to a new place.

(Click here for tickets and more information.)

Christmas In July

This weekend will be the hottest of the year. Of course: There’s always a heat wave during the Fine Arts Festival and Westport Library Book Sale.

But next week, stroll over the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge. You’ll find some cool reminders that Christmas is only 159 days away.

The Bonnie Marcus Collection design studio (5 Riverside Avenue, next to Arezzo) creates custom greeting cards for major nationwide retailers.

This is crunch time. With the AC cranked high, Bonnie and her crew are deep in design mode.

The cards feature Bonnie’s iconic “fashion girls” holding Bloomingdale’s bags, Barney’s hat boxes and gifts from Bendel’s.

You don’t have to schlep into the city to buy them. You don’t even have to go online, and wait for delivery.

Bonnie is giving away her stylish  holiday cards for free. If you’re a local fashion lover, you’ll love this offer.

Just look for the red and green (of course) balloons on Monday and Tuesday (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.).

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah too!

Justin Paul: It’s Showtime!

You’ve enjoyed Justin Paul’s music in Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land and The Greatest Showman.

Soon, you may see and hear it on Showtime.

The cable network just signed the 2002 Staples High School graduate and his songwriting partner, Benj Pasek, to contribute music to an as-yet-untitled musical drama.

This is no fingers-crossed concept. Executive producers include Alicia Keys, Marc Platt, Kyle Jarrow (The SpongeBob Musical), R.J. Cutler (Nashville) and Adam Siegel (Grease: Live).

Justin Paul, enjoying life. (Photo/Dan Woog)

The drama tell an emotionally complex family story, weaving between modern-day and 1959 Detroit. The plot involves a mystery uncovered by a young musician who moves back to her childhood home.

“We have always been intrigued by the prospect of doing a Showtime musical series, but only if the songs could add to the depth and complexity of a great character drama. Nobody does that better than Pasek and Paul and Marc Platt, ” says Showtime Entertainment president Gary Levine.

Pasek and Paul have already won Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards. Is an Emmy next?

Stay tuned.

(Click here for the full Hollywood Reporter story.)

Irving Berlin: Playhouse Production Is Nostalgic, Educational — And Very Relevant

It’s mid-July. But the set for the Westport Country Playhouse production of “Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” — which opened last night — evokes a snowy winter night.

(Photo/Dan Woog)

Of course. America’s greatest songwriter is well known for “White Christmas.”

Plus “God Bless America.” “Easter Parade.” “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” And many, many, many, many, more.

His life — from his birth in the Russian Empire, to his youth on the Lower East Side (he left school at 13), to Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Hollywood, with a stop in the Army, and all the ups and downs of his personal life — is told with warmth, wit and wonder.

It’s a remarkable tale. He lived to be 101 — long enough so that his copyright on “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” expired before he did.

The show is educational, entertaining and fun.

It’s also extremely timely. Berlin was an immigrant who loved his adopted country. The story behind “God Bless America” — with the Playhouse audience singing first quietly, then lustily along — gives goose bumps.

(“Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” runs through August 3. Click here for more information, and tickets.)

Fine Arts Festival: Calling All Kids (And Adults)!

Westport’s Fine Arts Festival draws painters, photographers, sculptors — and art lovers — from around the country.

Plenty of residents browse stroll the stalls on Main Street.

But for a town that prides itself on its arts heritage, the number of local artists showing is limited.

This weekend (July 20 and 21, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.), we’ll get our fill.

Following last year’s successful pilot, the Artists Collective of Westport hosts 2 activity tents for kids and parents. Set up at at Brooks Corner, they’re a spot for kids to show off their creatives sides. Drawing, rock painting, origami — you name it, it’s there for children to do.

Action in last year’s Fine Arts Festival children’s tent.

New this year, the Collective will set up a giant Art Experience tent on Taylor Place, near Tiffany.

Over 20 Collective artists have volunteered. There will be several at a time, leading interactive projects and demonstrating techniques and media. Among them: clam shells, eggs, ceramics, murals, wire, camera-less photos, Band-Aids, folded paper, paint and more. Susan Fehlinger is the Collectivist in chair.

Westport Artists Collective co-founder Miggs Burroughs remembers when he was a boy. His father Bernie was president of the Westport Artists Club. Miggs, his brother Trace, and many other local kids grew up surrounded by art. Illustrators, cartoonists and painters seemed to be everywhere — always giving back to the community.

“I have a great sense of pride carrying out his legacy, in some small part, by helping the Collective keep the visual arts alive and lively for generations to come.”

Some of this art may be featured in the Experience Tent.

Miggs will be in the tent, at the 46th annual Fine Arts Festival. He and many others will be working with youngsters at  Brooks Corner too.

Odds are good they’ll inspire at least one young artist. In 2083 — at Westport’s 109th Festival — he or she may be giving back to the next generation, just like Miggs and his very talented colleagues will do this weekend.

(The Fine Arts Festival — and the Westport Artists’ Collective participation in it — is a partnership with the Westport Downtown Merchants Association. For more information on the Festival, click here.) 

Get Back To The ’80s, Today And Tomorrow!

I had modest expectations for “Back to the ’80s.”

I knew Staples Players’ summer show would be fun. I figured I’d spend last night entertained and amused, by a typically high-quality Players production.

But the ’80s were 3o-plus years ago. That’s more than a decade before the high school performers were born. How much could they really “get” the music, the memories, the pop culture references?

They did more than get it. They blew the audience away.

The “Get Out Of My Dreams (Get Into My Car)” ensemble. (Photo/Kerry Long)

“Back to the ’80s” is one of the best shows you’ve never heard of.

It’s laugh-out-loud hilarious.

The reinterpretations of songs — from “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “Love Shack” to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and (especially) “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” — is eye-opening.

Colin Konstanty, Jasper Burke, Nick Rossi and Sam Mandelbaum cut loose. (Photo/Kerry Long)

And the little touches (embarrassingly short shorts on guys, bad hair on girls) bring you right back to the days of Pac-Man and David Hasselhof.

There are plenty of things to do today and tomorrow. Many of them can wait.

Make time — if you can — for “Back to the ’80s.” Bring the kids, even if they were born in the 2000s.

Only 3 performances remain: Today (Saturday, July 13, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.), and tomorrow (Sunday, July 14, 3 p.m.). Tickets are available by clicking here, or at the Staples High School auditorium.

Trust me (and Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes): You’ll have the time of your life.

Mia Kobylinkski and Charlie Zuckerman (Photo/Kerry Long)

Staples Players director David Roth does a star turn as the show’s 2019 narrator. (Photo/Kerry Long)

This “Just In”: Miller, Paul Combine For Musical Gold

Back in 2001, 1/4 of a Staples High School music octet was named Justin.

Justin Miller — a senior — went on to a storied career as a music director. He led the Westminster Chorus of Los Angeles to the 2009 “Choir of the World” Pavarotti Trophy, and Barbershop Harmony Society International Chorus gold medals in 2007, ’10 and ’15.

A few days ago he did it again. Westminster recaptured the world title, in Salt Lake City.

Miller’s chorus did it decisively, setting a new record for the highest score ever: 97.9%.

But there’s more to the story.

The 100-man chorus paired the tender ballad “I’ll Be Here” from Broadway’s “The Wild Party” with “From Now On.”

That’s the tune from “The Greatest Showman,” written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

The same Justin Paul who, as a junior in 2001, sang in that famed octet with Justin Miller.

The director is proud of his friend’s work. He wanted to showcase it on his choir’s biggest stage.

So now — in addition to Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards — Justin Paul can say he’s “won” a Barbershop Harmony Society International Chorus gold medal too.

(For the full story on the competition, click here.)

Remembering Vivian Perlis

Vivian Perlis — a longtime Westporter, noted musician and transformational musicologist — died last week. She was 91.

Perlis was a renowned harp player with a master’s in music history from the University of Michigan when she began studying for a doctorate at Columbia University in the early 1960s.

Living in Westport with 3 small children — her husband, Dr. Sandy Perlis, was a psychiatrist here — she was “turned down flat” when she asked for flexibility in her studies.

The Perlis family (clockwise from top left): Mike, Sandy, Vivian, Lauren, Jonathan.

“I could either orphan my children or give up the Ph.D.,” she told the New York Times in 1997. “That would never happen today.”

Instead, she became a research librarian at the Yale School of Music. While working on the Charles Ives collection, she conducted more than 60 interviews with the Danbury composer’s former colleagues.

She “faced disdain from traditional musicologists who thought recorded interviews would be merely anecdotal, overly subjective and prone to factual inconsistencies,” Perlis’ Times obituary says.

But she went on to found Yale University’s Oral History of American Music. The project — described by the Times as “an invaluable archive of audio and video interviews” — includes 3,000 interviews with figures like Aaron Copland and Duke Ellington.

Vivian Perlis interviewing (at right) Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein.

Perlis directed the program for more than 40 years. She also wrote several books. For many years, she was a harpist with the New Haven Symphony.

The Perlises moved to Westport from Stockbridge, Massachusetts. She worked at Tanglewood, and her husband was studying at the Austin Riggs Institute.

“The town’s reputation as a mecca for artists and writers appealed to both of them,” says her son Mike.

She was very involved in Friends of Music, the local organization championed by Ruth Steinkraus Cohen. She played with the Westport Madrigal Singers, and contributed to holiday events, Staples High School Orphenians and Staples Players.

She was also active in the Westport Arts Center.

Vivian Perlis in 2005. (Photo by C.M. Glover/New York Times)

Her son Mike recalls Coleytown Elementary School principal Lynn Odell announcing “a very special treat” one day. To his surprise, it was his mother playing Christmas carols on her harp.

He remembers too “the great pleasure of falling asleep listening to her practicing ‘Greensleeves’ into the night.”

Vivian Perlis was part of a cohort of talented, well-educated and energetic women who overcame barriers to achieve professional and personal success. They helped mold Westport into the artistic, volunteer-driven town it is today.

In addition to her son Mike, she is survived by her daughter Lauren Perlis Ambler; another son Jonathan; her brother Irwin Goldberger, and 5 grandchildren. Her husband — a professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine — died in 1994.

(Click here for the full New York Times obituary.)

Book Sale Begins Soon; Volunteers Needed

The Westport Library is transformed. But the annual book sale will be as familiar as your favorite novel.

Beginning Saturday, July 20 — the same weekend as the Fine Arts Festival — the 27th annual event features tens of thousands of books, in every category imaginable: art, children’s, graphic novels, foreign language, gardening, history, humor, music, mystery, nature, photography, poetry, religion, science fiction, sports, teens, travel.

That’s just the Jesup Green tent. Inside the library you’ll find DVDs, CDs, vinyl and paperbacks.

One scene from last year’s Book Sale.

This year’s specials include books from Ed Vebell, the famed illustrator whose heirs have donated much of his collection of military, American West and Native American objects, plus literature from Manny Margolis, the prominent civil rights attorney.

The Book Sale — whose proceeds benefit the library — needs over 300 volunteers. Set-up (starting July 15), sales, shelving, greeting, security, clean-up — there’s a job for everyone, of any physical ability.

If you’re a teenager, retiree or anyone in between, click here to sign up.

Book it!

(The Westport Library’s Book Sale is Saturday, July 20 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, July 21 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Monday, July 22 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Tuesday, July 23 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Fine Arts Festival is Saturday and Sunday, July 20 and 21 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)