Category Archives: Arts

Town Hall Heritage Tree Shines

Everyone driving past Town Hall enjoys the Christmas tree on its sloping lawn. An ordinary evergreen all year long, it’s lit every night during the holiday season.

But there’s a second one worth seeing. It’s inside Town Hall, just outside the auditorium.

The Town Hall Heritage Tree.

It’s called a Heritage Tree. And for good reason: Every December, for over 35 years, new ornaments are added. Each is designed by a Westport artist. Taken together, the nearly 150 designs represent our artistic heritage in a unique, beautiful way.

Elizabeth Devoll’s ornament features historical Westport photos.

Among the many artists represented: Bernie Burroughs, Mel Casson, Stevan Dohanos, Naiad and Walter Einsel, Leonard Everett Fisher, Neil Hardy, Robert Lambdin, Gordon Mellor, Howard Munce, Jim Sharpe, Dolli Tingle, Barbara Wilk and Al Willmott.

Tammy Winser’s Westport snowman.

This year, 5 new ornaments were added:

  • A whimsical glass ornament (“100% Santa approved”) by Nina Bentley.
  • A diamond-shaped acrylic lenticular featuring the William F. Cribari Bridge — with and without Christmas lights, by Miggs Burroughs.
  • A large, multi-faceted 20-view polygon featuring historical Westport photos, by Elizabeth Devoll.
  • A delicate pine cone, subtly embellished with text and color by Katherine Ross.
  • A glass-domed “Carrot: Building a Snowman in Westport” by Tammy Winser.

Miggs Burroughs’ lenticular features the Saugatuck bridge.

The new ornaments were hung — front and center on the tree — by Eve Potts and Marion Morra. They carry on the Heritage Tree tradition started by their sister, the late Mollie Donovan, nearly 40 years ago. The tree is sponsored by the Westport Historical Society.

Katherine Ross’ pine cone.

So don’t just drive by the Christmas tree outside Town Hall. Drive up, walk inside, and admire the Heritage Tree too.

Happy holidays!

Nina Bentley’s glass ornament.

 

Drew Friedman: One In Half A Million

Drew Friedman was a pillar of downtown Westport. A major landowner, a founder of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association and landlord of restaurants like Onion Alley, Bobby Q’s and Acqua, he influenced much of Main Street.

His holdings once included the original Westport Public Library building on the Post Road between Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza (now Starbucks and Freshii). He also owned Post Road property beyond downtown. And was a presence in Weston too, as the owner of Cobb’s Mill Inn.

He died in February 2016, at 86.

Drew Friedman and his wife Laura Papallo Friedman, at Cobb’s Mill Inn. (Photo/Patricia Gay)

Now Friedman is back in the news.

In his will, he left $500,000 to set up a “Drew Friedman Community Arts Center.”

But it’s not a place.

It’s a foundation.

Friedman’s former business partner Nick Visconti asked artist/photographer Miggs Burroughs — whose “Tunnel Vision” project is installed next to and across from some of Friedman’s former properties — and Visconti’s sister Louise Fusco to join him on the foundation board.

Their mission is to give $50,000 a year to one or more worthy artists and/or arts organizations and activities in Westport or Weston.

Nick Visconti, MIggs Burroughs and Louise Fusco announce the fulfillment of Drew Friedman’s dream.

So far, money has gone to Homes With Hope, CLASP Homes, the Westport Arts Center and Westport Historical Society. It will help fund art classes and activities for under-served students and young adults. This spring, an art exhibit will showcase all their work.

In addition, the foundation will award 2 scholarships, of $7,500 each, so high school students with need can attend an arts college, or art classes at a community college.

A special gala at the Westport Woman’s Club on May 17 will celebrate the arts program — and artists’ — great accomplishments.

Though not an artist himself, Friedman married one. His wife Bobbie created memorable works of art on canvas, and in clay and bronze, in a beautiful studio he built at their Westport home.

Now Bobby Q’s, Acqua and Cobb’s Mill are all gone.

So are Drew and Bobbie Friedman.

But thanks to his generosity and foresight, the arts — and artists — in Westport and Weston will live on for years.

(Candidates for Drew Friedman Community Arts Center scholarships should click here for more information.)

Remembering Ted Simons

Ted Simons’ death this week was a loss to the musical world.

It was a loss to Westport as well.

The 84-year-old longtime resident was a Broadway, television, film and cabaret musical director, composer and arranger. He created shows and films for more than 100 companies, including IBM, GE, Ford and Procter & Gamble.

He composed music for “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Anything Goes.” He worked on the Miss America Pageant, “Hullabaloo,” and TV specials with Barbra Streisand, Ethel Merman and Paul Anka.

Simons was a conductor and arranger for Bob Hope, Roberta Peters, the Four  Seasons, Shari Lewis, Leslie Uggams, Julius La Rosa and many others. He was the orchestra leader at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.

Ted Simons

But he was just as active in Westport. Never one to turn down a request, he volunteered as musical director and conductor for many school shows, at Greens Farms Academy, and with the Y’s Men’s Hoot Owls singing group.

In 2009 the Senior Center honored him with a lifetime achievement award, for all he’d done for his community.

Buell Neidlinger — who grew up in Westport in the 1940s and ’50s, and is a very accomplished musician in his own right — worked on recording sessions with Simons.

“He was the consummate — maybe the most artistically able — producer/director of what we used to call ‘Big Splash TV,” Neidlinger — who now lives in Washington state — recalls.

“You don’t see those shows much anymore, on account of the expense. Some guys in his position were vicious. But he was the nicest and kindest guy.”

Working on “The Producers” with Simons was, Neidlinger says, “unbridled hilarity. Ted knew just how to respond to Mel Brooks’ constant interrupting joking. He kept everyone laughing Mel liked that! At the same time he kept the music going onto the tape — the producers liked that! It was quite a feat.”

There will be no funeral service. Instead, he asked, “Please sing or play a chorus of George Gershwin’s ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me,’ in a slow tempo.”

Friday Flashback #69

Stevan Dohanos is best known for his 123 Saturday Evening Post covers.

But the Westport illustrator was also a noted US stamp artist. He designed several dozen — the number varies, according to who’s counting — honoring a wide range of subjects, including American presidents, NATO and the statehoods of Alaska and Hawaii.

Dohanos also created Christmas stamps. In 1989, Westport served as that year’s official “first day of issue” post office.

Dohanos’ other holiday stamps ranged from the classical, like this 1969 scene …

… to the playful, like this in 1970…

… to the religious, in 1975:

Of course, Dohanos drew holiday scenes for the Saturday Evening Post too. This cover — from December 13, 1947 — is called “Rural Post Office at Christmas.” (The sign says “Georgetown.”)

As chair of the Stamp Advisory Committee, Dohanos oversaw the art design of more than 300 stamps. He was appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, and served under 7 presidents.

Stevan Dohanos died on July 4, 1994, at his Westport home. He was 87 years old.

(Hat tip: Paul Ehrismann)

Connect-Us Links Youth With MLK’s Dream

It’s quite a bit early to think about Martin Luther King Day.

Unless you’re Connect-Us.

That’s the Bridgeport-based, Westport-supported organization offering after-school opportunities for youngsters in need.

Connect-Us programs have 3 prongs.

Youth Leadership Team members learn public speaking, community organizing, and related skills. Over 100 young people auditioned for the team’s first talent show, which drew an audience of more than 450 in October.

Connect-Us Youth Leadership Team members promote a recent talent show.

C-U Onstage is a place where young people meet, create, produce performances, and learn to work as an ensemble. For some, it’s the first chance to earn community praise.

Connect-Us Academy is a 14-week series of workshops at companies throughout Fairfield County. Professional mentors — including Westporters Charlie Adams, Arlene Doherty and Deb Sawch — help teenagers learn about finance, law, advertising, retail, health and education administration. Graduates of the program are placed in paid summer internships.

“There’s a state of emergency in Bridgeport,” says Connect-Us executive director Pam Lewis. “The average 9th grader reads at a 4th grade level.”

She is gratified that so many people here “understand that kids need support, in school and after school. This really is Westport and Bridgeport — caring adults and young people — coming together and harnessing our human capital to impact and support entire communities. ”

Board chair Frances Rowland, plus Doherty and Joyce Eldh — live in Westport. Business partners from Westport include Matthew Burris (CFO of Marc Fisher Footwear), Rich Eldh (managing director, Sirius Decisions) and Chris Sawch (partner, Shearwater Creek).

The Connect-Us board of directors.

So about Martin Luther King Day: Connect-Us is sponsoring a special (and free) Klein Auditorium performance. Over 150 children and teenagers — multiracial and economically diverse, from throughout Fairfield County — will sing, dance, and recite poetry and monologues and raps. They’ll also read from letters they write to Dr. King, sharing their own dreams — or (sadly) why they’ve stopped dreaming.

The Klein is an inspiring — and inspired — choice. Dr. King spoke to full houses there twice, in 1961 and ’64.

Four days after his murder, in 1968, an overflow crowd jammed the hall for a memorial service.

Lewis is excited about the upcoming event. 2018 is the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Westport youth — and anyone else — interested in performing should email plewis@connectusct.org.

This is one way to honor Dr. King. It’s also a great way to “connect” with talented youths from nearby neighborhoods, around a common dream.

FUN FACT: Connect-Us is a great name. Not only does it imply connecting “us” and the “US” — but the logo highlights “CT,” as in “connect Connecticut.”

Pic Of The Day #232

Harris Diamant’s intriguing folk art is on display at Michael Friedman’s pop-up Gallery in Bedford Square.

White Barn Property Deal Is Near

The White Barn property — once the site of Lucille Lortel’s theater, more recently rumored to be the site of 15 luxury homes — may remain undeveloped after all.

The 15.4 acre site in Norwalk’s Cranbury neighborhood — on the border of Westport — will be sold to the Norwalk Land Trust, for $5 million. If, that is, the non-profit raises that money by April 1.

Westporters have watched the long-running drama involving the property — and Lortel’s stage (which, though actually in Norwalk, used a Westport address from 1947 to 2002) — with interest.

Some hoped to save a legendary structure. Others are concerned about the environmental and aesthetic impacts of a new housing development on the wooded site.

Norwalk Land Trust is applying for a loan from the national Conservation Trust. If you’d like to help, click here.

(Hat tip: Scott Smith)

A portion of the White Barn property.

Dads And Daughters Make “Nutcracker” Sparkle

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

You know that, because this weekend “The Nutcracker” dances into town.

The Westport Academy of Dance‘s 36th annual production is set for tomorrow and Sunday (December 2 and 3) at Staples High School.

It’s an area-wide show — but Westporters figure prominently. Staples seniors Julia Rosier, Rachel Wolfe, Kelley Flynn, Jessie Parker and Izzy Chun are featured performers. They and their 120 fellow dancers began rehearsing in August.

Izzy Chun takes the spotlight.

It never gets old: This is the 12th “Nutcracker” for Julia and Rachel.

It’s also the 6th — and last — year that Rachel will dance with her dad.

In 2012, Michael volunteered for the role of “Father.” (The dance role, that is. He’d already fulfilled his biological and emotional roles.)

Michael has been all-in, doing something most fathers never think about — let alone follow through with. Two years ago, he wrote about the experience on his blog.

Michael and Rachel Wolfe.

But they’re not the only Westport father/daughter team. Jessie’s dad Greg has worked backstage for 7 years. Like Michael, he wanted to do what he could to share his then-little girl’s passion.

Everyone knows “The Nutcracker” story. But there are always stories behind the story.

For the final time this weekend, Michael Wolfe and Greg Parker will enjoy theirs.

(“The Nutcracker” will be performed tomorrow [Saturday, December 2] at 3 and 7 p.m., and Sunday, December 3 at 2 p.m. Click here for tickets.)

Adam Kaplan’s Bronx Tale

What’s a nice Jewish boy from Westport doing in 2017 with an Italian-American Bronx teenager during the 1960s?

Acting.

On Broadway.

Adam Kaplan — the 2008 Staples High School grad whose post-Players career includes starring roles in “Kinky Boots” and “Newsies” — has a new gig. He recently took over as Calogero, the narrator/lead in “A Bronx Tale.”

It might seem that playing a scrappy Italian city kid is a stretch for a boy from the ‘burbs. (And one who went on to major in musical theater at North Carolina’s Elon University.)

But, he says, his character is “eager, wide-eyed, willing to learn and make something of his life.” Those, Kaplan adds, are traits “any aspiring performer can relate to.”

Adam Kaplan and “A Bronx Tale” dance captain Brittany Conigatti.

The Westporter may no longer be “aspiring.” Following his 2 roles in “Newsies” — plus nearly 40 performances as understudy for lead Jack Kelly — Kaplan moved to Los Angeles for television work.

He had just finished a guest role on ABC’s “Deception” when “Bronx Tale”‘s casting director called. Several whirlwind trips to New York later, he got the job.

Two days later — on October 18 — Kaplan began intensive rehearsals. His first show was November 9.

Joining the cast of an established show is very different from signing on at the start. Rather than discovering elements together with the rest of the cast, Kaplan says, “everyone already has their rhythm. My job is not to disrupt it.”

His goal is to “take the audience on a 2-hour journey, and tell this story truthfully.”

Opening night was special. Family and friends were in the audience. “I walked on stage, and got entrance applause,” Kaplan recalls. “That was sweet!”

It’s been a great gig. Writer Chazz Palminteri — who based the show partly on his own childhood — has been “a great springboard, and very complimentary. He came with a full notebook, ready to take notes about me. But he only had a few.”

As a teenager on the Staples stage, Kaplan always dreamed of Broadway. Now — playing the lead again, in his 2nd show — it all seems “surreal and crazy.”

A few years ago, Kaplan read actors’ interviews on Broadway.com. Now he’s the interviewee. (He also finished 10th in the voting for the site’s Sexiest Man Alive contest.)

A screenshot of Adam Kaplan’s Broadway.com interview.

Broadway, he says with a hint of surprise, “actually is all it’s cracked up to be.” There are perks like singing at a Brooklyn Nets games, and the honor of greeting Westport fans — those he knows, and those he meets for the first time — at the stage door after a show.

Though Kaplan starred in a wide range of Staples Players roles — “Romeo and Juliet,” “Children of Eden,” “Diary of Anne Frank” —  he was never in a rough-and-tumble production like his 2 Broadway hits.

This fall’s Players mainstage was “Newsies.” Unfortunately, the “Bronx Tale” schedule prevented Kaplan from seeing his alma mater’s spectacular rendition.

He saw photos of it, though. He forwarded them along to actors who’d worked on the show with him.

“They were shocked,” Kaplan reports. “They couldn’t believe that was my school, doing it like Broadway.”

That’s quite a Bronx Westport tale.

Justin Paul’s Next Oscar: P.T. Barnum?

2017 was quite a year for Justin Paul.

The 2003 Staples High School grad and his music writing partner, Benj Pasek, won an Oscar for “La La Land”‘s lyrics, and a Tony for “Dear Evan Hansen.”

The year is almost over. But the insanely talented duo have an ace up their sleeve:

P.T. Barnum.

Pasek and Paul contributed 11 original songs to “The Greatest Showman.” The 20th Century Fox film premieres December 20.

The Hollywood Reporter says they’ll be Oscar contenders — along with the likes of “Beauty and the Beast” (by Alan Menken and Tim Rice) and Sara Bareilles’ “Battle of the Sexes.”

Justin Paul at the Oscars.

The other day, Pasek and Paul took time out from rehearsals of Fox TV’s live musical “A Christmas Story” (December 17, with Maya Rudolph and Matthew Broderick — no, they never stop working) to talk to the Reporter.

Asked about “pushing the limits” with Hugh Jackman, Paul said:

We were, of course, intimidated because he’s such a master of musical theater, especially onscreen. But we were also inspired to write for a lead character that will be portrayed by Hugh, with all of his abilities and his vocal range and everything. It gives a songwriter such clear parameters of the playground, and with Hugh, it’s a really big one.

As for lessons learned from “La La Land,” he noted:

We view this as a window of time. Maybe it lasts for a while and maybe it doesn’t. The winds seem to shift sometimes, and we’ve obviously seen periods where people have really embraced musicals and periods where it’s really fallen out. But there are people who aren’t necessarily Broadway fanatics like we are, who still want to see a musical on Christmas with their families.

The former Staples Player and Orphenian star is no longer on stage. He explained:

As for all the [awards season] events, we definitely feel funny getting dressed up for something because we’re intentionally behind the scenes. There’s such a humbling neurosis that goes along with writing because no matter what you’ve done, the next time you go to write a song, you’re standing at a piano and there’s a high probability that you’ve struck out the first time you try, no matter what. That will never change.

(Click here to read the entire Hollywood Reporter interview.)