Category Archives: Arts

Kindertransport Conversation Comes To Playhouse

Every day, the world loses Holocaust survivors.

In an age of rising anti-Semitism and distrust of “others,” hearing their first-hand stories is more important than ever.

Margie Treisman

Recently, Margie Treisman — a Westport Country Playhouse trustee and Anti-Defamation League national commissioner — was asked to help develop educational programming around an upcoming Playhouse production of “The Pianist of Willesden Lane,” about the Kindertransport children’s rescue.

She called Margie Lipshez-Shapiro. An ADL of Connecticut official and noted Holocaust educator, she knows almost every living survivor in the state who is willing and able to tell their tale.

Lipshez-Shapiro suggested Ivan Backer, a Kindertransport survivor who has written about his journey, and his life afterward. Backer will be at the Playhouse next Wednesday (March 29, 7 p.m.), as part of conversation called “From Hate to Hope.”

The event — sponsored by the Playhouse, ADL and TEAM Westport — is funded by the Anita Schorr “Step in and Be a Hero” Fund. Schorr — a longtime Westporter and Holocaust survivor who inspired thousands with her story of horror and hope — died last year. The event is free, but seats must be reserved by phone (203-227-4177). For more information, click here.

“The Pianist of Willesden Lane” follows a week later with a limited run at the Playhouse (April 5-9). The true story of a young musical prodigy, it intertwines the themes of family, hope and survival with piano selections by Chopin, Beethoven, Bach — even a little Gershwin. Click here for more information.

Speaking Of Bespoke Designs

For years, Shari Lebowitz visited Westport. When the time came to leave Manhattan — and her very successful interior design firm — our town’s arts, culture and strong sense of community made it a natural new home.

Her move worked out even better than she dreamed. Shari bought a home in Old Hill, made friends, found a sense of purpose, and met a fabulous man. They got married last October, in a beautiful wedding at Longshore. Their extended families enjoyed a perfect New England fall weekend.

But — you know there’s a “but” — while Shari wanted her event to be entirely local, the one thing she could not find here was wedding invitations.

Though she’d never heard of Printemps, she was looking for a place like it. Unfortunately, the all-things-stationery shop on Avery Place closed nearly 6 years ago, after 34 much-loved years in business.

The former site of Printemps.

Not long after, Shari saw a “magical” space in Sconset Square. She quickly realized it was perfect for a design studio.

The lease was available.

Bespoke Designs — the name she chose, to describe her one-of-a-kind approach to invitations, paper and engraving — is not a retail store, like Printemps was. It’s open by appointment only.

Still, she hopes her 2nd-floor studio becomes a “wonderful, warm place” where people feel welcome to stop in, talk, find unique designs, and share special events.

Shari Lebowitz, surrounded by her special designs.

“We create custom products for people who want beautiful invitations and stationery, with their own brand and identity,” Shari explains. “Place cards, monograms — it’s all personalized, high-end, bespoke.”

She notes that weddings today can be much more complex than back in the day — when, say, Printemps opened.

There are welcome dinners, pancake breakfasts, clambakes. Bespoke Designs can create a unique map of Westport, including restaurants, private homes, the church and Compo Beach.

Though weddings are big business (and, Shari points out, “a lot more people are allowed to get married now!”), she is involved in much more. She creates beautiful designs for christenings, kids’ parties, bar and bat mitzvahs, anniversaries — you name it.

She’s done her homework. She represents traditional paper brands like Crane, and has brought designers, calligraphers and hand-letterers into their network (from as far away as New Orleans). “These are people you can’t find elsewhere — or online,” Shari says.

Some will come to the studio for special events. Also in the works: calligraphy and related workshops.

Shari cites a recent Wall Street Journal story, calling ink the new status symbol. “In an age of unattractive communications, where people email and tweet and use emojis, we’ve lost the opportunity to be personal,” she says. “People are going back to pens and ink and personal notes — and they want them to be beautiful.”

Shari — who for years loved nearly everything about Westport — really loves her new venture.

She’s particularly excited about Sconset Square. Le Penguin has brought new energy to the small shopping center.

It’s right around the corner from Printemps. In many ways, what once was old is new again.

Shari Lebowitz, in her Sconset Square doorway.

Liz Hannah Goes Hollywood

Add Liz Hannah to the long list of Staples High School graduates with a major movie connection.

Liz Hannah

The 2003 graduate — who served as an assistant director for Staples Players — wrote a screenplay about the Pentagon Papers. Remember those? In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg leaked the information that the Johnson administration had bombed Cambodia and Laos, among other actions not reported in the mainstream media.

As America’s press tries to keep the current president honest, that’s a timely topic.

Steven Spielberg will direct “The Post,” Hannah’s movie about the Washington Post‘s challenge to the federal government over the paper’s right to expose the Papers.

Here’s one reason we already know “The Post” will be a smash hit. The co-stars have just been announced: Post editor Ben Bradlee will be played by Tom Hanks.

And publisher Katherine Graham?

Meryl Streep.

(Hat tips: Mark Potts and Kerry Long)

You’re In Luck: “Urinetown” Opens Soon

When David Roth and Kerry Long saw “Urinetown” on Broadway in 2001, they thought it was one of the funniest shows they’d seen. They loved the story, writing, music and choreography.

The Staples Players co-directors waited eagerly for the first chance to stage it in Westport. It came 11 years ago. Roth says it turned out to be one of the most favorite musicals that group of actors ever did. Audiences loved it too.

For the last several years, Roth has wanted to reprise “Urinetown.” Months ago, he and Long decided on it as this spring’s mainstage production.

At the time, the presidential election was far in the distance. “We had no intention of it being a political choice,” he says. “But with the current unrest in the country, the cast really understands the satire.”

The 2017 Staples Players’ “Urinetown” — which opens Friday, March 17 and runs that weekend and the next — has a very different look than the previous incarnation. There’s a completely new cast, of course, but also a new choreographer.

Jacob Leaf as Officer Lockstock, and Georgia Wright as Little Sally. (Photo/Kerry Long)

So far, the choice has lived up to the directors’ intentions. “Students are throwing themselves into creating big, bold characters,” Roth says.

“Bits we’ve watched time and again in rehearsal still make us laugh,” Long notes.

The show has “a lot of great character parts,” Roth says, providing many opportunities for actors to shine. Among them: Remy Laifer, a Players co-president (hero Bobby Strong). Previously, he’s played either socially awkward people or old men.

The musical — which won 3 Tony Awards — is set in a dystopian city. A 20-year drought has caused a terrible water shortage, making the use of private toilets unthinkable.

Public restrooms are regulated by a single mega-corporation. Anyone failing to pay is sent to a penal colony called Urinetown. A hero emerges from the poor. He’s had enough, and plans a revolution to lead all the peons (ho ho) to safety.

Charlie Zuckerman as Bobby, outside “Amenity #9.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

“‘Urinetown’ tells the story of political greed, and how corrupt governments affect the common citizen,” Laifer says. “It affirms that everyone should have a voice.”

Zoe Samuels — who plays Hope, Bobby’s love interest and daughter of the mega-corporation’s CEO — adds, “those who suffer continue to fight, because of ‘hope’ for a better future.”

Players shows often raise funds for good causes. “Urinetown” is no exception. Patrons will be given the opportunity to pay for “the privilege to pee” at intermission. Proceeds go to Water.org, an international non-profit that provides safe drinking water to millions of people.

Tickets are on sale now (see below). Act quickly. Don’t be pissed off at missing this chance for a very funny, cleverly staged show. Urine for a real treat.

PS: It’s rated “pee-gee.”

(“Urinetown” will be performed on Friday and Saturday, March 17, 18, 24 and 25, at 7:30 p.m., with a 3 p.m. matinee on Sunday, March 19. Click here for tickets. Any remaining tickets will be available at the Staples High School auditorium door 20 minutes before showtime.)

Keir Dullea’s Long Journey: From “2001” To Westport

When Keir Dullea’s obituary appears, it will read: “He was the man behind the space helmet in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.'”

That’s not me talking. That’s the star himself. He knows that despite a film, stage and TV career spanning 6 decades, he will always be remembered for the epic 1968 film directed by Stanley Kubrick.

“2001” remains a science fiction masterpiece, nearly 50 years later. On Saturday, March 25 (4 p.m., Town Hall), the Westport Cinema Initiative hosts a showing. Immediately afterward, there’s a talkback — with Dullea himself.

He’s done this sort of thing all over the world. But this is a homecoming of sorts. Dullea is a longtime Fairfield resident. In 1983 he helped found the Theater Artists Workshop here.

Keir Dullea then...

Keir Dullea then…

Dullea says Dr. David Bowman was not his greatest role (that would be “David and Lisa”). Still, he notes, “I’m very proud of it. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to ‘Citizen Kane.'”

In fact, he adds, “2001” is the “Citizen Kane” of its era. Those two are among the most studied movies in film schools everywhere.

At the talkback later this month, Dullea may be asked what it was like working with Kubrick. It’s something audiences everywhere want to know. Despite the director’s temperamental reputation, the actor said he was “kind, quiet, and always open to suggestions.”

Dullea was “in awe” during filming. Though it was already his 8th feature, he was not yet 30 when production began. He never even had to audition: Kubrick liked what he saw in “Bunny Lake is Missing,” and sought him out.

The director did not know that Dullea had grown up as a science fiction fan — and read Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Sentinel” (upon which the film was based) as a teenager.

...and now.

…and now.

The film was long on music and special effects, short on dialogue. But after all these years, Dullea still remembers a long speech he delivered to mission control. It was filled with “technical gobbledygook” — but, like “2001” itself, it remain embedded in his (and his fans’) minds half a century later.

So why does “2001” stand up, long after the actual, then-faraway year has come and gone?

“It was such a visual experience. And it covers so many aspects,” Dullea says. “The concept of evil. Existentialism.  Technology. Artificial intelligence, extraterrestrial life, and wonder about what the far future holds for us. The evolution from caveman to contemporary man, and then the fetus showing what may be the next step.

“But in the end, there are still questions. Everything is not tied together in a neat bundle.”

Those themes still resonate with audiences today. Dullea regularly gets emails and autograph requests from people born long after the film was made.

On March 25, he looks forward to seeing fans of all ages here in Westport. Even those born after 2001.

(“2001: A Space Odyssey” will be shown on Saturday, March 25, 4 p.m. at Town Hall. Tickets are $10 general admission, $8 for charter members; they’ll be available soon at www.westportcinema.org. Sponsors include the Westport Cinema Initiative, Lee Rawiszer and Paradigm Financial Partners.)

2001-a-space-odyssey

Westport Library Books Alan Alda

Some Westporters know Alan Alda for his role as Captain Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H (1972–1983). Others identify him as Arnold Vinick in The West Wing.

He was also the long-running host of Scientific American Frontiers, a TV show that explored cutting-edge advances in science and technology. He’s now a visiting professor at Stony Brook University; a founder and board member of the university’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science and the Future of Life Institute; a board member of the World Science Festival, and a judge for Math-O-Vision.

Alan Alda

Alan Alda

So it’s fitting that the multi-talented polymath will be this year’s Westport Library “Booked for the Evening” honoree. The library is one of our town’s most diverse and wide-ranging institutions, welcoming and embracing people of all ages, interests, talents and passions.

But the Westport Library is also a place for books. And Alda has just written his 3rd: If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating.

Alda joins an all-star — and very diverse — group of “Booked” honorees. Previous Westport Library Award recipients include Tom Brokaw, E.L. Doctorow, Calvin Trillin, Wendy Wasserstein, Pete Hamill, Martin Scorsese, Arthur Mitchell, Doris Kearns Goodwin, David Halberstam, Oscar Hijuelos, Adam Gopnik, Will Shortz, Patti Smith, Barry Levinson, Jon Meacham, Nile Rodgers, Lynsey Addario and Ron Chernow.

The event is set for Monday, June 5. Tickets are available May 1. To receive a mailed invitation in late April (or discuss sponsorship), email   cclark@westportlibrary.org or call 203.291.4824.

The Oscars: One More Encore

The Westport connections to “La La Land” just keep on coming.

Erik Feig

Erik Feig

In his Academy Award acceptance speech last night for Best Original Score, Justin Hurwitz — who wrote the music that Staples High School graduate Justin Paul helped pen the lyrics for — thanked Erik Feig.

He’s the president of Lionsgate’s motion picture group — and a “La La Land” production executive.

He’s also a Staples High School Class of 1988 graduate.

And … before we finish our Oscar stories (which are taking only slightly longer to post than the ceremony itself), here’s one more.

In a backstage interview last night — held while the awards were still being presented, which is why everyone spoke so quietly — Paul praised Staples Players director David Roth, and Coleytown Middle School director Ben Frimmer by name. That followed his prime-time shoutout to the arts education he received in his home town.

Click here for that video. (And scroll down — it’s the 2nd one).

The Oscars: The Sequel

“La La Land” won the Academy Award for Best Picture last night — until it didn’t.

But the old-fashioned, new-fangled musical about hopes and dreams still picked up an admirable 6 Oscars.

And — in addition to Staples High School graduate Justin Paul — there in Los Angeles to share in the glory was Westporter Joelle Berger. Her son Fred was a “La La Land” producer.

When she flew to California for the 89th annual ceremony, she did not go empty-handed.

Mom brought along a special treat: a chocolate creation of a scene from the movie, hand-crafted by Le Rouge owner Aarti Khosla.

Aarti Khosla's chocolate rendition of "La La Land."

Aarti Khosla’s chocolate rendition of “La La Land.”

Fred Berger had just finished his acceptance speech, when fellow producer Jordan Horowitz announced that, actually, “Moonlight” was the Oscar winner.

Publicly Fred, Justin and the rest of the cast were gracious winners/losers.

I have no idea what went on afterward, backstage. But hopefully they had a chance to drown their disappointment in chocolate.

Justin Paul Wins An Oscar — And Hails School Arts Programs

Justin Paul and his songwriting partner, Benj Pasek, won Oscars tonight for “City of Stars,” the signature song from “La La Land.” The lyricists were honored for another song — “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” — from the same film. So they had 40% of the category locked down.

The 2003 Staples High School graduate used part of his acceptance speech to give a shout-out to the importance of the arts for young people.

“I was educated in public schools, where arts and culture are valued,” Paul — a product of the Westport school system — said. At a time of pressure from STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) state requirements, as well as the possible elimination of the National Endowment of the Arts, Paul made sure to thank all the teachers who helped nurture him.

He did not mention them by name, but former Staples High School choral director Alice Lipson and current Staples Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long were enormous influences. So were Coleytown Middle School director Ben Frimmer, and Kevin Connors of Music Theatre of Connecticut.

Justin Paul at the Oscars.

Justin Paul at the Oscars.

Paul and Pasek’s Oscar is the latest in a string of awards for the young duo. Earlier this year, “City of Stars” earned a Golden Globe.

And that comes on the heels of the success of Broadway’s “Dear Evan Hansen,” for which they wrote the music and lyrics.

Congratulations Justin, from all your fans in Westport — this “town of stars.”

Justin Paul's Oscar acceptance speech.

Justin Paul’s Oscar acceptance speech.

Academy Awards Come To Westport

The closing of Oscar’s Delicatessen ended a great Westport tradition: the annual Oscars at Oscar’s pre-party.

But the Westport Cinema Initiative has filled the gap.

A number of local businesses have  become “polling places” for a contest. Just stop in and vote for who you think will win awards this Sunday in a variety of categories: Best Leading Actor and Actress; Best Supporting Actor and Actress; Best Director; Best Picture; Best Animated Feature; Best Documentary and Best Foreign Film.

Winners receive prizes donated by those merchants.

The contest ends this Sunday (February 26) at 4 p.m. You can vote at these locations:

  • Le Rouge by Aarti
  • iFloat
  • Francois du Pont Jewelers
  • Organachs Farm to Skin
  • Vincent Palumbo Salon
  • The Brownstone
  • Green & Tonic
  • The UPS Store
  • Downunder
  • Westport Hardware
  • Saugatuck Sweets
  • Joe’s Pizza
  • Simon Pearce
  • Body Quest
  • Soleil Toile

PS: As you enjoy the Oscars Sunday night, raise a glass in memory of Oscar’s.

Last year's pre-Oscars party at Oscar's was also deli owner Lee Papageorge's 65th birthday. His daughter Missy presented him with his very own statue. (Photo/Diane Lowman)

Last year’s pre-Oscars party at Oscar’s was also deli owner Lee Papageorge’s 65th birthday. His daughter Missy presented him with his very own statue. (Photo/Diane Lowman)