Category Archives: Entertainment

Move Over, “Hamilton.” Forget It, “Camelot.” “Dear Evan Hansen” Rocks.

“06880” could post stories every day about Justin Paul, and never run out of things to say.

We could, but we won’t.

Nevertheless, the latest news about the 2003 Staples High School graduate — who with his songwriting partner Benj Pasek is a Golden Globe winner, Oscar nominee, movie and stage and TV sensation, and basically the hottest thing on the musical theater horizon since Rodgers and Hammerstein — is pretty impressive.

The original cast recording of “Dear Evan Hansen” — a Broadway smash — debuted at #8 on the Billboard chart. That’s higher than any cast recording since 1961, when “Camelot” appeared for the 1st time at #4.

To answer your question: “Hamilton” first showed up at #12.

That’s today’s Justin Paul news. We’ll be back soon with more, for sure.

(Want your own “Dear Evan Hansen” cast recording? Click here!)

Staples: The High School That Rocked!

It’s a story so outlandish, folks who were there don’t believe it: In a 2-year period in the mid-1960s, the Doors played a concert at Staples High School.

So did Cream. The Yardbirds. Sly and the Family Stone. The Rascals. The Animals. The Beau Brummels.

Plus over the next few years, the Byrds, Rhinoceros, Buddy Miles, J. Geils,  Peter Frampton and Taj Mahal. And Steve Tallerico, before he became Steve Tyler.

I saw most of those bands. I’ve written about it, on “06880.” So has Mark Smollin, a 1970 Staples grad, in his great book The Real Rock & Roll High School: True Tales of Legendary Bands That Performed in Westport CT.

Still skeptical? Now there’s even more proof: a video documentary, called “The High School That Rocked!”

high-school-that-rocked-poster

It’s a labor of love from Fred Cantor, a 1971 Staples alum who missed most of those performances, but is now making up for lost time.

Rock has never died — witness all the young rock lovers born decades after Jim Morrison died — and Cantor enlisted the help of a very recent Staples grad to bring his vision to reality.

Casey Denton (Class of 2014) led a high-level Emerson College camera and sound crew, then edited the final prodcut.

Doors posterThe video includes research Cantor had done for Smollin’s book, and over a dozen interviews with people who were there at the concerts. (Spoiler alert: I’m one of them. Our recollections seem pretty accurate, despite the admonition that if you remember the ’60s, you weren’t there.)

Cantor focused on a 2-year period, when 6 bands now in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame all took the Staples stage. He is convinced no other high school that could make such a claim.

The video also includes Staples grads from that era who made their mark in the music world. One is Paul Gambaccini, perhaps Britain’s most famous music presenter. Another is Charlie Karp, who at 16 years old was influenced by the concerts to leave Staples and join the Buddy Miles Express. A third is Emmy winner Brian Keane.

Cantor is working with the Westport Cinema Initiative, Westport Historical Society and Levitt Pavilion, to bring “The High School That Rocked!” to a wide audience here.

He’s also entering it in festivals (film, not rock). The first is Film Fest 52 at the Bethel Cinema (Wednesday, March 8, 6 pm VIP party meet and greet, 7 pm film, followed by a Q&A and reception). It will also open the SENE Film, Music & Arts Festival in Providence on April 25.

You don’t have to have seen any of the Staples concerts — or even to have been alive then — to love this film.

But if you were there, you’ll appreciate the final credits.

They say the film was produced by “Sally’s Record Dept. Productions.”

Ginger Baker, Cream's drummer, at Staples. (Photo copyright Jeremy Ross)

Ginger Baker, Cream’s drummer, at Staples. (Photo copyright Jeremy Ross)

 

Danny Pravder And Kid Cudi Rock Jimmy Fallon

If you watched the “Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” last night, you saw Kid Cudi perform a fantastic version of “Kitchen,” backed by a full string section.

If you watched really closely, you could see Danny Pravder on piano.

Danny Pravder (right), backing King Cudi on national TV.

Danny Pravder (right), backing Kid Cudi on national TV.

The 2012 Staples High School graduate earned a B.A. in math and computer science from Skidmore College. But music is his passion.

A few weeks after graduation, he drove cross country to try to make it in L.A.

Days later, Kid Cudi needed a pianist for “Does It,” a track on his new album “Passion, Pain and Demon Slayin’.” Music director Steve Velez — who Pravder had met 2 years earlier, on a classical music tour of Vienna, Salzburg and Prague — suggested the recent arrival.

Danny Pravder

Danny Pravder

Pravder nailed it — then improvised a coda for “Releaser,” another track. A few takes later, they had the version used on the album.

That January, Pravder joined a chamber collective called the Da Capo Players. Velez is the music director and cellist for that group too.

When Kid Cudi was booked for the Jimmy Fallon gig — with those strings — Pravder was invited too. He flew to New York on Tuesday. They rehearsed that night.

There is no piano on the original “Kitchen” track. Pravder improvised, on live TV.

Though the camera focuses almost entirely on Kid Cudi, there was a brief piano solo — with a spotlight.

Danny Pravder (left) with King Cudi and members of the Da Capo Players, backstage at "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon."

Danny Pravder (left) with Kid Cudi and members of the Da Capo Players, backstage at “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.”

Today’s snowstorm delayed Pravder’s return to California. But it won’t slow down his career.

Ahead are more studio projects. A future in dance accompaniment. World travels, performing piano.

And — no doubt — many more TV appearances, with the greatest performers in the land.

(Click here to see last night’s performance of “Kitchen” with Kid Cudi and Danny Pravder.)

Zelda!

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald spent just a few months in Westport — way back in 1920.

But it made a lasting impact on their lives.

Now Netflix and Amazon Prime viewers can relive that crazy time through a new series called “Z: The Beginning of Everything.”

Christina Ricci plays Zelda, “the brilliant, beautiful Southern Belle who became the original flapper and icon of the wild, flamboyant Jazz Age.”

In episode 9, “Scott and Zelda work through rising marital tensions at their Westport house.”

Sounds interesting.

Even if it was filmed on Long Island.

Zelda today...

Zelda today…

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in front of what appears to be their Westport home.

and yesterday, with F. Scott Fitzgerald in front of their Westport home.

(Hat tips: Erica Peale and Jeff Mitchell)

Word!

It wasn’t quite curling up with the New York Times crossword.

More like racing through it, trying to beat dozens of other crossword aficionados. The grand prize: A book (about words) donated in your name to the Westport Library.

Your name on a new plaque.

And — 24 hours before the Super Bowl — the knowledge that you’re a champion in a competition using (instead of destroying) brain cells.

It happened this afternoon: the Library’s 18th annual Crossword Puzzle Contest.

Jeff Wieser was ready for the Crossword Puzzle Contest. The countdown clock is in the background. There were 3 preliminary rounds, of 20 minutes each.

Jeff Wieser was ready for the Crossword Puzzle Contest. The countdown clock is in the background. There were 3 preliminary rounds, of 20 minutes each.

I was there for the 1st time. The McManus Room was filled with fellow puzzlers. Many had come to previous contests. A few had been to every one.

Eric Maddy came all the way from Huntington Beach, California (and wore shorts). He seemed to know a lot of folks. Crossword solvers have created quite a community.

But there were plenty of familiar faces. Sitting across from me was Jeff Wieser, CEO of Homes With Hope. On my right was Alan Southworth, the 2010 Staples High grad/musician/marathon runner/crossword creator (he hopes Will Shortz will select one of his puzzles for the Times).

Will Shortz: New York Times puzzle editor, Westport Library contest host, all-around cool guy.

Will Shortz: New York Times puzzle editor, Westport Library contest host, all-around cool guy.

Shortz himself — the Times puzzle editor/NPR host/Indiana University enigmatology major — was at today’s contest too. He served as the genial, wisecracking, challenging host.

The diverse, high-energy crowd was perfect for Shortz. And he had 3 strong puzzles — a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (in ascending order of difficulty) for us.

I did not win. I did not make the cut as one of 3 finalists. I am, however, extremely proud to say that I did receive a perfect score on all 3 puzzles.

I earned a certificate for that, signed by Will Shortz himself.

A couple dozen others got certificates too. It was that kind of group.

And that kind of only-in-Westport afternoon.

PS: The 3 puzzles will be published in upcoming Times editions. Will gave us the back stories about them. One is by the youngest creator in Times history. When we heard that, no one in the room felt smart at all.

You might even call us clueless.

The 3 finalists. Andy Kravis (right) of New York City won, finishing a Friday puzzle in a blazing 4:50. Eric Maddy (center) finished 2nd. He came all the way from California -- and received ed a Westport Library tote bag in appreciation.

The 3 finalists. Andy Kravis (right) of New York City won, finishing a Friday puzzle in a blazing 4:50. Eric Maddy (center) was 2nd. He came all the way from California — and received a Westport Library tote bag in appreciation.

From now on, the winner's name will be etched on a plaque bearing the name of Howard Brody. As the

From now on, the winner’s name will be etched on a plaque honoring longtime puzzle fan Howard Brody. As the award notes, he “never had a cross word for anyone.”

Ted Thompson’s Land Of Steady Habits

Two years ago, Ted Thompson’s 1st novel was published.

“The Land of Steady Habits” follows Anders Hill. In his early 60s and seemingly comfortable in Fairfield County, he suddenly abandons his career and family for a new condo and a new life.

It doesn’t happen the way he expects, of course. But neither did Thompson’s own life.

Ted Thompson

Ted Thompson

He entered Staples High School in 1997 as a lacrosse player and skier, and left it as a writer. Writing and directing his own play there was “a hugely transformative experience,” he says.

He studied playwriting at NYU, then earned a graduate degree in creative writing from the University of Iowa.

Thompson says that growing up in Westport — with “tremendous opportunity, plenty of encouragement, terrific schools” — helped form who he is today.

And much of Westport — the house he grew up in, cookouts at Compo Beach, the way the Post Road looks in winter — found its way into “The Land of Steady Habits.”

land-of-steady-habits-ted-thompsonThe novel earned him comparisons to Updike and Cheever. Now it’s being made into a Netflix movie.

Ben Mendelsohn (“Rogue One”) plays the lead. Edie Falco (“Sopranos”) and Thomas Mann also star, while Nicole Holofcener (“Enough Said”) directs.

No word yet on when filming begins. Eventually though, it will stream right here where it all began.

In the Land of Steady Habits.

(Hat tip: Kerry Long)

 

Westporter’s “Patti Cake$” Wows Sundance

Daniela Taplin Lundberg thought “Patti Cake$” would be a hit.

Still, the Westporter was surprised by the reception her film got last week at Sundance.

The comedy — about a white female rap star in New Jersey — generated great buzz at the famed film festival; created breakout star status for lead actress Danielle McDonald, and incited a bidding war for distribution rights. Fox Searchlight snagged the prize with a $10.5 million offer, huge by Sundance standards.

Daniela Taplin Lundberg

Daniela Taplin Lundberg

Taplin Lundberg — who co-produced the film — is a Sundance veteran. She was involved in the Oscar-nominated “The Kids are Alright,” and also produced “Beasts of No Nation” and “Hello, My Name is Doris.”

But this is her first time backing a film through Stay Gold Features, which she founded.

The development of her own production company — named after a classic line from “The Outsiders” — coincided with her move to Westport a year and a half ago.

She and her husband Ted had talked for a while about leaving New York, and finding space for their 3 young kids to grow.

“It all coalesced in a nice way,” she says. “Westport felt like a relaxed, beautiful and slightly unconventional place, which is exactly what we wanted.”

Even if it’s not exactly New Jersey, with those female rap stars and all.

(Hat tip: Tricia  Freeman)

Leah Rondon’s Birthday Bash

In August 2015, Westport mourned the loss of Leah Rondon. She was struck by a car, while playing at a friend’s house.

The daughter of Bedford Middle School teacher Colleen Rondon played soccer, basketball and softball, and was the Ansonia Boys & Girls Club “Girl of the Year.” She loved reading, and proudly listed all her summer titles on the refrigerator.

She was just 6 years old.

Despite this unimaginable tragedy, Colleen’s energy and enthusiasm has not wavered. She teaches children with passion and pride.

Leah Rondon

Leah Rondon

On February 4, Leah would have been 8 years old. Her mother has created a Birthday Bash. She’s determined to make it a day of joy, not mourning.

She’s also determined to make Leah’s birthday mean something. So she and her husband — an administrator at Bridgeport’s Kolbe Cathedral High School — are growing a scholarship in Leah’s name.

The Birthday Bash this coming Saturday (February 4, 12-4 pm) features a carnival with games, crafts, face painting, raffles and entertainment. The event takes place at Kolbe Cathedral.

Performers — many of whom are from Westport and Weston — include Jamie Mann (who has performed as Billy Elliot in 60 shows from New Hampshire to Florida), Stephanie Greene, Zoe Lieberman, Claire Vocke, Brody Braunstein, Chloe Manna, Lola Lamensdorf, Cate Steinberg, Leif Edoff (8-year-old pianist), Jasper Burke, Isabelle Katz, Lucas Lieberman, the award-winning Westport Dance Center company and more.

All proceeds benefit the Leah Rondon Memorial Scholarship Fund. It’s awarded to a graduating female Kolbe Cathedral student. For more information, click here.

And if you can’t make it to Leah’s Birthday Bash but want to donate to her fund, click here — then scroll down just below “Events” in the center of the page.

One Less Reason To Visit The Westport Post Office

(Photo/JP Vellotti)

(Photo/JP Vellotti)

All’s Well With Staples Midterms

Midterm exams are stressful for high school students. In recent years, as the importance of grades — both real and imagined — has risen, so have student stress levels.

Last week at Staples, staff and administrators — prompted by Student Assembly, and supported by the Collaborative Team — addressed midterms directly. In fact, proponents noted, reducing stress can actually raise test-takers’ scores.

Guidance counselors Leslie Hammer and Bill Plunkett, physical education department chair Dave Gusitsch and others created a broad menu of “Midterm Wellness and Enrichment Activities.” Students could choose any (or none) of them during last week’s midterms.

And — tweaking the no-room-to-breathe schedule that had been in place for decades — those activities took place during a 50-minute period between each day’s 2 exams. Previously, the break was just 30 minutes.

Organizers learned that high schools and universities around the country have brought in “therapy dogs,” for students to pets. Research shows that playing with animals is a great way to relax and clear the mind.

Petting dogs has been shown to release endorphins in the brain, leading to relaxed feelings.

Petting dogs has been shown to release endorphins in the brain, leading to relaxed feelings.

The dogs were a smash. Students lined up to chill with the friendly, tail-wagging pooches. One student — whose stress sometimes caused her to have tics — said she’d never felt better in a school environment.

Some activities were physical. There was basketball and track walking in the fieldhouse; badminton and “pound fitness” (drumming) in the gym; free swim in the pool, dance in the pool lobby, and ping pong near the cafeteria. The fitness center was open for cardio, free weights and machine exercise; yoga was in a library classroom, and principal James D’Amico offered “walk and talk” sessions around the school.

Emerson Anvari chose ping pong as a way to reduce midterm stress.

Emerson Anvari chose ping pong as a way to reduce midterm stress.

Some options — liked “guided meditation” — were more mindful.

Other activities appealed to special passions. String players were invited to the orchestra room to play Mozart; Players director David Roth directed theater games, while some students played board games.

David Roth got students up and moving with theater games.

David Roth got students up and moving with theater games.

In addition, guidance counselors offered free snacks. Healthy food was on sale in the cafeteria. That was a first for midterms — and sales were brisk.

Guidance counselors provided snacks -- and positive messages from a bowl.

Guidance counselor Deb Slocum (left) and colleagues provided snacks — and positive messages from a bowl.

No one was forced to choose an activity. Some students studied in the library, or chatted with friends in the hall.

Fifty minutes between exams allowed students time to study in the library -- and relax, eat healthily and participate in activities too.

Fifty minutes between exams allowed students time to study in the library — and relax, eat healthily and participate in activities too.

Everyone seemed influenced by the environment. Early skepticism was replaced by increasing enthusiasm to try something new, day by day.

Guidance counselor Deb Slocum noted, “The entire mood of the school shifted. It was a great vibe.”

Colleague Bill Plunkett added, “There was a lot of positive energy — and plenty of smiles. Even the kids just sitting around felt relaxed.”

Not every kid got an A+ on every test.

But Staples’ newest midterm tradition passed with flying colors.

“Pound fitness” is a full-body cardio jam session, perfect for de-stressing between exams.

(Photos courtesy of Victoria Capozzi and Dave Gusitsch)