Category Archives: Entertainment

Sing Your (A Cappella) Songs!

In 2016, Danielle Merlis created Westport’s first cello camp.

Danielle Merlis

The award-winning musician — who was initially inspired at Long Lots Elementary School, earned first chair honors in the Staples High orchestra, and went on to perform with Chris Brubeck and the Eagles, at venues like Lincoln Center — wanted to give back to the community that gave her so much.

It was an instant success.

Three years ago, she added a summer a cappella camp. It includes vocal technique, beatboxing, ensemble skills and choreography.

Now there’s a winter and spring workshop too.

Starting February 2 and running through April 26 at the United Methodist Church, the camp — for students in grades 4 to 12 — will help them “shake off daily school stress and experience the joy of singing with friends,” Merlis says.

Each week will include a cappella ensemble coaching, beat-boxing masterclasses, vocal improvisation, solo technique and choreography. It ends with a final concert for friends and family.

Typical performances include A-ha’s “Take on Me,” Pentatonix’s “Take Me Home,” “Kendrick/Timberlake’s “True Colors” and One Republic’s “I Did.”

All vocal skill levels and ranges are welcome. Merlis believe that singing should be fun, so she promotes a “supportive, positive, non-competitive” atmosphere.

Sounds good to me!

(For more information on Camp A Cappella, click here.)

3 Million Records — In Westport?

A few days ago, the New York Times ran a story about the Archive of Contemporary Music. The non-profit houses one of the world’s largest collections of popular music: over 3 million recordings, plus music books, memorabilia and press kids.

There are “shelves upon shelves upon shelves of vinyl records and CDs, signed Johnny Cash records… boxes of big band recordings, world music and jazz and original soundtracks.”

Keith Richards

It also holds the bulk of Keith Richards’ famed blues collection. (He’s on the board of advisers.)

But rising TriBeCa rents are forcing the mammoth collection elsewhere. They’ve got until June to find a new space.

Nile Rodgers —  the record producer and co-founder of the band Chic — is also on the Archive’s board.

Which raises an intriguing idea, first proposed by alert “06880” reader Jeff Mitchell. With those 2 luminaries so involved — and living in Westport and Weston, along with other great recording artists like Michael Bolton and Jose Feliciano, not to mention our long musical history of legendary concerts from Bo Diddley to the Doors; REO Speedwagon writing 157 Riverside about their time here; Johnny Winter and Joe Cocker recording and rehearsing in Westport — why not invite the Archive of Contemporary Music to set up shop here?

I’m (semi) serious. We already have a Museum of Contemporary Art (formerly the Westport Arts Center). a Westport Museum for History and Culture (most recently the Westport Historical Society), plus the Westport Country Playhouse (unchanged after 90 years). This would be one more cultural attraction.

Where would they go? That’s for wiser heads than mine to decide. But we do have an unused building sitting smack in the middle of Baron’s South.

And we keep talking about all those vacant stores on Main Street…

New home of the Archive of Contemporary Music? (Photos/Chip Stephens)

Ten Minutes With Brian Kelsey

The history of late night TV talk show hosts is — well, pretty similar.

From Jack Paar and Johnny Carson through Jay Leno, David Letterman, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon, guys* sit behind a desk. There’s a comfortable chair or sofa, an interesting backdrop, and (hopefully) interesting guests.

Zach Galifianakis broke the mold a bit. “Between Two Ferns” is a cult classic, available online.

If you liked his deliberately goofy approach — think early days of public access TV — you’ll love “Ten Minutes With.”

It too is on YouTube — not network TV. The set makes even the two ferns look lavish (guests sit in a lawn chair).

And it’s produced right here in Westport.

In Brian Kelsey’s garage.

Though he’s mined fellow Westporters as guests — CNN’s Alisyn Camerota and actress Stephanie Szostak — he also snagged singer Gino Vanelli (“I Just Wanna Stop”), en route from a show in Fairfield to the airport.

Stephanie Szostak and Brian Kelsey, on “Ten Minutes With.”

Sure, “Two Ferns” got President Obama. Just give “Ten Minutes” time.

Despite the home-grown nature of the show — Kelsey built the set himself, wrote and recorded the theme music, runs 7 cameras and adds all the sound effects — he is no Trevor Noah wannabe.

Kelsey has spent his career both in front of and behind cameras and mics. He’s done New York radio; has a thriving YouTube channel, focusing on do-it-yourself home renovations; hosted Martha Stewart’s Sirius show; did voice-overs, and works full-time as video senior editor/producer for a financial services firm.

He had the equipment. He had the background. He had the garage (and lawn chair). He built the set (a plain desk with a rotary phone; behind it, a generic city photo).

Brian Kelsey, on set. Yes, that’s his washing machine on the left.

All he needed was guests — and selling them on the idea.

This being Westport, he has contacts up the wazoo. And the format is perfect.

Guests drive over to his Cross Highway home. His assistant. Pete Scifo, lifts up the garage door. Kelsey offers a coffee (or beer). They chat for — literally — 10 minutes. Then Camerota is on to her next CNN spot, Szostak films her next movie, Vanelli does his next gig, whatever. It could not be simpler.

The banter is like most talk shows: some fluff, some substance. Kelsey probes into each guest’s work and life.

A regular feature: Kelsey reads rejection letters he’s gotten from potential guests (usually, their agents).

The garage door, leading to the “Ten Minutes With” set.

YouTube is driven by algorithms. So when a guest links to “Ten Minutes With” on their own social media, views spike — and YouTube recommends it to more people.

Next up: NBC news anchor (and Westporter) Craig Melvin.

Kelsey — who is also a drummer — has a soft spot for musicians. Among the guests he’d like to snag: Michael Bolton, Nile Rodgers and Chris Frantz of Talking Heads.

So if any of you guys are reading this: Call Brian Kelsey.

The lawn chair in his garage is waiting.

*Notice a gender pattern?

(Click here for the Ten Minutes With homepage.)

Senor Salsa Says Adios

Add another closing to the list.

An “06880” reader reports that there are “no tables, chairs, booths or counters.” Repeated phone calls to the Post Road West restaurant yields only busy signals.

Sounds like a wrap.

Actually, it’s now closed.

And — though this is a Norwalk closing — it’s worth noting: The Garden Cinema‘s last picture show was last night.

[UPDATE] Rid Your Yard Of Deer. Eat Well For A Long Time, Too.

[UPDATE] Reader Amy Ancel points out that bow hunting is illegal in Westport. However, it is legal in other towns — with a permit.

Brian Burns is a 1994 graduate of Staples High School, where he starred on a state championship soccer tam. Now living nearly 300 miles north, in Calais, Vermont, he builds furniture and plays bluegrass guitar. He and his wife Dillon have 2 sons, Sarge (14) and Dewey (13).

In his free time, Brian is a bow hunter. Surprisingly, it takes serious effort — and luck — to find deer in northern Vermont. However, when visiting family here, he sees them everywhere. 

So — knowing how much homeowners here hate deer — Brian has an offer. He writes:

I hope to find Fairfield County landowners who will let me bow hunt deer on their property.

I am a very safe, ethical, quiet and responsible hunter. I’ll happily share as much venison with you as you’d like.

Typical deer hunting hours are the 90 minutes surrounding sunrise and sunset.

Bow hunting is a close range pursuit. Most shots are within 20 yards, from an elevated position, so arrow flight is short and very controlled.

Bow hunting

Ideally, properties would be 3 acres or more (the bigger the better!), and have deer on them during daylight hours.

Archery season for private land in Fairfield County starts September 15 and runs through the end of January. I’m able to get down there a few days each year.

Connecticut regulations require landowners to sign a consent form each year. I can supply that for anyone interested.

I hope to get down this January to give it a try. Please contact me (bbrianburns@aol.com) if you are interested.

Thank you so much. Happy holidays!

06880 (Dan) and 06883 (Jose) Wish You A Merry Christmas

Have A Holly Jolly Johnny Marks Christmas

The list of famous Westporters is vast and well-known. Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Rodney Dangerfield, Bette Davis, Michael Douglas, Rod Serling, Martha Stewart, Harvey Weinstein, Michael Bolton, Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor, Robert Ludlum, Jim Nantz, Harry Reasoner, Meat Loaf, Nile Rodgers, Neil Sedaka, Frank Deford, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Lindbergh, Fiorello La Guardia, James Comey — and those are only a few.

So why do we never mention Johnny Marks?

This Christmas, it’s appropriate to remember the man who for many years had a home on Green Acre Lane, off South Compo.

He died in 1985 from complications of diabetes. His son still lives here.

Johnny Marks

Marks wrote “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” — the classic tune that, since its first release by Gene Autry in 1949, has sold nearly 200 million records.

That was just the start. Marks formed his own publishing company — St. Nicholas Music — and churned out a slew of other Christmas classics: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Run, Rudolph, Run” and “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” among them.

Not bad for a Jewish kid from Mount Vernon, New York.

I’ve tried to find some information on Marks’ life in Westport. It’s hard to come by.

If you remember him, click “Comments” below.

If you’ve got stories of how his songs impacted your life, you can add those too.

Let’s not forget Johnny Marks. He’ll go down in history!

A Carol Crawl Through Saugatuck

The Staples Orphenians can’t do pub crawls.

They’re still in high school.

So this Saturday (December 21) they’ll do the next best — no, an even better — thing:

A Caroling Crawl.

From 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., some of our town’s finest singers will entertain diners in Saugatuck.

A scene from last year’s Caroling Crawl.

They start at the Boathouse. Then it’s on to Parker Mansion, Kawa Ni, The Whelk, Tutti’s and the Black Duck.

The 6 — Claire Baylis, Brody Braunstein, Maddy Fass, Anna Maria Fernandez, Courtney Hoile and Tomaso Scotti — head next to Tarantino, Harvest, Romanacci Express and Tarry Lodge, before ending at Match Burger Lobster, Rizzuto’s, Viva Zapata and Dunville’s.

The 2nd annual Orphenians event is sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce. It’s part of their “Eat Local” campaign.

But no matter what you order at any of those 14 restaurants on Saturday, the Orphenians are icing on the cake.

Playhouse Presents New Twists On Old Classics

This time of year, we’re bombarded by “Nutcracker” news. Every ballet school in the county state country world universe multiverse produces the Christmas classic. It takes a lot to cut through the clutter.

Lila Doromal does.

The 5th grader attends Pierrepont School in Westport. On December 22 and 23, she’ll take the Westport Country Playhouse stage to dance the role of Clara (also called Marie).

Most people know Clara as Caucasian. In fact, the whole world of ballet is largely white.

But recently the New York City Ballet made headlines by casting their first African American Clara/Marie.

Now the Playhouse is breaking barriers too.

Lila is Indian and Filipino. She studies at the Greenwich Conservatory of Classical Ballet (and with the Bolshoi Ballet Summer Intensive). At Pierrepont she takes modern and West African dance.

Her fellow Greenwich Conservatory dancers — and guest artists from, among others, New York Dance Theater and the European School of Ballet– are presenting the WCP show.

Lila Doromal (Photo/Daniel Hernandez @TalemeStudio)

It’s set for Sunday, December 22 (4 p.m.) and Monday, December 23 (12:30 and 3:30 p.m.). Click here for tickets to this groundbreaking — and not-like-all-the-others — “Nutcracker.”

Meanwhile, the Westport Country Playhouse is gearing up for another holiday treat — with another hometown twist.

This Saturday (December 14, 7 p.m.), their Holiday Benefit Concert features Clay Singer.

The 2013 Staples High School grad, who starred in many Players shows, is well known to Playhouse fans. He appeared last year in “Man of La Mancha”; the year before, he went on with 2 hours’ notice in “Romeo and Juliet.”

Clay Singer

Clay earned a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University, and is now an Equity professional.

He loves appearing on his “local” stage, before audiences filled with family and friends. They provide him with special energy, he says.

Everyone who performs at the Playhouse knows its history — but having grown up in Westport, realizing he is following in the literal footsteps of giants like James Earl Jones, Gene Wilder, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, adds special meaning.

The show is hosted by Tony Award winner (and Fairfield resident) Joanna Gleason, and includes other Playhouse favorites. They’ll perform a variety of old and new holiday favorites.

For tickets and more information, click here. Click here for a bonus Broadway World interview with Joanna Gleason, about the show.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

In the holiday spirit, there was music a-plenty downtown today.

The Staples High School Orphenians sang outside the Pop’TArt gallery …

(Photo/Mark Yurkiw)

… while across Main Street, the Suzuki School of Music played in front of Anthropologie.

(Photo/Mark Jacobs)