Category Archives: Entertainment

Daphne Baker Gets Chopped!

Daphne Baker is an 8th grader at Bedford Middle School. A typical 13-year-old, she loves hanging with friends, shopping, playing field hockey — and cooking.

That latter activity makes her a bit atypical. Tomorrow (Tuesday, January 10, 8 pm EST), she appears on Food Network’s “Chopped Junior.”

Daphne Baker on the set of "Chopped Junior" ...

Daphne Baker on the set of “Chopped Junior” …

Her episode is called “Pinwheel Meals.” According to the website:

In the appetizer round, the young cooks get to find out if bok choy tastes better with bacon. An old-fashioned “pinwheel” protein stirs things up in the entree round. And cottage cheese for dessert? The junior chefs attempt to find a place for it in their final plates. Actress Maia Mitchell and chefs Marc Murphy and Luke Thomas serve as judges.

Yum!

A longtime fan of the show, Daphne went through an arduous audition process. She sent in photos and videos of her cooking, then went through a series of phone and Skype interviews.

Four months later, she was selected for taping at The Chelsea Market.

The experience was “tons of fun,” Daphne says. And though the show is a contest, she became good friends with her 3 competitors.

... and opening her box of ingredients.

… and opening her box of ingredients.

The show was also a great exercise in making quick decisions, and executing with focus under pressure. “The process was probably more stressful for me than for Daphne,” admits her mother, Roma Tretiak.

“But she went in there with a positive attitude, and left with it too — enriched by the experience.”

Of course, confidentiality agreements prevent Daphne from telling us how she did. You’ll just have to see for yourself.

Perhaps curled up in front of the TV, with some bok choy and cottage cheese.

Justin Paul: Golden Globe Winner!

Justin Paul — the 2003 Staples High School graduate who, with his songwriting partner Benj Pasek, has taken both Broadway and Hollywood by storm — began 2017 the same way he ended 2016: with raves from critics and fans.

A few minutes ago in Beverly Hills, the duo earned a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song in a movie. The winner was “City of Stars,” from the hit film “La La Land.” Pasek and Paul wrote the lyrics; Justin Hurwitz wrote the music.

Paul did the honors, giving the acceptance speech.

Justin Paul (left) and Benj Pasek, moments after learning they'd won a Golden Globe for writing the lyrics to "La La Land."

Justin Paul (left) and Benj Pasek, moments after learning they’d won a Golden Globe for writing the lyrics to “La La Land.” (Photo/Rhonda Paul)

The Oscar nominees are not yet out. However, Pasek and Paul’s latest award gives them a leg up in that race.

And, of course, there are the Tony Awards in June. Perhaps you’ve heard of the songwriters’ other little project, “Dear Evan Hansen”?

(Hat tip: David Roth)

SlamJam Helps Teens Be Kind, Fight Bullies

For a few months now, the Westport Arts Center’s “MORE Than Words” exhibit has highlighted the importance of courage, resilience and empowerment in the face of bullying.

It’s emboldened a variety of voices to speak out about the positive effects of empathy and kindness, and the negative results of exclusion.

No one knows that subject better than teenagers. On January 29, their voices will be heard — loud and clear.

SlamJam (5 p.m., Westport Country Playhouse) is an evening of performances by Fairfield County teens. They’ll express how they feel about their stressful social world, and promote a kinder, more inclusive community.

Songs, spoken word, rap, dance, music and film are some of the performance art genres on tap. Performers will come from Westport and area towns — including students from Bridgeport’s All-Star Project and Neighborhood Studios.

The emcee is Ceez Liive. The very cool poetry slam-winning artist from the Bronx performed at Staples a few years ago to great acclaim. Check her out below:

The event is produced by SKATEmovement. The acronym stands for Spreading Kindness and Teaching Empathy — an anti-bullying organization that teaches teens to be role models for younger children. All proceeds go to the Southern Connecticut branch of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

These are our teenagers. They have plenty to say.

And very creative, powerful ways of saying it.

(SlamJam is appropriate for middle schoolers and up. Tickets are $40 for adults, $20 for students and seniors. Click here to order. For $150 VIP seating, including pre- and post-show events, call 203-227-4177.)

slamjam

Jersey And Walden Rock Broadway

The Milwe name is well known in Westport.

Sid and Bea were longtime political activists. Alison Milwe Grace is a noted caterer, and much-admired culinary teacher at Staples High School. Many family members still live here.

After graduating from Staples in 1985, Cindy Milwe moved to California. She now teaches middle and high school English in Santa Monica. But her sons are making quite a name for themselves. They’re both on Broadway — in the cast of “School of Rock: The Musical.”

school-of-rock-logo

Plenty of Westporters have seen the pulsating Andrew Lloyd Webber smash. But they might not have known they were watching a pair of Milwes. The boys — Jersey and Walden Sullivan — use their father’s last name.

Yet their Westport connection is strong. The town where so many relatives live is just a train ride away from New York. It’s nice to come here. Eight performances a week is never easy.

Particularly when you’re just 12 and 9 years old.

Jersey was the first to join the cast. He’s loved music since he was 2, and for years took lessons through School of Rock — the similarly-named-but-unconnected music education program (a franchise is in Fairfield). Jersey joined the West L.A. house band. He was 10 years old, and life was good.

Jersey Sullivan

Jersey Sullivan

In the summer of 2015, Cindy and Tom heard about a casting call for the upcoming Broadway production. Jersey didn’t think of himself as a “theater kid,” but he loved the music. He figured, what the heck?

Tom sent a YouTube video of Jersey playing guitar and drums, and singing. The casting director liked it so much, he asked Jersey to fly to New York — the very next day.

The family had already planned to be in Westport the following week. While here, they learned Jersey had landed a role in the ensemble: James, the “security guard”. He’d also understudy for 2 actors: Zack  (the guitarist) and Freddie (the drummer).

More than a year later, Jersey is 1 of only 2 original cast members left. Since Walden joined the show last fall, they’re also the only brother act.

Walden’s the true “theater kid” in the family. He’s played the piano, sung and danced since he was 4.

Walden always wondered why his non-theater brother got to be on Broadway. He actually auditioned at the same time Jersey did — the producers may have just humored the 7-year-old — but when the original Lawrence (the keyboardist) got too big for the part, Walden was asked to audition again.

Another kid got the nod.

Walden Sullivan

Walden Sullivan

Yet Walden was called back last summer. He started rehearsing in October, and made his debut November 7.

The road to Broadway was not easy. Jersey was unsure about leaving his family (including an older sister), friends — and his band — behind.

Tom — a copywriter and marketer — got a furnished apartment on the Upper West Side. The lease was 6 months.

Jersey loved his new gig. He quickly bonded with the cast. They eat together often, and have sleepovers.

Jersey  was playing with rock stars — including Stevie Nicks and Slash — and was actually a rock star himself. He performed with Lin Manuel Miranda; appeared on “The Today Show,” “The View” and the Tony Awards, and rode on a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

When his brother joined the cast, he was happy to stay on.

“It’s a blast,” Jersey says. “The music is a lot of fun. I’ve made lifelong friends. And I learned I could move across the country, and succeed in a new environment.”

He’s also learned how to adapt to Broadway. A few times, he’s had just 15 minutes’ notice to prepare himself for one of his 2 lead roles.

Walden adds, “The best part is meeting new people, and getting to perform.”

Of course, he admits, he was nervous on opening night. But he got good advice — “If you make a mistake, don’t worry” — and ever since, he’s been rockin’ the house.

The Broadway house.

The other day, the cast of “School of Rock” — including Jersey and Walden Sullivan — joined a “Good Morning America” Andrew Lloyd Webber mashup tribute:

Jake Bernard’s “City Of Love”

Jake Yarmoff is a singer/songwriter. So it’s not surprising that he cites Alice Lipson as a major influence. At Staples High School — from which he graduated in 2010 — the choral teacher helped him hone his smooth sound.

But he also was mentored by English instructor Julia McNamee. “She woke me up my last 2 years there, ” Yarmoff — who now goes by the easier-to-remember name Jake Bernard — says. “She taught me to be harder on myself, and made me the writer I am.”

Jake Bernard

Jake Bernard

Even math teacher Lenny Klein made an impact. “His policy of total honesty and great sense of humor were so important,” Bernard says. “He’s all about taking your work seriously — but not yourself.”

With that background, it’s not too surprising that at Penn State the aspiring entertainer majored in … finance. And minored in sociology.

He interned with Vanguard after junior year, then joined the investment firm full-time in financial sales at its Philadelphia headquarters. Bernard calls Vanguard “a great company, and a fantastic experience.” But he left 8 months ago.

“I knew I had somewhere else to be,” he says simply.

That “somewhere else” was metaphorical — not physical. He remained in Philly, and dedicated himself to his musical craft.

“My goal in my career is to have a positive impact — to inspire and give ‘wow’ moments, like other musicians have for me,” Bernard says.

“I want to make people smile, laugh and be their full selves. Ever since I was little, in every interaction with people — even outside of music — that’s been my aim.”

So Bernard wrote songs. He played. And he’s been in the studio, recording a series of singles he’ll release over the coming months.

Right now, “City of Love” is getting a lot of attention. And love.

It’s a 2-way street. Bernard has come to appreciate Philadelphia — a place that, growing up in Westport, he never really thought of — for its small-town-in-a-big-city vibe.

It took several months to get the tune right. But it — and a music video that shows Bernard singing and playing in some of Philadelphia’s most iconic spots (yes, of course including the “Rocky” steps!) — is a catchy, compelling love song to his adopted city.

Bernard knows that — musically speaking — the City of (Brotherly) Love is not in the same league as New York, Los Angeles, Nashville or Austin. It does have a lively hip hop, rap and jazz scene.

But the “beach pop” genre that Bernard specializes in (think Jason Mraz, and Fairfield’s own John Mayer) is wide open. He hopes to fill it.

Jake Bernard, in the city he loves.

Jake Bernard, in the city he loves.

Yet he retains his Westport roots. He recently performed at Toquet Hall with Alan Southworth — a friend since orchestra at Coleytown Elementary School — and Dustin Lowman, another Staples grad on the fast musical track. Bernard has also played alongside Staples alum Drew Angus.

Jake Yarmoff loves Westport. Jake Bernard loves Philadelphia.

And both places love both Jakes right back.

Mannequin Pussy Is #3!

Beyoncé is #1. David Bowie is #2. Leonard Cohen, #4.

mannequin-pussy-romanticAnd there, nestled at #3 — on Rolling Stone reviewer Rob Sheffield’s list of the Top 20 albums of 2016 — is Mannequin Pussy’s “Romantic.”

That’s quite a coup for the bizarrely named quartet whose music NPR calls “brawny funk with a fuzzy pop streak.”

Sheffield writes of the band’s 2nd release:

“You’re my favorite but favorites always fail” is the greatest lyric in any love song this year, or at least it’s impossible to think of any others while a Mannequin Pussy song is playing. Especially since Marisa Dabice clobbers every word with her savagely funny scream.

These Philly punks won my sick heart with their 2014 debut Gypsy Pervert, but Romantic is an even hotter knife, 11 tantrums in 17 minutes, an album about self-destructive mood swings and why they’re excellent.

Favorite moment: Dabice takes a deep breath and yells, “I was miles away when you needed someone to sit on your face screaming, ‘Keep me,’ and I am not ashamed to be lonely but I’m afraid to feel it so deeply,” which takes her just nine seconds. Jesus, what an exhausting band to fall in love with.

So yeah. Mannequin Pussy is based in Philadelphia. But half of the members are from Westport.

Marisa Dabice and Thanasi Paul are 2005 Staples High School grads. They were involved in bands as they grew up here.

Marisa Dabice and Thanasi Paul (left and 2nd to left) make up half of Mannequin Pussy.

Marisa Dabice and Thanasi Paul (left and 2nd to left) make up half of Mannequin Pussy.

It hasn’t been a straight path to stardom — or at least, this very cool shoutout from Rolling Stone. They got together 6 years ago. They’ve paid their dues — and mainstream media is taking notice. You can read and listen to an NPR feature about them by clicking here.

Read all about them here too, in a lengthy interview in another music magazine, Impose.

There, Dabice was asked about the band’s unusual name.

She replied: “That’s up to you. It’s not a good story. We just are Mannequin Pussy.”

Fortunately, when she grabs a mic she conveys a lot more than that.

(Hat tip: Cathy Walsh)

 

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

It’s A Wonderful Life, Indeed!

Take out your earbuds. Move over, Spotify. You’re so old school, iTunes.

Staples students are embracing a cutting-edge new technology: radio.

But not just any radio: a 1940s-style radio drama.

WWPT_logoTomorrow (Thursday, December 22, 1 p..m.), Geno Heiter’s Audio Production class and David Roth’s Theater 3 Acting class collaborate on a radio broadcast of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

They’ll use the original 1946 script — including Lux toilet soap advertisements from that long-ago time.

Similar WWPT-FM productions have won top awards in the John Drury national high school radio competition. Check it out:

It’s a phenomenal event — and a great undertaking. High school students incorporate live drama skills, sound effects and radio production into an entertaining, uplifting performance.

You can hear it locally on 90.3 FM, or by clicking here for the livestream.

It is indeed a wonderful life!

PS: The 2016 Candlelight Concert is also available on WWPT-FM (and via livestream). It’s broadcast at random times — so keep listening!

Nile Rodgers: Booked For The Hall Of Fame

Two years ago, Nile Rodgers — the longtime Westporter/musician/ producer/ composer/arranger — received a great honor: He was the Westport Library’s “Booked for the Evening” star.

Now he’s booked on an even bigger stage. On April 7, he’ll receive the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s Award for Musical Excellence.

He’ll be in good company for the Brooklyn ceremony. Pearl Jam, Tupac Shakur, Joan Baez, Electric Light Orchestra, Journey and Yes are fellow honorees.

Nile Rodgers

Nile Rodgers

Make no mistake. Our neighbor is an impressive addition to the roster of the Rock Hall’s Music Excellence honorees — a list that includes Leon Russell, the E Street Band and Ringo Starr.

Rodgers has performed or produced for everyone from Sister Sledge (“We Are Family”) to Duran Duran, David Bowie, Madonna and Britney Spears. In 2014 — the same year he gave a rousing performance at the library — he earned Grammys for Record of the Year and Album of the Year (for Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories”).

He’s also an influential guitarist with Chic (“Le Freak”). But for the 11th time, his famed band has not made the Hall of Fame cut.

NIle Rodgers with Chic ("Le Freak") -- back in the day.

Nile Rodgers with Chic — back in the day.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Westport’s latest rock legend called the announcement — he’s in, the group’s out — “bittersweet.” Click here for the full Q-and-A, all about his Chic years and after.

Then — when you’re finished reading — let’s dance!

(Hat tip: Dick Lowenstein)

 

 

Remembering John Travers

“06880” reader Alice Horrigan writes:

A vibrant town has creative teachers and students. In the 1970s Westport was one such town, and John Travers — who died in Hollywood last month at 57 — was one of those kids.

As a young boy he loved horror movies. For Ed Clark’s 6th grade “Projected Art” class, John created an animated chess game. From then on he used film for many assignments.

There was no film program at Staples High School when John was 15. So he and Kent Hickenlooper formed their own Compo Film Center.

They made movies and held festivals at Staples, Saugatuck Congregational Church and the Seabury Center, with themes like “A Day of Comedy” and science fiction billed as “The Ultimate in Screen Horror.”

He and lifelong friend Scott Deaver turned Staples into something of an incubator for classroom filmmaking. They filmed cowboys riding horses down Main Street for “Basura del Oeste” (“Garbage of the West”), for Scott’s Spanish class, exploding blood squibs that Scott fashioned from firecrackers for realistic gunshot wounds.

They also filmed a man running for his life down the Longshore entrance, demonstrated the laws of physics with “William Tell” and arrows in science class, and shot a sci-fi fantasy about robots at Compo Beach.

John Travers, filming at Compo Beach.

John Travers, filming at Compo Beach.

John was inspired by creative people, but also faced tragedy. His father Robert, a novelist, died of cancer when John was just 14. His half-sister Mary Travers was an accomplished musician (of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary), but too busy to be close to him.

He channeled his pain and joy into filmmaking. He steadily mastered storytelling and technical aspects including lighting, photography and editing.

After graduating from Staples in 1977 John attended the University of Bridgeport, and was a finalist in the American Cinema Editors’ editing contest. He worked for Westport director Sean Cunningham (of “Friday the 13th” fame), and for local documentarians Bill Buckley and Tracy Sugarman, editing a PBS film about civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer.

His award-winning short “Jenny,” filmed at Nyala and Wakeman Farms, was screened at the 1st Fairfield County Film Festival.

A film festival poster

A film festival poster

John moved to Hollywood, and worked for legendary filmmaker Roger Corman.

John’s perfectionism and quiet ways were a blessing to his work, but at times a liability in a town where schmoozing often trumps talent.

In Los Angeles John met and dated 1976 Staples grad Alice Horrigan. They co-wrote “Conversations in Public Places,” a finalist in the Motion Picture Academy’s Nichol Screenwriting Competition. It found a producer, and would be John’s 1st feature film as a writer and director.

But just as things were looking up, John felt the producers wrecked it.

He picked up the pieces, and built a reputation as an “editor’s editor.” He worked on dozens of films, and co-produced and directed the documentary “The Resurrection of Victor Jara.” It screens at the Havana Film Festival this month.

Had Westport not provided a welcoming setting for developing his interests, he might not have had the resilience to persevere in Hollywood. Had he known he’d make an early exit — sudden death from arterial sclerosis — he might have taken time to thank his home town.

Ninth grader John Travers and his half-sister, Mary Travers.

Ninth grader John Travers and his half-sister, Mary Travers.

John is survived by nieces Alicia Travers Bonney and Erika Travers Marshall, and 2nd cousins Mary Jane Williams and Jim Duke.

A memorial service will be held at Saugatuck Congregational Church this Saturday (December 10, 1 p.m.).