Category Archives: Entertainment

Justin Paul: It’s Showtime!

You’ve enjoyed Justin Paul’s music in Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land and The Greatest Showman.

Soon, you may see and hear it on Showtime.

The cable network just signed the 2002 Staples High School graduate and his songwriting partner, Benj Pasek, to contribute music to an as-yet-untitled musical drama.

This is no fingers-crossed concept. Executive producers include Alicia Keys, Marc Platt, Kyle Jarrow (The SpongeBob Musical), R.J. Cutler (Nashville) and Adam Siegel (Grease: Live).

Justin Paul, enjoying life. (Photo/Dan Woog)

The drama tell an emotionally complex family story, weaving between modern-day and 1959 Detroit. The plot involves a mystery uncovered by a young musician who moves back to her childhood home.

“We have always been intrigued by the prospect of doing a Showtime musical series, but only if the songs could add to the depth and complexity of a great character drama. Nobody does that better than Pasek and Paul and Marc Platt, ” says Showtime Entertainment president Gary Levine.

Pasek and Paul have already won Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards. Is an Emmy next?

Stay tuned.

(Click here for the full Hollywood Reporter story.)

Irving Berlin: Playhouse Production Is Nostalgic, Educational — And Very Relevant

It’s mid-July. But the set for the Westport Country Playhouse production of “Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” — which opened last night — evokes a snowy winter night.

(Photo/Dan Woog)

Of course. America’s greatest songwriter is well known for “White Christmas.”

Plus “God Bless America.” “Easter Parade.” “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” And many, many, many, many, more.

His life — from his birth in the Russian Empire, to his youth on the Lower East Side (he left school at 13), to Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Hollywood, with a stop in the Army, and all the ups and downs of his personal life — is told with warmth, wit and wonder.

It’s a remarkable tale. He lived to be 101 — long enough so that his copyright on “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” expired before he did.

The show is educational, entertaining and fun.

It’s also extremely timely. Berlin was an immigrant who loved his adopted country. The story behind “God Bless America” — with the Playhouse audience singing first quietly, then lustily along — gives goose bumps.

(“Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” runs through August 3. Click here for more information, and tickets.)

Get Back To The ’80s, Today And Tomorrow!

I had modest expectations for “Back to the ’80s.”

I knew Staples Players’ summer show would be fun. I figured I’d spend last night entertained and amused, by a typically high-quality Players production.

But the ’80s were 3o-plus years ago. That’s more than a decade before the high school performers were born. How much could they really “get” the music, the memories, the pop culture references?

They did more than get it. They blew the audience away.

The “Get Out Of My Dreams (Get Into My Car)” ensemble. (Photo/Kerry Long)

“Back to the ’80s” is one of the best shows you’ve never heard of.

It’s laugh-out-loud hilarious.

The reinterpretations of songs — from “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “Love Shack” to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and (especially) “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” — is eye-opening.

Colin Konstanty, Jasper Burke, Nick Rossi and Sam Mandelbaum cut loose. (Photo/Kerry Long)

And the little touches (embarrassingly short shorts on guys, bad hair on girls) bring you right back to the days of Pac-Man and David Hasselhof.

There are plenty of things to do today and tomorrow. Many of them can wait.

Make time — if you can — for “Back to the ’80s.” Bring the kids, even if they were born in the 2000s.

Only 3 performances remain: Today (Saturday, July 13, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.), and tomorrow (Sunday, July 14, 3 p.m.). Tickets are available by clicking here, or at the Staples High School auditorium.

Trust me (and Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes): You’ll have the time of your life.

Mia Kobylinkski and Charlie Zuckerman (Photo/Kerry Long)

Staples Players director David Roth does a star turn as the show’s 2019 narrator. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Labor Of Love: Blues & Views Festival Returns

Way back in 2008, Bob LeRose launched the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

The owner of popular Main Street restaurant Bobby Q’s wasn’t really sure if a downtown music-and-food event would fly.

From modest beginnings, it soared.

“Blues” expanded to funk, soul and rock. Acts like Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors, James Montgomery, Sister Sparrow, The Revivalists, Popa Chubby — and Charlie Karp — rocked the Levitt Pavilion stage.

The Levitt stage offers some of the best music anywhere.

Barbecue tastings and contests expanded from the library parking lot to the Imperial Avenue lot. Kids’ bounce houses and slides sprang up. Non-profits set up informational booths.

Thousands of visitors poured into Westport every Labor Day weekend. It was a huge event — so big, it was hard to pin down exactly what it was.

This year, organizers have one goal: Bring back the winning formula.

They’ve reduced the footprint. This year’s festival — set for August 31 and September 1 — will use the Levitt Pavilion and library parking lot only. “We’re renewing our focus on community,” organizers say.

They promise a killer music line-up, tons of family fun, interesting vendors, great food, convenient parking (including the Imperial lot), and affordable ticket prices.

They’ve also changed the name. It’s now Blues & Views — no BBQ. There may be a barbecue food truck, but the cooking competition is off the table.

However, LeRose returns as a producer. He’s joined by Westport tech entrepreneur/marketing strategist Peter Propp, and Crispin Cioe. The Blues Hall of Fame saxophonist/ songwriter/Westport resident has played and recorded with James Brown, the Rolling Stones, Solomon Burke, Tom Waits, Ray Charles and the Ohio Players, plus many others.

A high-powered steering committee of music-loving locals is helping too.

The group has partnered with 2 non-profits. Staples Tuition Grants and Wakeman Town Farm will receive a portion of the proceeds.

Planners hope to see more Westporters than ever at the 12th annual Blues Views & BBQ Festival — along with tons of visitors.

Blues Views & BBQ: a weekend for all ages. (Photos/Dan Woog)

Saturday — which focuses on New Orleans/Southern vibe music — includes the Anders Osborne Band. Sunday features funk and soul, with Brooklyn’s Lawrence as headliner.

Other performers include Jake Kulak and the Lowdown, Kat Wright, Southern Avenue, Flow Tribe, Neville Jacobs, School of Rock, The National Reserve, The Commonheart, High & Mighty Brass Band, and The Main Squeeze.

More details — including Jesup Jam’s kid-friendly food and fun activities — will be announced soon.

Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. today. For early-bird prices and more information, click here.

This “Just In”: Miller, Paul Combine For Musical Gold

Back in 2001, 1/4 of a Staples High School music octet was named Justin.

Justin Miller — a senior — went on to a storied career as a music director. He led the Westminster Chorus of Los Angeles to the 2009 “Choir of the World” Pavarotti Trophy, and Barbershop Harmony Society International Chorus gold medals in 2007, ’10 and ’15.

A few days ago he did it again. Westminster recaptured the world title, in Salt Lake City.

Miller’s chorus did it decisively, setting a new record for the highest score ever: 97.9%.

But there’s more to the story.

The 100-man chorus paired the tender ballad “I’ll Be Here” from Broadway’s “The Wild Party” with “From Now On.”

That’s the tune from “The Greatest Showman,” written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

The same Justin Paul who, as a junior in 2001, sang in that famed octet with Justin Miller.

The director is proud of his friend’s work. He wanted to showcase it on his choir’s biggest stage.

So now — in addition to Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards — Justin Paul can say he’s “won” a Barbershop Harmony Society International Chorus gold medal too.

(For the full story on the competition, click here.)

Staples Players Head Back To The ’80s

Staples Players’ summer show is “Back to the ’80s.”

The jukebox musical — a mashup of plots like “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Revenge of the Nerds” and “The Breakfast Club,” with songs like “Love Shack,” “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” plus bad hair and acid-washed jeans — is great entertainment.

Corey Palmer narrates the show, from 2019. He looks back on himself as a geeky boy in love with the girl next door, growing up and going to high school in 1984.

That’s the same year Players director David Roth graduated from Staples. So who better to play the narrator than Roth himself?

That’s one of the special twists audiences will enjoy when “Back to the ’80s” opens this Friday evening (July 12). Performances are also set for Saturday afternoon and evening, and a Sunday matinee.

Director David Roth with (from left) Georgia Wright and Sophie Rossman. When he’s not working with the actors, Roth joins them onstage. (Photo/Kerry Long)

“It’s a fun fit,” says Roth, making his first appearance on the Staples stage since graduating 35 years ago. Back in the day, he starred as the MC in “Cabaret,” and shows like “Pippin” and “I Do! I Do!” He also directed “Chicago,” and served as vice president of tech his senior year.

There have been plenty of technical advancements in the 3 1/2 decades since Roth was a student. He and co-director Kerry Long have taken Players — always one of the best high school drama troupes around — to the next, near-Broadway level.

But, Roth says, the essence of Players has not changed. “It’s still a group of people who come together to put on a show,” he says.

Remember “Love Shack”? These Staples Players dance to the B-52s’ song. (Photo/Kerry Long)

And who have tons of fun doing it. Rehearsal last week was filled with a great, talented cast of dozens — from rising freshmen to Players alum like Charlie Zuckerman (taking a year off from college, to audition) and Jill Gault (in her 2nd year of the Ithaca College acting program).

They sang and danced their way through “Material Girl,” “Video Killed the Radio Star” and “Come On Eileen.”

All are ’80s songs from “Back to the ’80s.” None of the cast had been alive then, of course.

Except director/narrator David Roth.

Not to be confused with David Lee Roth.

(“Back to the ’80s” will be performed Friday, July 12 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, July 13 at 3 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, July 14 at 3 p.m. Click here for tickets and more information.)

The very 80s-ish cast of Staples Players’ summer show. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Charlie Karp Rocks The Levitt

When Charlie Karp died in March, his many friends were devastated.

The Westport native left Staples High School early in his junior year, to play with Buddy Miles. Though he had an extraordinary musical career — playing at Jimi Hendrix’s funeral; writing, recording, teaching and, especially, performing with the world’s greats — he always came back to Fairfield County.

So it was appropriate that last night’s tribute concert took place at the Levitt Pavilion. Charlie’s longtime friend and collaborator Brian Keane — himself a Grammy-winning artist, songwriter and producer — put together a remarkable event.

Roger Ball of the Average White Band (lead sax) joined Fred Scerbo, Ricky Alfonso and Joey Melotti for “Pick up the Pieces.” (Photo/Dan Woog)

From Germany, Nashville and plenty of other places, Charlie’s friends and admirers canceled gigs and rearranged schedules. More than 70 vocalists, gospel singers, keyboardists, percussionists, horn players and (especially) guitarists flew and drove to Westport.

Westport native Barry Tashian fronted the Remains, who opened for the Beatles. He then played for many years with the Flying Burrito Brothers and Emmylou Harris. Long before all that, he was Charlie Karp’s guitar teacher. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Their list of credits is eye-popping. They’ve played and recorded with, or opened for, everyone from the Beatles, Doors, James Brown, Smokey Robinson and Roberta Flack to Wynton Marsalis, the New York Philharmonic, Boston Pops and London Symphony Orchestra.

The Reunion Band — formed originally with Charlie Karp’s very talented Staples High Class of 1971 professional musician classmates — reunited, and added a few members. (Photo/Dan Woog)

With just one rehearsal, the musicians — many of whom knew each other, but had never played together — delivered one of the Levitt’s most powerful, pulsating shows ever.

Julie Aldworth McClenathan and Bonnie Housner Erickson were Charlie Karp’s classmates at Staples. (Photo/Dan Woog)

It even included a tribute from Charlie’s friend Keith Richards. He was otherwise engaged, on tour with his band the Rolling Stones.

The Good News Gospel Choir added their talents too. (Photo/Dan Woog)

The benefit raised funds for a scholarship in Charlie’s name. Every year it will help talented student musicians, by providing studio time at the Carriage House in Stamford and Horizon in West Haven.

When he wasn’t playing keyboard, John Lamb was dancing. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Midway through the concert, storm clouds rolled in. Thunderstorms — predicted, and ominous — never materialized. The clouds moved on, and the sky brightened.

“Charlie’s angels,” someone said.

A storm threatened … (Photo/Dan Woog)

… but never came. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Brian Keane (left) produced the tribute concert. Carole Sylvan and Ada Dyer added powerful vocals. (Photo/Dan Woog)

As one of Charlie Karp’s classmates, I was honored to take a turn as one of the MCs. (Photo/Carleigh Welsh)

(Tax-deductible checks made payable to Fairfield County’s Community Foundation [put “Charlie Karp Memorial Fund” in the memo] can be sent to Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, 40 Richards Avenue, Norwalk, CT 06854. Donations may also be made online at www.CharlieKarp.com. Follow instructions under the donation tab.)

Music On Main Street

Annette Norton has a full-time job. She owns Savvy + Grace, the fun, funky gifts-and-more store underneath Tavern on Main.

But she spends plenty of time on a related project: bringing excitement back to all of Main Street.

Last month she brought an outdoor market to the parking lot behind her place. It rained — but the vendors and shoppers had a blast.

Madelyn Spera

Tomorrow, she’s arranged for live music out in front. Madelyn Spera is a young singer-songwriter who plays piano and guitar, acts in musical theater, and — though just a rising Staples High School freshman — has already performed at New York’s Bitter End.

She’ll be on Main Street from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Annette is working with the Youth Arts Forum — of which Madelyn is a member — to bring young talent downtown every Saturday.

Her landlord — Phil Teuscher — is very supportive. Like Annette, he understands the importance of fun — and music — on Main Street.

PAL Fireworks And Parking Passes: The Back Story Many People Miss

Since 2003, Westport PAL has awarded over $400,000 in college scholarships.

In the past few years they’ve donated $153,000 to the Field of Dreams turf field project, $49,000 to Westport Baseball and Softball, $23,000 to Special Olympics, $15,000 to the Compo Beach playground, and hundreds of thousands of dollars more to many worthy, kid-related causes.

Each year, they help sponsor the 4th of July* fireworks. They are allowed to sell a maximum of 2,000 Compo Beach parking passes. The cost — $35 per vehicle — has not risen in years.

Last year, they sold fewer than 1,900. Yet an estimated 15,000 party-goers thronged the beach, for the best community event of the year.

You do the math.

A small portion of the very large crowd.

Westport PAL was organized in 1948. A few years later, they started the fireworks tradition.

It takes a ton of work. The volunteer organization partners with the Westport Police, Fire and Parks and Recreation Departments; EMS; Fireworks by Grucci — and many others — to make the event a smash.

About 20 years ago, PAL offered to hand it over to the town. First Selectwoman Diane Farrell said thanks, but no thanks.

Everyone — including out-of-towners — pitches in to make the fireworks a success.

The fireworks is PAL’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Proceeds help run programs in football, lacrosse, basketball, wrestling, cheerleading, rugby and track. They impact thousands of boys and girls each year.

In addition to the recipients of PAL money listed earlier, recent donations include $24,000 for health and wellness programs, $20,000 for lights at Staples High School, $5,000 for wrestling mats, $2,000 for a WWPT-FM Wrecker Radio tent, thousands to Staples’ Gridiron Club — the list goes on and on.

The fireworks is a true community effort. Melissa & Doug — the internationally highly regarded, locally owned children’s toy company — generously covers the cost of the actual pyrotechnics each year. (Grucci offers 3 levels. Westport’s is the top-tier.)

Happy birthday, America! (Photo/Suzanne Sherman Propp)

But PAL picks up other costs: the barge ($15,000 a day). The Cobra marching band, with Sapphire dancers. The Nassau County bomb squad. Food and drinks for police, fire and Parks and Rec workers (beyond what Jersey Mike’s provides). This year, PAL is even springing for a new barge mooring.

PAL president Ned Batlin, and past president/current vice president Sam Arciola, are both Staples grads. They grew up going to the fireworks — and playing PAL sports.

They want Westporters to know: Those $35 parking passes are not a ripoff.

They’re a bargain.

Parks and Rec operations supervisor Dan DeVito helps collect tickets. The process is quick and easy.

Last year’s non-sellout — despite the packed beach — was part of a trend. Some fireworks-goers arrive by Uber. Others park — as far away as the Children’s Community Development Center on Hillspoint Road — and walk in.

Of course, there are people like the homeowner on Soundview Drive. Like many neighbors, he throws a huge fireworks bash every year.

But he also buys 30 parking passes, and gives them to guests. He wants to support PAL; he doesn’t want friends to freeload.

Party on Soundview!

“One of our longtime executive directors, PJ Romano, used to say, ‘It’s all about the kids,'” Batlin says.

“PAL — and the fireworks — is all about local police and citizens who really care about the town, and everyone in it. We want to keep doing what we’re doing. But if we don’t sell out, it really handcuffs our ability to help.”

That’s the back story too few people know. So pony up, Westporters. PAL needs you to buy those fireworks parking passes.

They’re available at the Parks & Rec office in Longshore (opposite the golf pro shop) during business hours, and 24/7 at police headquarters (50 Jesup Road). You can pay by cash or check (“Westport PAL”).

If — er, when — they sell out, you can buy a pass to park at Longshore. Dattco donates buses, which shuttle back and forth to the beach from 5:45 to 11 p.m.

With a police escort.

*Okay, the 3rd of July. You know what I mean.

Westport’s fireworks are timeless. This shot is from 2016. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Charlie Karp Tribute: A Levitt Concert For The Ages

The Levitt Pavilion has been the site of countless great concerts.

But in its over-40-year history, it’s never hosted — on one night — artists who have played with the Beatles, Doors, Michael Jackson, Sting, Elton John, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Linda Ronstadt, The Band, Pete Seeger, Smokey Robinson, Rascals, Aerosmith, Buddy Miles, Billy Joel, James Taylor, Elvis Costello, James Brown, Jon Bon Jovi, Cheech & Chong, Michael Bolton, Barry Manilow, Herbie Hancock, Liza Minelli, Cher, Marvin Gaye, Chaka Khan, Mamas and the Papas, Paul Simon, Foreigner, Grand Funk Railroad, Eartha Kitt, Dave Brubeck, Whitney Houston, Roberta Flack, Lenny Kravitz, Chuck Mangione, Harry Chapin, Arlo Guthrie, Bee Gees, Edgar Winter, Grace Slick, Jefferson Starship, John Sebastian, Joe Cocker, Ted Nugent, Mötley Crue, Boz Scaggs, Amy Grant, Sinéad O’Connor, Vince Gill, Carole King, Orleans, Johnny Winter, Emmylou Harris, Chieftains, Lou Reed, Joan Jett, Larry Coryell, Rosanne Cash, Buckwheat Zydeco, Shawn Colvin, Julio Iglesias, Michael McDonald, Luther Vandross, Usher, Jean-Luc Ponty, Jose Féliciano, Herb Alpert, Bad Company, Paul Winter, Taj Mahal, Badfinger, Rick Derringer, Blue Oyster Cult, James Cotton, Bruce Hornsby, Spyro Gyra, Muddy Waters, Eric Weissberg, Wynton Marsalis, New York Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, Boston Pops Orchestra, Vicki Sue Robinson, Aztec Two-Step and James Montgomery.

Just to name a few.

The key is: Nearly all of the musicians who played with those greats also played with Charlie Karp.

And on Saturday, July 6 (7 p.m., Levitt Pavilion) they’ll honor Charlie’s memory, rocking a sure-to-be memorable concert for the ages.

Charlie Karp, in his Buddy Miles days.

Charlie left Staples High School at 16 to play guitar with Buddy Miles. He hung and played with Jimi Hendrix and Keith Richards, and wrote songs for Joan Jett and Joe Perry, before returning home to earn a fanatic following with bands like Dirty Angels, White Chocolate, Slo Leak and the Name Droppers.

He simultaneously earned Emmys as a producer of music for sports networks, documentaries and feature films, and became a guitar teaching mentor to generations of aspiring young stars.

Charlie died in March, at 65. He had been diagnosed a few days earlier with liver cancer.

Nearly everyone who ever played with Charlie — and a few other big names who were influenced by him — will appear together on the Levitt stage. Over 70 strong, they’ll reimagine the rock and R&B Charlie recorded, played and loved so much.

The mammoth, not-to-be-missed show includes Barry Tashian. Seven years older than Charlie, he fronted the Remains. They opened for the Beatles on their final 1966 tour, and were — in the words of legendary critic Jon Landau — “how you told a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll.”

The Remains were a major influence on Charlie. He and good friend Brian Keane — now a Grammy-winning composer and producer — played their songs in a Coleytown Junior High band. Later, Charlie and Barry became friends.

The Remains’ Barry Tashian (left) and Vern Miller, while touring with the Beatles.

Barry has not played in Westport for several decades. He’s flying up from Nashville for this show.

The cast also includes Roger Ball of the Average White Band, Joe Bonadio of Sting, Michael Mugrage of Orleans, Motown recording artist Ada Dyer, Tim DeHuff and Roger Kaufman.

Of course, members of Charlie’s beloved bands from the ’60s through 2019 — guys like David Hull and Rick Castillo — will play too. The Fun Band, Slo Leak, White Chocolate, Dirty Angels and Name Droppers — it’s a trip down memory lane. And a reminder that great music never dies.

Charlie Karp (Photo/John Halpern)

Mandrake Root — a seminal Westport band — will reunite after 50 years. Tony Prior is coming from North Carolina to join in the jam.

The Reunion Band will be there too. Comprised entirely of Charlie’s classmates from Staples’ class of 1971 — all of them noted professional musicians — they were there with Charlie 2 years ago, for one of the Levitt’s best nights ever.

Charlie’s high school sweetheart, Debbie Sims, will introduce “I Still Love You Anyway.” Charlie wrote that song for her, on Buddy Miles’ iconic “Them Changes” album. It — and “Runaway Child,” which Charlie wrote with Buddy — will be performed by the popular local band, the 5 O’Clocks.

Joey Melotti will be there. The musical director for Michael Jackson and Michael Bolton had a huge Westport following with his 1980s band Sunsight.

Chris Coogan’s Good News Gospel Choir will round out the amazing evening.

Guitarist/producer/songwriter Danny Kortchmar can’t be there — he’s on tour with James Taylor and Carole King’s rhythm section. He sent a note to be read from the stage.

So did Keith Richards. He too is sorry he can’t attend. His band, the Rolling Stones, is out on tour.

Charlie Karp and Keith Richards. (Photo/Ray Flanigan)

Every musician is donating their time. Some turned down lucrative gigs to come.

Proceeds will benefit two organizations. The Charlie Karp Memorial Fund promotes promising area musicians, by offering studio time at the Carriage House in Stamford and Horizon in West Haven. The other beneficiary is the Levitt Pavilion.

That’s fitting. Charlie Karp played to adoring Levitt audiences many times.

On July 6, he’ll pack the place one more time.

(The Charlie Karp Tribute Concert is a ticketed event. Click here to purchase, and for more information.)