Category Archives: Entertainment

“Man Of La Mancha” Comes “Home”

Audiences — and the Westport Country Playhouse itself — are excited about the coming production of “Man of La Mancha.”

Since its debut in 1965, the Don Quixote-inspired play-within-a-play has become a theatrical icon. It won 5 Tony Awards, has been revived 4 times on Broadway, and was staged twice previously at the Playhouse.

Two Westporters are particularly excited about the Playhouse’s September 25-October 13 run: Melody James and Clay Singer.

James is the daughter of Hal James. The actor, and radio/TV producer, was between projects nearly 50 years ago when he and his wife Florence saw the then-fledgling musical at Goodspeed Opera House.

Inspired, they went backstage and asked how to get involved.

At the University of Chicago, James had taken a class on Cervantes and Don Quixote with professor Thornton Wilder. With his life experiences, and then seeing “La Mancha” in development, James thought the time was right to help bring it to Broadway.

In 1965 he had 3 children in college: Michael (involved in the Free Speech Movement at the University of California), Beau (at the New School) and Melody (at Carnegie Institute of Technology).

Producing a Broadway show is always risky. But James’ bet paid off.

With his wife’s help, he enlisted fellow Westporters as angels. One was Mal Beinfield.

An orthopedic surgeon by trade, and Staples High School’s football doctor by hobby, he had never been involved in theater. But he invested, loved the challenge, and said later it was one of the best things he’d ever done.

For years, an original Al Hirschfeld drawing of “Man of La Mancha” hung on Beinfield’s wall.

Despite his New York ties, James — who moved to Westport with Florence in 1949 — was deeply involved in Westport too.

Hal and Florence James

He produced Coleytown Capers, a mid-1950s elementary school fundraiser involving talented Westporters as skit and song writers, performers, even can-can dancers.

He also helped start the first Westport-Weston Arts Council, brought Odetta to Staples, organized teen dances at Longshore — and worked with Craig Matheson to found Staples Players.

Clay Singer

Which brings us to the second Westporter who is particularly excited about “Man of La Mancha” at the Playhouse: Clay Singer.

The 2013 Staples graduate — a former Player himself, and a graduate of Melody’s alma mater, now called Carnegie Mellon University — is part of the upcoming cast. He made his Playhouse debut last year, in “Romeo and Juliet.”

Melody James loves “Man of La Mancha” for its “profound inspiration.” She says her father loved the show because it “points the way to how we all survive and sustain.”

For her — and for Clay Singer too — the Westport Country Playhouse production is not an impossible dream.

(For tickets and more information, click here. The 3 p.m. Saturday, October 13 performance will be open-caption in Spanish, a nod to the many Hispanic cast and creative team members.)

Trevor Noah Headlines “Show Of Unity” Event

An evening with Trevor Noah sounds special.

But the Anti-Defamation League Connecticut offers a lot more than just watching “The Daily Show.”

On November 11, the comedian/political commentator headlines ADL’s 2nd annual “Voices: A Show of Unity” event. Noah will talk intimately with the audience about his life and the world — tying it all in with ADL’s ongoing fight against bigotry, extremism and hate crimes, and for civil rights, interfaith and inter-group understanding.

Trevor Noah (Photo/Gavin Bond)

Noah knows. Born in South Africa to a black mother who converted to Judaism and a white father, his youth under apartheid was difficult. His parents could not be seen in public together.

Since replacing Jon Stewart as “Daily Show” host 3 years ago, Noah has been a leading voice for unity. Last year, Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

“He’s funny. But he won’t be doing stand-up,” says Steve Ginsburg, a Westporter and ADL’s statewide director. “This will be a chance to hear his take on the world.”

The “Voices” event is both a fundraiser and a community-builder. The ADL gives free tickets to many local organizations, including Project Return, Bridgeport’s Neighborhood Studio, the Triangle Community Center, and churches, mosques and synagogues.

Westporters will have a strong presence at Noah’s show. Sarah Green — co-founder of Kool To Be Kind — serves as artistic director. Claudia Cohen is event chair; Jill Nadel is vice chair.

Westporters will also sing in the choir, joining musicians from Bridgeport and other towns.

“There will be diverse voices on stage — and in the audience,” Ginsburg notes.

“We’ve seen a large spike in incidents of bigotry and bias,” he adds. “The ADL has worked hard to respond. And we’re doing education programs to try to prevent them.”

They’ve been active at Staples High School and with local police. This summer, Police Chief Foti Koskinas attended ADL training for law enforcement in Washington, DC.

The ADL event also features a civil rights award, in memory of Irwin Hausman. It goes to Lorella Praeli, who as a Dreamer child was taunted for her Hispanic heritage, and the loss of a leg.

The ADL provided support. She’s now head of immigration efforts for the American Civil Liberties Union, and works closely with the ADL on anti-bullying efforts.

“Voices: A Show of Unity” is set for November 11 — Veterans Day. Tickets are provided to vets’ groups, and service members will be honored at the event.

(“Voices: A Show of Unity” is November 11, 5 p.m. at the Klein Auditorium in Bridgeport. Tickets go on sale September 27. For more information, click here or call 203-530-7456. )

 

Remembering John Leimseider

John Leimseider — a 1970 Staples High School graduate, who went on to play with Iron Butterfly, then became one of the world’s leading electronic instrument and equipment technicians — has died. He was 66.

At Staples, Leimseider was a member of the legendary band Smoke. They still get together, and play at class reunions.

This story was posted on the CBC website. Leimseider worked in Calgary as the National Music Centre’s electronics technician since 2002. The CBC story quotes the NMC: 

He was an incredibly kind, talented and gifted person. He was one of the world’s most sought-after electronic instrument and equipment technicians who had serviced instruments for many of the most celebrated musicians of our time. Throughout his 40-year career, he was a mentor to countless technicians, engineers and musicians. 

John Leimseider (Photo/Allison Dempster for CBC)

According to the CBC, in 2015, Leimseider restored a legendary mobile recording studio that was owned by The Rolling Stones.

Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, Fleetwood Mac and David Bowie, and many other artists, made music with the recording equipment.

Leimseider spent decades as a musician in Los Angeles. In the late ’70s and early ’80s he was a keyboard player for the psychedelic rock band Iron Butterfly.

He also recently restored The Original New Timbral Orchestra — one of the world’s largest analog synthesizers — for the NMC.

Leimseider is survived by his wife Laura, his son Noah and daughter Zoë.

(For the full CBC story, click here. Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

Pic Of The Day #516

Westport musician Warren Bloom enjoys Westonstock. The festival — held at the Weston Historical Society’s Coley barn — brought hundreds of folks back to the ’60s. It started at 2 p.m. today, and ended just a few minutes ago. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Westport: A Town Of “Darkness And Pain”

Last week, I posted a story about “Land of Steady Habits.”

The movie — based on 2001 Staples High School graduate Ted Thompson’s debut novel about a Westporter seeking something beyond his soul-crushing marriage and job — has just been released by Netflix.

The New York Times‘ A.O. Scott gave it a strong review yesterday, calling it “unpredictable and fresh.”

He begins:

The American suburb is zoned for ambivalence. Neither city nor country, suburbia — at least in the imagination of too many novelists, filmmakers and songwriters to count — yokes affluence to alienation. Beyond the well-kept lawns and hedges are seething hives of adultery, anomie and addiction. These pathologies may not actually be more common along the commuter rail lines than anywhere else, but there is an imposing body of literature that insists otherwise.

He adds of director Nicole Holofcener: “The darkness and pain haunting Westport are more pronounced …than the melancholy and quiet rage that figure in Ms. Holofcener’s other movies.”

Fortunately, that “darkness and pain” refers to the film, not life in our actual town.

I think.

(For the full New York Times review, click here. Hat tips: John Karrel and Fran White)

 

Bang The Drum, Randy

Work brought Randy Brody to Westport from Brooklyn 40 years ago. The job did not work out, but he stayed.

He did animation and special effects for films. He also wrote, and traveled the world. In his free time, he played drums. More than 25 years ago, he began leading drumming circles in South Norwalk.

Randy Brody

His circles grew to 25 people. No matter what kind of day he or anyone else had, at the end of a drum circle everyone felt good.

When Randy realized that technical writing was not for him, he turned his attention more seriously to drumming. He took classes in music therapy, studied improvisation and music teaching, and improved as a hand drummer.

As he delved into African, Middle Eastern and Brazilian percussion, he thought to himself: “This is why I’m on this planet.”

In 2001 — around the time he turned 50 — Randy left the corporate world.

His first drum circle gig was at The Marvin, a senior residence in Norwalk. He set up in the living room. Within a few minutes, everyone was having a great time. “Even people having trouble walking were drumming and dancing,” Randy recalls.

The director asked when Randy was coming back — and what he charged. He had never thought about either question.

Randy walked into senior centers like Westport’s, and assisted living facilities like the Greens at Cannondale. He had no appointments, but was welcomed in.

No one else was doing anything like it. Within a year or two, he was known as The Drum Guy. He was in demand from New Jersey to Massachusetts.

Randy Brody with adults…

Next, Randy organized drum circles for young adults with special needs.

“I experienced the healing power of drumming. It was therapeutic for them — and me,” he says. “I’d never had that sense of fulfillment in any job. Now I never have a bad day at work.”

Group drumming creates high energy and builds community, Randy says. It reduces cortisol (stress hormone) levels.

It helps people with chronic diseases. One person told him, “For an hour, I forget I’m fighting cancer.”

He’s heard a nurse say of an Alzheimer’s patient, “He can’t do anything.” Five minutes later, the same person is drumming — and smiling.

Randy also does one-on-one sessions with autistic children. Sometimes the entire family joins in.

… and a younger drummer.

These days, his main work is with Abilis. Several times a months, he leads drum circles for the Greenwich-based special needs non-profit.

“It’s so rewarding, sitting in a circle playing hand drums,” he notes. “There’s such a connection between the group, the therapists, social workers and me. They’ve become my family.”

Some autistic youngsters can’t speak, or express themselves. But, Randy says, they relate to drums. And when they see him coming, they smile.

Every drum circle is different. But each time, Randy leaves with a full heart.

In the last few years, Randy has had his own medical issues. But he brings his drums to the hospital. Even after surgery, he plays.

It helps with pain management. The doctors think it’s helpful for recovery.

And, Randy smiles, “All the nurses start dancing.”

(Randy Brody will put together a drum circle for anyone — including corporations. Click here for more information. Hat tip: Sarah Gross.)

 

Ted Thompson’s “Land Of Steady Habits”

In 2014, 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 that makes the debut book from the 2001 Staples High School graduate so intriguing.

The novel earned its author comparisons to Updike and Cheever. Now it’s been 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.

“The Land of Steady Habits” premieres at the Toronto Film Festival this month.

Here’s the trailer — with a special nod to Thompson’s home town.

It features a shot of Main Street.

(Hat tip: Kerry Long)

Give The Ukulele Some Props

In high school, Peter Propp’s rock band played covers of the Clash, Talking Heads and Pink Floyd all around Albany. Later, in New York in the 1980s, he had a (quick) gig at CBGB. He went corporate, then got into tech. But he never left music behind.

Growing up in Westport, Orphenian and 1981 Staples High School graduate Suzanne Sherman liked James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. She earned an MBA at Columbia, worked in the recording industry, and is now a longtime and much-loved music teacher at Greens Farms Elementary School.

Peter and Suzanne got married. They share a love of all kinds of music.

Including ukulele.

Suzanne Sherman Propp and Peter Propp, ukes in hand.

They started playing last year, in a Westport YMCA group led by Steve Forlano. When they heard about Connecticut’s Got Talent competition in Norwalk, they submitted a video.

They were selected, and played the Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon.” That advanced them to the finals, where they performed the Turtles’ “Happy Together.”

Excited by the competition, Steve and Peter decided to produce a Ukulele Festival. They found a perfect, intimate venue: Westport’s Suzuki Music School, on the lower level of Colonial Green.

The event is set for Saturday, September 29. Workshops run from noon to 5 p.m. Concert doors open at 6.

Peter has plenty of experience running tech and business events, for IBM and as CMO for the Stamford Innovation Center.

A music festival is a wee bit different.

He booked national talent like Victoria Vox, and organized a great lineup including the CUkes from Westport, Abe Deshotel (Norwalk) and the Educated Fleas (Bethel).

The Ukulele Festival also features food trucks and local music vendors. Instruments will also be available to borrow.

Peter has had plenty of help, including Factory Underground (handling the live sound). Steve Forlano will be MC and workshop leader.

So who will come? With ukulele’s growing popularity, Peter expects people ages 10 to 70, from all over New York and New England.

Tiny Tim died in 1996. But I’m sure he’ll be there in spirit too.

(Click here for tickets and more information.)

Be The Stewardesses Of Our World. Totally.

Jarret Liotta is a man of many talents.

The 1983 Staples High School graduate is a Westport filmmaker and writer. Recently, he put his talents to work on a short film about the environment — specifically, car idling, and the idle thinking behind it.

Jarret filmed “Save the Trees” in front of (of course) Starbucks, with a local cast including Sara Levine and Annie McCarthy.

It’s well worth the 2 1/2 minutes. Enjoy!

Prep For Jackopierce

In 1985, Westport celebrated our 150th anniversary as a town. One of the big events was supposed to be a concert by Hall & Oates, at Longshore.

It never happened. It was a scam, perpetrated (legend has it) by a local housekeeper. You can read all about it here.

When it was clear that the “Rich Girl” duo would not appear, Staples student Cary Pierce’s band stepped in to play. They weren’t Hall & Oates, but they were a lot better than the alternative (nothing, on a hot summer Sunday).

Cary went on to Southern Methodist University. In Texas he met Jack O’Neill. They joined musical forces. As Jackopierce the duo recorded 6 albums, sold 500,000 records, and toured 3 continents, 9 countries and 44 states.

After a decade, they broke up. Cary moved to Nashville, wrote songs and produced, and worked with the legendary T-Bone Burnett.

In 2002 Jackopierce got back together. They’re one of those musical acts that always bubbled beneath the surface. They don’t have a huge national name. But their fans are many, fervent and loyal.

They’re big enough too to have caught the eye of Vineyard Vines. The current catalog includes a full-page spread on Cary and Jack.

That’s Cary Pierce on the left.

The hook is that one of the duo’s signature songs is called “Vineyard.” (Okay, it’s about Martha’s Vineyard, not Vines, but who’s quibbling?)

Also — perhaps unknown to the tie and polo shirt company — Cary rocked their look all the way back as a Staples student.

He was a preppy decades before Vineyard Vines was even born.

(Hat tip: Jim Honeycutt)