Category Archives: Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg, Trevor Noah And “06880”: The Sequel

I’m usually pretty good at predicting which “06880” stories will draw the most attention.

Those honoring Westporters who die get forwarded often.

Pieces about zoning and land use — proposed teardowns of beloved landmarks, changes at the beach, etc. — get posted on social media (earning plenty of eyeballs).

And stories on dogs are catnip for readers.

But some reactions amaze me.

Whoopi Goldberg

Last Saturday morning, I posted a quick news flash. Trevor Noah — the headliner at the next day’s Anti-Defamation League of Connecticut “Voices: A Show of Unity” fundraiser — had just canceled, due to bruised vocal chords. His replacement was another huge name: Whoopi Goldberg.

It was the kind of story I do when can: getting the word out for a worthy cause, and hopefully selling a few tickets.

Page views were normal for a Saturday. But on Sunday morning, they spiked 10-fold. Well before noon, that ADL story had the most hits of anything I’ve published since I started “06880,” nearly a decade ago.

By Sunday evening, views were orders of magnitude higher still.

But people were not just reading the story. They were commenting too.

They were not from Westport. There were new, unfamiliar names.

And the comments were not typical “06880” ones. This was not a back-and-forth about the greed and short-sightedness of downtown landlords vs. the gauzy sentimentality of oldtimers.

It was not a debate about Connecticut’s fiscal health, or where to put a beach bathroom.

Trevor Noah

The comments about Whoopi Goldberg (and Trevor Noah) were nasty. They were vile. They were racist.

I don’t know how these people found the story. I assume it was posted on a website somewhere that draws readers who are unfamiliar with “06880” and Westport.

But they’re very familiar with spewing vitriol online. This is not, I’m sure, the first time these readers reacted to a news story about black entertainers.

I disabled commenting on the story. I took down some of the most odious ones.

I left others up. I wanted “06880” readers to see what’s out there, beyond the Westport bubble.

And to realize that the work of the ADL — and all the rest of us — combating hate, bigotry and ignorance must continue.


Here’s the good news. Avid “06880” reader/1987 Staples High School graduate Janette Kinnally writes:

I went to the ADL event. I thought Whoopi was intelligent, insightful and knew her history in this country (which, she noted, is really lacking in education today).

She recounted many events throughout the years. She said “let’s not make the same mistakes in the past” — especially when it comes to creating a dictator and encouraging white nationalism.

Whoopi was thoughtful in her responses, and funny when she responded to Westport’s own Alisyn Camerota. She and CNN (where Alisyn works) were targeted by the bomber 2 weeks ago.

Whoopi offered some great advice. We live in scary times, she said, but there is hope for the future.

We can make change, by taking action. We can’t just stand on the sideline and watch.

Whoopi said: We need more people to stand up, and have their voices heard. We the people should be in control of our country — not white nationalist men!

Trevor Noah Is Out Tomorrow. But Whoopi Goldberg In In!

Trevor Noah was the highly anticipated featured star at tomorrow’s Anti-Defamation League “Voices: A Show of Unity” fund-raiser and community celebration. (Sunday, November 11, 5 p.m., Klein Auditorium, Bridgeport; click here for more details.)

But the “Daily Show” host bruised his vocal chords. He canceled all performances until Monday.

The ADL is used to dealing swiftly with crises. True to form, they scoured the country and found a fantastic replacement: Whoopi Goldberg.

The actress/comedian/author/television host will fill in.

The show will go on. And it will be a great one.

(A few tickets remain. Click here to purchase.)

Whoopi Goldberg

Unsung Heroes #73

It’s a stretch to call the cast of Staples Players “unsung.” They’ve won tons of awards, and the hearts of every audience that’s seen any show.

Besides, you can’t call a troupe that puts on musicals “unsung.”

The Players’ fall mainstage — “Legally Blonde,” this week and next — will be one more smash in a 60-year history of successes. Ticket sales were so brisk, they’ve already added another performance. (Click here for available seats.)

But shows like this are true team efforts. Players could not do what they do without the help of their technical crew — sets, lighting, costumes — as well as pit musicians, publicity, and everyone else who makes a production go.

Plus parent volunteers.

And of course, directors David Roth and Kerry Long.

Some of the Staples Players cast and crew get plenty of praise. Others toil unnoticed backstage, in the wings, on the catwalks or elsewhere.

All are our Unsung — and Sung — Heroes of the Week.

Georgia Wright, Justin Dusenbury, Kelley Schutte and Tomaso Scotti could not do what they do in “Legally Blonde” without the help of hundreds of others. (Photo/Kerry Long)

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Okay, Downtown Doubters. See You Saturday Night For “Supper & Soul.”

Yesterday’s opinion piece by David Waldman — lamenting all the negativity about downtown, urging Westporters to focus on the many positive aspects — drew plenty of comments.

Among the strongest voices was Matthew Mandell’s. That’s no surprise: As executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, he’s got one of the biggest dogs in this fight.

He’s also got one of his signature events to promote. And it’s coming up this Saturday (November 10).

“Supper & Soul” is a clever concept. For one $75 ticket, you get a 3-course dinner, a fantastic show, then happy hour pricing for after-concert drinks.

Mandell has lined up 7 excellent (and varied) restaurants for the meal and post-show festivities: 190 Main, Amis, Jesup Hall, Matsu Sushi, Rothbard Ale + Larder, Spotted Horse and Tavern on Main.

All are within walking distance of Seabury Center on Church Lane — where Kasey Tyndall performs at 8 p.m.

Rolling Stone called her the #1 new country act to see last year — adding that she’s “a hard rock-country badass with the best song about a watering hole.”

So, to all of you who complain that there’s nothing to do downtown after dark. Or that downtown needs a jolt of energy. Or whatever.

Buy a ticket to “Supper & Soul.” Eat, drink, and kick ass with Kasey.

(Click here for tickets, and more information on Supper & Soul. There’s even a link to discount babysitters!)

ADL After Pittsburgh: Activism, And Trevor Noah

The Anti-Defamation League is always busy.

But in the wake of last month’s horrific shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, the anti-hate organization’s Connecticut office went into overdrive.

Statewide director Steve Ginsburg — a Westport resident — spoke to a crowd of 1,000 at an interfaith vigil at the Conservative Synagogue here. He also addressed a Stamford vigil, and attended events in Bridgeport and Hartford. Other ADL officials talked elsewhere around the state.

Ginsburg met with Senator Richard Blumenthal, and spoke by phone with politicians and candidates across the political spectrum. When an anti-Semitic campaign mailer went viral, the organization responded.

ADL presented a program in Bridgeport, on how adults and youngsters can confront anti-Semitism. They sent curriculum resources to dozens of schools and trainers.

ADL also worked with law enforcement officials across Connecticut.

All of that takes time, effort — and money. The Pittsburgh murders came just as the ADL was ramping up publicity for its major fundraiser of the year.

“Voices: A Show of Unity” is also an ADL community-builder. They give free tickets to many local organizations, including CONECT, CIRI, NAACP, IRIS, The Urban League, GLSEN, Greater Bridgeport Latino Network and Voices of Hope.

The event is this Sunday (November 11, 5 p.m., Klein Auditorium in Bridgeport).

Trevor Noah

The headliner is a perfect fit for these times. Trevor Noah was born in South Africa to a black mother who converted to Judaism, and white father. His parents could not be seen in public together.

The “Daily Show” host will be funny, of course. But he won’t do stand-up. He’ll offer attendees his take on the world.

The world is a dangerous place. There’s more than enough hate to go around.

The ADL does what it can to combat bigotry and evil. On Sunday, they ask our help so they can keep doing it.

(For more information and tickets, click here.)

Mid-Strut: Eric Burns’ Novel Story

You may know Eric Burns from his television work, as an award-winning media analyst. You may know him as a noted author on topics like American journalism, the history of alcohol and tobacco, and the year 1920. You may know him as a longtime former neighbor (he now lives right over the border, in Norwalk).

Burns’ latest project is “Mid-Strut.” At 73, it’s his first novel. And the story has a back story. Eric tells “06880”:

I had written a dozen books, all non-fiction, all well-reviewed to one degree or another. But I wanted to do something different. Long ago, I had gotten the germ of an idea for a novel, my first work of fiction. But I hesitated. Could I do it? I was a historian. Could I also be a novelist?

I let some time pass to think things over. Actually, I let 50 years pass! No sense rushing into things. Then I wrote, and published, a tale set in 1965, Joe Namath’s first year as a professional quarterback.

The first appraisal of my book came from the prestigious publication Kirkus Reviews. It was a dagger to my heart, a switchblade to my ego. It was by far the worst review I had received in my 21 years of authorship.

At first I just skimmed it. But there were phrases that caught my eye.

My protagonist was a racist. No! No, he wasn’t. In fact, one of the two main plot lines of the book was Arnie “Stats” Castig’s refusal to be a bigot despite extreme provocation. It was obvious.

Arnie’s relationship with the majorette was degenerate. No! No, it wasn’t. That’s the other main plot line. “Statsy” didn’t really have a relationship with the majorette; she was simply — and complicatedly — a symbol of times gone by, when Arnie’s life was happier than it had been during the week when Mid-Strut took place. It was obvious.

But wait. There were more mistakes here, and of a different kind. The review said that Arnie is a steelworker. He isn’t; he’s a security guard. It said that he works in Arbridge, Ohio.  He doesn’t; he works in my hometown of Ambridge, Pennsylvania.

How could the critic have made 3 mistakes of so basic a nature, in 2 sentences?  In addition to the 2 major mistakes, and others. One paragraph, 7 errors. Not errors of judgment, errors of fact. How could that happen?

Eric Burns

My conclusion, which took me a while to arrive at and startled me when I got there, was that the person who reviewed my book hadn’t read it! I can’t prove this of course, but how else to account for so many gaffes?

Had the reviewer dipped into the book here and there? Probably. Had he or she looked at the notes on the inside flap of the dust jacket? Probably. But actually read the book …    sober? I was puzzled.

I wrote a letter to Kirkus, explaining my grievances, expecting to be ignored. But I wasn’t. Kirkus replied admirably. It was embarrassed, apologetic and sincere.  The review would be promptly pulled off the website, and a new one would take its place. Kirkus could not have been more nobly responsible.

Last week, its new, and official, review of “Mid-Strut” was emailed to me. “Burns’s . . . first foray into fiction,” this new assessment read,

tells the story of a man driven mad by the changing fortunes of his Pennsylvania steel town. . . .  Overall, it’s an idiosyncratic novel that follows an idiosyncratic protagonist, and Burns does not shy away from the parochial fixations of his and other characters; indeed, he leans into them.  Even so, he manages to capture not only their quirkiness, but their universal humanity.  Any readers who live in a place that feels overlooked—or who’ve seen the world of their youth slip away—will relate to the people who populate this tale.  An absorbing novel of aging and postindustrialization.

Apparently, I am a novelist after all.  At least once.

(Eric Burns will discuss “Mid-Strut” at the Saugatuck Congregational Church at 7 p.m., this Thursday, November 8.)

Lisa Lampanelli’s Food Obsession, Body Image, Belly Laughs

Food and body image issues are no laughing matter.

Unless you’re Lisa Lampanelli.

For 30 years, the comic has won raves (and laughs) talking about — among other things — what she eats and how she looks. She’s been on Comedy Central, Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show,” and Howard Stern.

Lampanelli sold out Radio City Music Hall and Carnegie Hall. She raised $130,000 for Gay Men’s Health Crisis on “Celebrity Apprentice.”

Six years ago, she had bariatric surgery. She lost more than 100 pounds.

Lisa Lampanelli, in 2007 and 2013.

Westport is an important part of Lampanelli’s story. After majoring in journalism at Syracuse University, then working for Rolling Stone and Spy magazines, she changed careers. She followed her heart, and became a stand-up comedian.

Lampanelli lived in New Haven, but honed her skills at Saugatuck’s Treehouse Comedy Club. Revered by comics, it drew talent like Jim Gaffigan from as far as New York City.

In fact, Lampanelli says, its Wednesday night open mics were “better than any New York club.”

As for audiences, “Westport wasn’t ‘Westport’ back in the ’90s, It didn’t seem as wealthy. People went out every night and had fun.”

At the Treehouse, Lampanelli, Gaffigan and her fellow comedians learned how to work each crowd. They tested material and deliveries.

And after every Wednesday show, they headed to the Sherwood Diner. There they hashed over what worked, what didn’t, and why. They came up with new jokes, too.

“There was so much camaraderie,” Lampanelli recalls.

Four months ago, she moved from New York to Fairfield. She feels as if she’s “come back home.”

But she’s moved back — and on — from pure comedy.

Lisa Lampinelli today.

In 2015 — after earning a 2nd Grammy nomination for her stand-up special “Back to the Drawing Board” — Lampanelli realized that her radically different look and true stories of weight-loss struggles resonated with fans. Many fight similar battles.

She wrote “Stuffed.” The play motivated fans to embrace a healthier life through self-love and self-acceptance. It enjoyed 2 off-Broadway runs.

That inspired Lampanelli to shed her image as insult comic. She vowed to help others through storytelling events, workshops and 1-on-1 coaching.

The result is a double helping for area audiences.

“Lisa Lampanelli’s Losin’ It” makes its world debut this Saturday (November 3, Fairfield Theatre Company, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.)  The 90-minute storytelling show features Lampanelli and a cast of actors, storytellers and surprise guests. Their credits include “The Daily Show,” Sirius XM radio and “Orange is the New Black.”

A generous helping of the proceeds benefit The Center for Family Justice in Bridgeport.

A week later (Saturday, November 10, Liphe Balance Center, Weston, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.), Lampanelli offers “Love Your Body, Feed Your Soul: From Starving & Stuffed to Fulfilled & Enough.”

The day-long workshop — co-led with yoga instructor Thea Martin — uses storytelling, sharing, meditation, journaling, brainstorming, deep listening, and self-reflection, to help participants end their obsessions with food and body image.

Plenty of men, as well as women, have already signed up for the Weston event.

That’s no laughing matter.

Then again, with Lisa Lampanelli, it is.

(Click here for tickets and more information on Lisa Lampanelli’s FTC “Losin’ It” shows. Click here for tickets and more information on her “Love Your Body, Feed Your Soul” workshop.)

 

Staples Players’ “Legally Blonde” Goes To The Dogs

In the mid-1970s, Bill Berloni was an acting intern at Goodspeed Opera House. The director offered him an Equity card — if Berloni could find and train a rescue dog for the upcoming show.

Berloni came through. He got his card.

The musical — “Annie” — went on to legendary success. And Berloni had a new gig.

He trained Sandys for every revival of the show — plus the movie.

Since then — using only rescue dogs — he’s trained animals for dozens of shows, including “Camelot,” “Oliver!,” “Nick and Nora” and “The Wiz.”

He’s done the same for hundreds of Off-Broadway and regional productions, TV and movies. He’s a Tony honoree for Excellence in Theatre, among other awards.

His credits also include “Legally Blonde.” That’s the show that Staples Players premiere next week.

And Berloni is right there backstage in  Westport, training a chihuahua and a bulldog.

Bill Berloni (rear, center) with Staples Players cast members of “Legally Blonde.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

He’s no stranger to high school musicals. They’re where he got his start, as an actor. He loves working with teenagers. He teaches them how to interact with animals, instructing the actors in exactly how dogs think.

For the Broadway version of “Legally Blonde,” Berloni had to get his chihuahua to “speak” on cue.

He’s done the same at Staples.

One of the many stars of “Legally Blonde.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Berloni is spending 2 weeks at the high school. He’s shown the cast how to bond with their dogs. For example, a few actors will scratch an animal’s belly backstage. The dog associates that with love — and will only go to those actors on stage.

“Legally Blonde” is an inspired choice for the November production. In addition to being the first Players show with trained animals, it’s both funny and timely.

The play “empowers women,” says director David Roth. “They stand up for each other. There’s an important #MeToo message. Audiences see that you can’t assume someone is who they are just by the way they look.”

Roth and co-director Kerry Long are excited about the show. They enjoy working with Berloni.

And, Roth notes, this is not the animal trainer’s first connection with Staples Players.

He’s worked with dogs on the film “The Greatest Showman,” and Broadway’s “A Christmas Story: The Musical.” The music for both was co-written by Justin Paul — a 2003 graduate, and former Player.

Most recently, Berloni trained animals for “Land of Steady Habits,” the Netflix version of Staples ’01 grad Ted Thompson’s debut novel.

“Legally Blonde” opens next Friday (November 9), and continues November 10, 16 and 17, all at 7:30 p.m. There are 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday matinees on November 11 and 17. Just added — due to popular demand — is a Thursday, November 15 show (7:30 p.m.).

To fetch tickets (and for more information), click here.

Staples High School principal James D’Amico has a role in “Legally Blonde.” He has a musical theatre background, but this is his debut with Staples Players. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Unitarians Say: “Let’s Put On A Show”

Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney — and countless generations of kids in basements, attics and garages before and after them — have had the same creative, what-have-we-got-to-lose idea: “Hey, let’s put on a show!”

Jim Luongo is no kid. But 10 years ago the veteran  English and theater teacher had the same idea.

He was a longtime member of Westport’s Unitarian Church. So he contacted fellow congregants, found a cast and crew, and produced Doubt right there on Lyons Plains Road.

It was a hit. The next year, Luongo put on another show.

Jim Luongo, at the Westport Unitarian Church.

He’s been doing it ever since. Among his credits: Proof, The Curious Savage, Rabbit Hole, Dancing at Lughnasa, The (Female) Odd Couple, and American Daughter.

There’s no budget. Sets and costumes come from actors and techies’ homes and closets.

But the UU Players’ plays are now the church’s second biggest annual fundraiser. (The August tag sale is first.)

“We’re better than we have any right to be,” says actor Sarah Bell. The 14-year Coleytown Middle School educator and self-described “wannabe actor” calls Luongo “a great director.”

But, she adds, “no one else is in charge. We figure things out ourselves, together.”

The still-ad hoc troupe does not, she admits, advertise well. They’re happy just to have fun, performing in front of friends, family and church members.

Now, however, they want everyone to know about this weekend’s show.

Bakersfield Mist is based on a true story. Bell plays a bartender living in a trailer park who buys the ugliest picture she can find, for a friend’s birthday. It’s relegated to a tag sale, where an art teacher identifies it as a possible Pollack.

A snooty art authenticator comes to the trailer to inspect it. The play is stinging, funny and challenging.

Sarah Bell and Tom Croarkin examine a “Jackson Pollack” painting in “Bakersfield Mist.”

One reason the UU Players want broader audiences to know about Bakersfield is because it’s Luongo’s last play.

After a decade, the director is stepping down.

“He’s given us so much,” Bell says. “It’s time people heard about him.”

And about the UU Players, who really do put on a show.

(“Bakersfield Mist” will be performed at the Westport Unitarian Church, 10 Lyons Plains Road, on Friday and Saturday, November 2 and 3, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, November 4, at 3 p.m. Tickets are available at the door. The suggested donation is $20.)

Now Playing: Henry Fisher

What do the Connecticut Ballet, Westport Weston Family Y and Maccabi Games have in common?

All had hugely successful parties — thanks in large part to DJ Henry Fisher.

It’s not easy to create a playlist that satisfies gala-goers, little kids and their parents, and teenage athletes at the “Jewish Olympics.”

It’s especially tough if you’re only a high school junior. But Henry — who has lived in Westport most of his life — keeps every party going.

Music is a big part of his life. At Hopkins — where he transferred after Kings Highway Elementary and Coleytown Middle Schools — he plays piano in the jazz rock ensemble, heads up the Jam Club, runs cross country and participates in the Science Olympiad.

Outside of school he coaches in the Westport Y’s Special Olympics track and swim programs, and tutors computer science and music with Zaniac.

Four years ago, he began his DJ business. At first he used playlists from Spotify. But he was fascinated by the Ableton Live music production software. He bought a mixer board, learned how to add special effects and transitions between songs, and plugged his piano into his computer to add synth lines.

Henry’s big break came when he entertained 10,000 Maccabi Games attendees and friends at Bridgeport’s Webster Bank Arena. Bar mitzvahs, birthday parties and fundraisers followed.

Henry is a pro. He does not simply show up at a gig and start spinning records. Before any event he consults with the host. He spends a ton of time planning a playlist.

Henry Fisher: hard at work.

For last month’s Westport Y Special Olympics fundraiser thrown by the Kiev family, for example, he had to balance pop music for hundreds of kids with ’80s hits, for the adults.

It’s easy to know what elementary school children like for the Kings Highway Pumpkinpalooza. It’s another entirely to entertain at the Westport Senior Center. (Henry — who listens to “a ton of different genres” — has extensive oldies knowledge. Still, for the Senior Center, he consulted his parents.)

Henry is not complacent. Between songs, he checks out the crowd. He’ll switch tunes on the fly, adjusting to the constantly changing vibe.

The whole idea, he says, is to get people “dancing and happy.”

Henry loves the energy of a good party. He feeds off of crowd responses. He also enjoys sharing music with people, and introducing them to new sounds.

A good DJ, he says, should be flexible. He can’t stand professionals who stick to a pre-set playlist.

As befits a jazz pianist, he thinks “the whole night should be improvisational. I’ll ditch what I’ve prepared if it’s not going well, or if I’ve got better options.”

Henry also likes taking requests. Otherwise, he says, “I’d just be like Spotify.”

He’s not sure where DJing will take him. He’s still learning, he says. But he’s also expanding his business skills.

In the meantime, if you see Henry Fisher: Party on!

(For more information on Henry Fisher’s DJ business, click here.)