Category Archives: Entertainment

Westport’s Musical Canyon.

For as long as she could remember, Canyon. thought she’d be a dancer.

Growing up in the Sierra foothills town of Nevada City, California, the girl — who in 7th grade shortened her very long name to just the first one, Canyon (and added a period, for good measure) — spent most of her time on ballet.

When she was 16, her mother took her to Manhattan. She fell in love with the city, and vowed to live there.

On her 18th birthday, in 2003, Canyon. moved to the East Village. She had a job — at Starbucks, where she’d worked while in high school — and a dancer’s dream.

But she also had health issues, which made dancing difficult. On a whim, she’d brought her mother’s guitar to the city. Canyon. filled her down time writing songs.

“I never mourned the loss of dance,” she says, looking back now in wonder. “I put all my energy into music.”

Canyon. (Photo/Marion Lynott for Irish Flare Photography)

What kind of songs did she write?

“Really bad ones,” she laughs. “That’s how I processed everything. But that’s also how you get better as a songwriter.”

Slowly, her music became “less bad.” All these years later, Canyon. says, she is still honing and refining her songwriting skills. She describes her music as “chill.”

She sang at open mic sessions. “Cranky sound engineers” taught her tough but important lessons about performing.

Soon after arriving in New York, Canyon. met a model and actor named Mike Sharits. They married in 2006, and moved to Los Angeles. She got a job as a nanny for  Melissa Joan Hart. Canyon. loved the work, the actress and her family.

When Melissa was moving to Westport, she described it as an “artists’ community.” Canyon. and Mike moved here too. She worked for Melissa for a few years. She now manages an apartment building downtown, and remains close to the actress.

Coming to Westport, Canyon. says, “I was expecting Ojai” — meaning the cool Southern California town.

It’s taken her nearly a decade. But finally — thanks to friends like Darcy Hicks and Lissy Newman — she’s discovering the artsy side of Westport.

One reason she did not explore Westport earlier is that she was playing at out-of-town restaurants, house shows and small festivals.

Now — with a 20-month-old son — she’s booking more local gigs. She’s played recently at Jesup Hall, Amis, The Boathouse, Tavern on Main, Rizzuto’s and the Black Duck.

The other day, Canyon. recorded her next single: “Tooth and Nail.” Next month she’ll record 4 more.

It’s taken Canyon. a while to find the arts in Westport. Now her voices echoes with many others’.

(Click here for Canyon.’s website. Hat tip: David Wilson)

06880: Where Westport Meets The Music World

Mannequin Pussy continues to draw raves.

Rolling Stone is the latest to take note of the Philadelphia-based punk rock band — half of whose 4 members are from Westport. Marisa Dubice and Thanasi Paul graduated from Staples High School in 2005.

Marisa has “the kind of voice you can’t ignore—a punk yowl with a soul singer’s flair for raw passion,” the magazine says. And the band’s new album, “Patience,” is “one of the year’s most cathartic rock statements.” “

At 15, Marisa — whose idols were Amy Winehouse, the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs — was diagnosed with cancer. “Any free will I was supposed to have was suddenly taken away—nothing was in my control,” she tells Rolling Stone.

I was going through experiences none of my peers could relate to. I used to be very goofy and strange and it really sobered me up. Growing up in the Connecticut suburbs, it’s an environment where there is a set way to live your life. Then once that happened I just felt like, “Just just burn down all this shit. Clearly I’m not on the same path as everyone else.” So it allowed to me to rip up that script.

Marisa Dabice (center, bottom) and Thanasi Paul (far right) are Westport’s contributions to Mannequin Pussy.

Thanasi was a childhood friend. During Staples he played in bands, at venues like Toquet Hall. Marisa watched him. But she didn’t perform until she was 23.

My mom had a stroke, so I moved back to the east coast to take care of her. All of a sudden I was at the hospital every day. So I just called him and said, “I feel really lost. Would you play with me?” That became my cathartic outlet—just screaming onstage.

They became Mannequin Pussy with the addition of 2 other musicians. (Click here for the full story.)

Rolling Stone is not the only outlet to take note. The website Stereogum just named “Drunk II” — a song from their new album — the #2 “Song of Summer.” It was beaten out by Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road (Remix),” featuring Billy Ray Cyrus.

Meanwhile, here are 2 other musical Fun Facts:

Chelsea Cutler is gaining notice, for her blend of indie-pop and electronic music. Her single “You Make Me” made Billboard’s viral chart. She opened for Quinn XCII, has toured internationally, and played at Governor’s Ball in New York.

Chelsea — who has nearly 5 million listeners on Spotify — grew up in Westport, and attends Amherst College.

However, she is not a Staples alum. She graduated from the Pomfret School.

And how about this, Senor Salsa fans: Garry Dean, owner of the popular Post Road West restaurant, is Jimmy Dean’s son.

This marks the first time in history that Mannequin Pussy, Chelsea Cutler and Jimmy Dean have all appeared in the same sentence.

(Hat tips: Catherine Walsh and Jaime Bairaktaris)

Blues, Views & Volunteers

Over the past few years, the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival strayed from its local roots.

Crowds poured in from the tri-state region. They heard great music, ate smokin’ barbecue, and their kids played in bouncy houses and on slides.

The only thing lacking was Westporters. For some reason, it was hard to find our neighbors there.

The event — set for August 31 and September 1 , at the Levitt Pavilion and library parking lot — has been reimagined this year. Founder Bob LeRose returns as a producer. He, Westporters Peter Propp  and Crispin Cioe have reached out to local businesses.

They’ve targeted 2 great non-profits — Staples Tuition Grants and Wakeman Town Farm — for a portion of the proceeds.

Though they’ve scrapped the BBQ portion of the event, they’re bringing in top acts like Lawrence, Anders Osborne, Southern Avenue and the Main Squeeze.

“We view the event as Westport’s hometown festival,” Propp says.

This summer, 3 interns helped maintain that hometown feel.

In the spring, Taylor Barr — a 2019 Staples High School graduate who heads to  George Washington University soon — joined the team.

He recruited rising seniors Emily Stone and Emma Vannart. The trio worked on social media, strategy and sponsorship sales. They’re now distributing posters and postcards around town.

From left: Taylor Barr, Emma Vannart and Emily Stone.

Propp calls the interns “an unstoppable force.” They helped bring on West, Earth Animal and Greenwich Medical Spa as new sponsors.

“They analyze problems, crack jokes, are thoughtful and smart,” Propp says. “It’s been really fun to get to know them.”

As Blues & Views draws near, more volunteers (of any age) are needed. There’s work to be done before — and of course during — the festival. For more information on the event, click here. To volunteer, email info@bluesviews.com.

Batsh*t Bride Comes Home

First came “Groundhog Day.” Then “Independence Day.”

A new film takes place on April 1. It’s not called “April Fools Day” — the title is “Batsh*t Bride” — but the premise is clear.

Just before her wedding that day, a bride pranks her fiance by saying they should break up. Unfortunately, he feels the same way. Everything spirals out of control from there.

Jonathan Smith’s indie feature — starring Meghan Falcone as Heather — debuts August 26 at Stamford’s Avon Theatre. The venue is signifcant: “Batsh*t Bride” was filmed throughout Fairfield County.

Many scenes took place right here, including Christ & Holy Trinity Church and Longshore and Pearl restaurant. A number of Westporters had roles as extras.

The first scene the filmmakers shot was Heather’s failed wedding. Cinematographer Jason Merrin worked on it while in town for his own wedding.

A local blog posted the call for extras. Expecting only a handful of people, Smith planned his camera angles creatively. However, the Christ & Holy Trinity pews were packed.

Lights! Camera and action came later. (Photo/Ellen Bowen)

Many extras were then recruited for other background shots. One was even given a line.

The ballroom and hotel scenes were all shot at The Inn at Longshore. But the production was allowed in only on Monday through Wednesday, for 2 consecutive weeks.

Smith liked Longshore so much, he rewrote several sections to fit the grounds. He added in golf and kayak scenes.

Tickets to the premiere are $10. Chez Vous Bistro offers a $25 prix fixe 2-course dinner prior to the screening, while Flinders Lane Kitchen & Bar has happy hour drink prices and complimentary appetizers after the screening (with ticket stubs).

Email batshitbride@gmail.com for tickets and dinner reservations.

Jacob Heimer Is Beautiful. On Broadway.

Jacob Heimer was a Barry Mann fan — even before he knew the songwriter’s name.

Growing up in Westport with eclectic musical tastes — he loved everything before, during and after the Elvis era — Heimer listened to the radio, and rummaged through his dad’s record collection.

“You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling,” “Walking in the Rain,” “On Broadway” — he knew them all.

At Staples High School, Jacob’s band Sally’s Place (named for the popular record shop, owned by the beloved and influential Sally White) covered “I Love How You Love Me” — a 1961 song produced by Phil Spector, co-written by Mann.

Heimer was a talented musician and actor. At 13, he was part of the the Barrington Stage Company’s professional production of “Falsettos.” His Staples Players credits include “Oliver!,” “Merrily We Roll Along” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

David Roth, Alice Lipson, James Andrew, Kevin Connors — all were huge influences on Heimer.

“I have ADD. Focusing is not easy,” Heimer says. “In theater, I could direct my energy really positively. Being in the performing arts helped my grades. And I had incredible support from everyone in my life — especially my family and teachers.”

More than a decade ago, Jacob Heimer and Mia Gentile starred in Staples Players’ “Urinetown.” She’s gone on to a Broadway career, in “Kinky Boots.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

In “Falsettos,” the youngster told an older cast member that he wanted to be a professional actor. Along the way, Heimer said, he’d probably wait tables.

“Don’t have a backup plan,” the man advised.

After Staples (Class of 2006) and Syracuse University — where he took advantage of the superb Shakespeare Globe program — Heimer searched for work.

His first paid Equity gig was a young audience’s show in Florida. Then he landed an “off-off-off-off Broadway” role in an “odd production about displacement camps, with puppets,” and had a lead in “Gold Star,” an indie movie with Robert Vaughn.

Jacob Heimer and Robert Vaughn.

Cast in a Shakespeare production, he met his wife Iris, a talented actor. (She changed careers, and now works at the Center for Reproductive Rights.)

Five years ago, Heimer auditioned for “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” It took a while, but he landed ensemble roles — and understudy for Barry Mann — in the first year of the jukebox musical’s national tour.

(Collage courtesy of Staples Players)

Thanks to his early introduction, Heimer knew more about Mann than he knew he knew. But after getting the role he read “Always Magic in the Air,” a book about the talented young songwriters who cranked out hit after hit — for solo artists, girl groups, rock bands, you name it — in the tiny, windowless rooms of Broadway’s Brill Building.

Heimer gained plenty of insights into Mann — including his relationship with Cynthia Weil, and “his own neuroses.”

Heimer calls the show “brilliantly written.” But after the tour ended, he and Iris headed to Italy for a vacation. On the last day — in a beautiful cave city with no cell reception — Heimer got a text from his agent. Could he play Barry Mann again for 2 months — on Broadway?

“It’s icing on the cake,” Heimer says of his current gig. He’s on stage through September 29. Ben Jacoby will resume the role in October, when the show closes after 6 years.

Making his Broadway debut a couple of weeks ago was “exhilarating,” Heimer notes. More than a dozen family members came to opening night.

“This is the most supportive group I’ve ever worked with. I was petrified — even though I knew the role. The cast didn’t know me. But they didn’t care that I wasn’t doing it like the guys before me. They welcomed me in.”

Playing Barry Mann in the Stephen Sondheim Theatre is a fantastic experience, Heimer adds. “This place was built for intimate music.”

With his long involvement with Barry Mann’s (and Carole King’s) music — even if he didn’t realize it at the beginning — does Heimer have a favorite song in the show?

Jacob Heimer (3rd from left) with the cast of “Beautiful.”

“The lyrics of ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ are so sensitive and vulnerable,” the King/Gerry Goffin tune.

“Singing ‘Walking in the Rain’ as a duet with Cynthia Weil is definitely a highlight.

“And ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’ is such a great song.” Mann wanted to release it himself, Heimer says, but the Animals heard it and made it one of their anthems.

So: Has Heimer ever personally met the man he plays on stage?

Absolutely.

Barry Mann is “alive and well in California. He’s a very sweet guy.” He’s seen “Beautiful” a few times — including the Los Angeles opening, where he met Heimer.

Barry Mann (3rd from right) and Jacob Heimer share a laugh. On left are Sarah Bockel (who played Carole King) and Alison Whitehurst (Cynthia Weil) on tour.

“He told me something that made me laugh out loud,” the actor says. “I’m keeping it to myself.”

On Broadway.

By The Time We Got To Woodstock …

Sure, the saying goes, if you remember the ’60s, you really weren’t there.

But if you went to Woodstock, you must remember it.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of that memorable concert/party/generational earthquake, “06880” hopes to run a special story.

If you have any connection to Westport (you grew up here, you live here now, you drove through once on I-95) and to Woodstock (you went there, you wanted to go, you were conceived there), please email your memories (and photos) to dwoog@optonline.net.

Lotta freaks! 

Friday Flashback #153

Lou Nistico is fondly remembered as part of the family that owned the Arrow — the beloved Italian restaurant in Saugatuck (it’s now Mystic Market).

In the mid-1970s though, he was also the concessionaire at Longshore. His daughter Joanne was the bartender.

At the time, Westport was the illustrators’ capital of the world. They worked at home, but socialized often.

A group of cartoonists often played golf, then headed inside for martinis. Joanne calls them a “fun and wild group of talented men.”

One day during lunch, they dashed off this collage for Lou:

Famous names are included: Tony DiPreta (who drew “Joe Palooka”), Bud Jones (“Mr. Abernathy”) and Bob Gustafson (“Tillie the Toiler”).

Dick Wingert’s “Hubert” looks half in the bag, as he raises a glass to “Lou the Great!”

But check out Stan Drake’s “Juliet Jones,” and his/her R-rated comment.

Then look at Curt Swan’s Superman next to Grace — and his wandering eyes.

They make a nice couple. Their cartoon kids would have been gorgeous.

The Power Of Courtney Kemp

Never underestimate the power of a strong, smart, committed woman.

In 2013 Courtney A. Kemp — a 1994 Staples High School graduate who went on to Brown University, then earned a master’s in English literature at Columbia — created a visionary television drama.

It was about New York’s “rich and infamous,” and the international drug trade. She called it “Power.”

It was the writer-producer’s first pitch ever. Starz loved it — and bought the series. Kemp was nominated for an Emmy. Ebony Magazine named her to its (naturally) “Power 100.”

Her co-producer was Curtis Jackson — the Grammy Award-winning rapper/actor/director/entrepreneur known as “50 Cent.”

Courtney A. Kemp with her “Power” producer 50 Cent.

The duo know all about power. And next month (August 14, 7 p.m., The TimesCenter, New York) they’ll discuss “Power” at a New York Times Talk.

Topics include the creative origins of the show, and the importance of culturally diverse narratives on our sociopolitical landscape.

Sounds like a very powerful evening.

(Click here for more information and tickets. Hat tip: Mary Condon)

Friday Flashback #152

“Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” — the wonderful Westport Country Playhouse production running now through August 3 — got me thinking about entertainment options, back in the day.

America’s greatest songwriter lived long enough to see Elvis Presley (whose version of “White Christmas” he loathed) and MTV (it’s unclear what Berlin thought of “Video Killed the Radio Star”).

But in 1919 — when he turned 31, and was already a Tin Pan Alley and Broadway composing star — the main entertainment in many small towns was a motion picture theater.

Westport was no exception. The Fine Arts on the Post Road (today it’s Restoration Hardware) seems like a hopping spot. I posted photos a while ago.

Now — thanks to Kevin Slater — we’ve got a great idea of exactly what Westport movie-goers were watching, exactly 100 years ago.

There were 3 shows a day: a 2:30 matinee, then 7 and 8:45 p.m.

But the Fine Arts was open just on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. (The fact that it was closed Sunday was so obvious, it wasn’t even noted on the poster.)

You had to move fast: Each movie (and accompanying shorts and newsreels) was there for one day only.

So what was Irving Berlin doing in 1919, when long-forgotten names like J. Walter Kerrigan, Vivian Martin and Madge Kennedy were stars?

That’s the year he wrote “A Pretty Girl is Like a melody” for Ziegfeld’s Follies.

And it was a full 8 years before Al Jolson performed Berlin’s “Blue Skies” in “The Jazz Singer” — the first feature sound film ever.

If you had any questions about any of the shows — and you could find a telephone — all you had to do was call.

The phone number was right there at the top corner: 325.

[OPINION] A Players’ Parent Perspective

David and Amy Mandelbaum moved to Westport 14 years ago. This fall their daughter Julia enters her senior year at The Westminster School of the Arts at Rider University, earning a BFA in musical theater. Their son Sam will attend Chapman University, Dodge School of Film, studying screenwriting, TV writing and production.

Both thrived at Staples High School, particularly in the Staples Players drama program. Sam graduated last month, then starred in his final production: the summer show “Back to the ’80s.” When it was over, David reflected on the experience of being a “Players parent.” His letter to fellow parents is worth sharing. He writes:

Having just attended my final show as a Staples Players parent, I’m still processing what this all means. If you will indulge me, I’d like to share a few thoughts that have been percolating. I know many others are going through the same experience, have gone through it before us, or eventually will go through it.

Sam and Julia Mandelbaum.

It’s been an amazing 7 years for Amy and me, starting with Julia’s first ensemble role in “Oklahoma!” and concluding with Sam rocking the stage (in a tubular mullet) one last time. In between there have been countless moments of joy, frustration, pride, anxiety – in short, a microcosm of what it is to be parent.

But seeing our kids grow in so many ways over these past 7 years has been a gift. We have seen them learn to persevere, work hard, sacrifice, collaborate, take direction, deal with and move beyond setbacks and inevitable social conflicts, lead, communicate, create, multitask, plan, manage very full calendars, and of course express themselves with increasing confidence through their art and talents for all the world to see.

It’s been quite a journey seeing that growth, and we attribute much of it to their Players experience and the uniquely special community that Players is.

Too many people to mention have contributed mightily to the organization that is the pride of Westport. David Roth, Kerry Long, Luke Rosenberg, Don Rickenback, Chris Stanger, Rachel MacIsaac, Rhonda Paul and Michele Wrubel, most especially, have lent their great talents and time to create an environment that is nurturing, while also demanding the very best from the kids.

Director David Roth with (from left) Georgia Wright and Sophie Rossman. They’re 2 of the many actors he’s worked with over his Staples career. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Because of them, our kids have had the opportunity to be a part of consistently outstanding productions year in and year out. We are further privileged to live in a broader Westport community that fully supports and embraces the arts.

The Players community would not be what it is, however, without the deep involvement of parents who have volunteered a considerable amount of their time and resources, while also being there when needed for rides and generously opening their homes to the kids for cast parties, field days and the like.

Players is so much more than the exceptional product on stage. It is a community of wonderful families and kids who gravitate to it. And we feel blessed to have gotten to know so many of them over the years.

Julia Mandelbaum (center) in “The Drowsy Chaperone.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Now the somewhat sad part as we end our journey as Players parents. I know all of our kids will go off to do great things in or outside of the arts. We will be there to support them as best we can through their many successes (and a fair share of inevitable setbacks, from which the most growth ultimately arises). Still, I recognize that we are unlikely to ever replicate the unique experience we have had as Players parents.

Over these past 7 years, the immense pride we have felt has not been limited to just our own kids, but also to their friends, who we have come to love.

Throughout these years we have shared the many joys and frustrations with other Players parents, who have become dear friends. Even if we are fortunate enough to see our kids shine in their next chapters, it won’t quite be the same as the bond of community in which those future experiences occur will not be nearly as strong.

Sam Mandelbaum in “Legally Blonde.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

In other words, it is not seeing our kids and their best friends on stage that we will miss most. But rather, we will miss being part of this incredible Players community that has become so important to and intertwined in our lives.

On that note, Amy and I will soon have to adapt to an entirely new schedule that does not revolve around fall, winter and Black Box shows and one-acts, and Orphenians and choral performances. I know that could open up some fun new possibilities for how we will spend our time. At this point, however, it’s a daunting prospect that we will need to come to grips with in a few short months.

Nonetheless, as I look back on these past 7 wonderful years, I also look forward. I am excited to see what college and life beyond has in store for our two kids and all the other Players grads. We also intend to continue to be supportive of Staples Players, albeit in a different capacity. You may not see us at 4 or 6 (or more) performances per show, but we will absolutely continue to be excited audience members of future Players productions.

So, at the risk of being too presumptuous, even though we are as of today no longer Players parents, we will still forever view ourselves as part of the Players family.