Category Archives: Entertainment

Dr. Altbaum Hangs Up His Stethoscope

Medicine has changed a lot in the 42 years since Dr. Robert Altbaum began practicing.

Physicians know much more. They have better treatments and medications.

On the other hand, it’s much more of a business. Paperwork (on computers) has increased exponentially. There’s less time for each patient.

Another trend — “concierge” medicine — has widened the gap between those who can afford to pay for added access to doctors, and those who can’t.

Dr. Robert Altbaum

Several years ago, Internal Medicine Associates of Westport — where Altbaum has spent his entire career — began talking about a concierge tier. Four partners left, to open a strictly concierge practice

“It would have made life easier, and probably more profitable,” he admits.

“But my patients had been so loyal. I wanted to continue the same way to the end.”

He accepted 100 or so concierge patients. The rest — hundreds — he treated just as he’d always done.

“Emotionally, for me, it was the right decision,” Altbaum says.

This June, one of Westport’s longest-serving physician retires. He’ll hike, snowshoe, play tennis, travel, and enjoy his wife, children and grandchildren. All live nearby.

He’ll join the Y’s Men, and — a “perpetual student” — take courses at local universities.

Yet he won’t leave medicine behind. Altbaum will teach at Norwalk Hospital, and give talks at places like the Westport Library, on subjects like hospice, advance directives, and searching the internet for diagnoses.

Medicine has been a rewarding career for Altbaum. It’s what he always wanted to do.

He graduated from the Bronx High School of Science at 16. After New York University (Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude) and Harvard Medical School, he did a residency in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

His wife was a Staples High School graduate. Her mother was diagnosed with cancer. To be closer, he spent a year of ambulatory chief residency at Yale New Haven Hospital.

During his mother-in-law’s illness, Altbaum met Paul Beres and Harold Steinberg. They were looking to add an internist to their practice, established by others in the 1950s.

Altbaum joined them in June of 1978. He’s been there nearly 43 years.

“It’s gone by quickly,” the doctor says. “There have been different partners. But it’s the same shingle. The same name.”

Altbaum still works 70 hours a week. Each day, after 8 to 12 hours with patients, he spends 2 to 3 hours updating records on the computer.

He takes his laptop into the examining room too. He regrets having to look down at the screen, rather than always into his patients’ eyes.

But that same technology allows him to retrieve information quickly. It eliminates possible errors in medication. He’s come to embrace it.

Technology has also made his patients — always intelligent — much more aware of their own medical care. “They walk in well prepared with information,” Altbaum says. “That can be good or bad.”

And although he sees each patient less than before — 15 to 20 minutes, rather than 20 to 30 — he never sensed a change. “There’s still a strong bond,” he says. “They’re loyal to their doctor, and their doctor is loyal to them.”

The Internal Medicine Associates staff. Dr. Altbaum is standing, far right.

What kept Altbaum going for over 4 decades? “I really like medicine. I like the science. I like the feeling at the end of the day that I helped people.”

His greatest worry when he began was that internal medicine would be “colds and influenza.” In fact, he says, as his patients have aged — the majority are now older than he is — their issues have grown more complex. That’s a challenge. And in that challenge, strong relationships are forged.

In the weeks since announcing his retirement, Altbaum has been heartened by his patients’ responses. “People say I’ve made a difference in their lives. That’s so rewarding,” he says. “That far outweighs the burden of the hours.

“I’m grateful that I’ve gotten a lot of intellectual and emotional reimbursement from what I’ve done.”

He always planned to retire at 70. Had he left a year ago — before COVID — he says, he probably would have come back.

“This has been very hard on our partners,” he notes. “But from a medical perspective, it’s been a very stimulating time. We learned a lot. We digested a lot of information in a short period of time.”

Much of Altbaum’s life has been focused on medicine. But he has another passion. It’s been on display for years: music.

Not just any music. Rock ‘n’ roll.

Dr. Albtaum (front row, far right) and his band.

As a child, Altbaum took piano lessons. At 13, he and few friends formed a band: The Blue Shades.

“It was 3 months of acne and voice changes. We had no gigs. We were pretty bad,” he recalls.

At 18, he got a gig: accompanying youngsters at Hebrew School. When his own children were part of the Staples elite Orphenians choral group, he played piano for them.

Then, 20 years ago, he and fellow physicians Fred Kaplan, Andrew Parker and Frank Garofalo formed a band.

DNR plays at the Levitt Pavilion. Keyboardist/vocalist Dr. Altbaum is at right. (Photo courtesy of WestportNow)

“It was like a Mickey Rooney movie,” Altbaum says. “We were a garage band. We actually practiced in Frank’s garage.”

Other doctors joined. They got good. They called themselves DNR (medical-ese for “Do Not Resusciate”). Their website claims that former Surgeon General Everett Koop called them “the best multispecialty rock group in Fairfield County.”

Through the years, more doctors have played with DNR. (And one attorney: bassist Fred Ury.)

The current lineup has been together about 15 years. They’ve got a devoted classic rock following. Their Levitt Pavilion show — a fundraiser for Westport’s Volunteer Emergency Medical Service — is always jammed.

COVID canceled last year’s show. But Altbaum is eager to get back on stage.

And he’ll have as much time as he needs to rehearse. (Hat tip: Amy Schafrann)

Roundup: COVID Vaccine, Beach Stickers, The Remains, Invasive Plants …

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In case you missed it: Connecticut has moved up the date for all eligible residents 16 and over to get COVID vaccines. It’s now April 1 — no fooling!

An increased supply of vaccines will enable 200,000 doses to be distributed next week. That includes the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.

You can call 877-918-2224, 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to schedule an appointment. Click here to schedule online.

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Beach stickers will be available this Monday (March 29). Click on the Parks & Recreation Department website, then “Memberships.”

At least a couple of beachgoers were ready yesterday for summer to begin:

(Photo/Karen Como)

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Westport hits the jackpot with this month’s Connecticut Magazine.

Local writer Michael Catarevas contributed an in-depth, insightful, and very intriguing look back at the Remains.

They’re the band — fronted by 1963 Staples High School graduate Barry Tashian, with ’64 alum Bill Briggs on keyboard — that packed clubs around New England, played “Ed Sullivan” and “Hullabaloo,” had a major recording deal — and in 1966, toured with the Beatles.

They were all set to be rock’s next big thing — until they weren’t.

I’ve written often about the Remains. Jon Landau nailed it, back in the day: “They were how you tell a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll.” Now Catarevas’ story — which includes details about their still cult-like status and recent tours — puts it all together, for a statewide audience.

Bonus cuts: There are sidebars about Briggs’ tour with the Kingsmen (“Louie Louie”),

Click here for the main story. Click here for one sidebar on ’71 Staples grad Fred Cantor’s off-Broadway play and film documentary on the Remains — and another on Prudence Farrow, the inspiration for the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence.”

The Remains

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A reader writes:

“In light of the town support of our Asian community, I want to share what I saw in New Luxx Nail & Spa (near the old Calico) earlier this week.

“A gentleman in uniform came in. I’m not sure if he was a police officer or firefighter. I heard him speaking to the owner and workers, who are Asian.

“He warmly told them that we (I assuming he meant Westport law enforcement) are very proud of and value our Asian business community. He said ‘we are here to support you,’ &Sp and that anything they need, or any issues they might have, they should not hesitate to contact them.

“I am proud of our community and law enforcement, that they made this outreach to these wonderful people of whom I have grown very fond. It is these unseen acts that help make Westport the place that it is.”

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Invasive plants have invaded Westport. They crowd out natives and are harmful to our natural resources, disrupting biodiversity and ecological processes.

Earthplace has partnered with Sustainable Westport and the Town of Westport to host 2 events.

The first is an in-person walk this Sunday (March 28th, 1 to 2:30 p.m., $10). Click here to register.

The second event is a free webinar on Sunday, April 11 (1- to 1:45 p.m). Click here to register.

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The Assumption Church Youth Group holds a food drive this Sunday (Palm Sunday, March 28, 7:30 a.m. to noon). Non-perishables are needed. All donations go to their sister parish in need — St. Charles in Bridgeport — and to children in the care of Missionaries of Charity in Bridgeport.

Donors should pull into the back parking lot. Someone will unload your trunk.

Meanwhile, tomorrow (Saturday, March 27, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.), Weston’s St. Francis Church holds a drive-through food drive in their parking lot on 35 Norfield Road. As with Assumption, volunteers will unload non-perishables from your trunk. All donations will be delivered to the Weston Food Pantry, and Norwalk’s Open Door Shelter.

Assumption Church, from Imperial Avenue (Photo/Patrick Goldschmidt)

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And finally … ladies and gentlemen: The Remains!

 

Roundup: Firefighters, Swans, Geese …

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Earlier his week, Westport firefighters assisted the Westport Weston Health District and Department of Human Services by providing COVID vaccinations to homebound residents.

And … while delivering the vaccines, Fire Department members performed home safety inspections, including inspecting flammable substance storage, and checking and installing smoke and CO2 alarms.

Then yesterday morning, our firefighters helped Human Services by loading and unloading food boxes from the Connecticut Food Bank. 60 will be distributed to food-insecure households in Westport. Two more pick-ups are scheduled next month.

For more information on food resources, email humansrv@westportct.gov or call 203-341-1050.

Kudos to all involved. It takes a village — and ours is a great one. (Hat tip: Jennifer Gallini Petrosinelli)

Firefighter Liz Ferguson helps with food distribution.

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At the same time, Fire Department members were training downtown:

(Photo/Lauri Weiser)

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Audrey Hertzel posted a COVID vaccine comment. It’s so good, I’m repeating it here. Every “06880” reader needs to see this — and follow through.

Audrey wrote: “I had my first shot at the Stamford Lord & Taylor parking lot last week. Everyone was so wonderful.

“Someone on a local neighborhood group suggested bringing cookies, coffee, etc. to the the workers.

“I brought 100 Dunkin’ Munchkins and a Box of Joe for them to share. They couldn’t have been more appreciative. I’m hoping more people do the same — and spread the word to others!”

Thank-you donuts. (Photo/Audrey Hertzel)

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Interested in the future of downtown?

Tomorrow (Friday, March 26, 1:30 p.m., Zoom), the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Senior Center offer an interesting online panel.

Topics include:

  • How is downtown doing?
  • Where is downtown headed, post-COVID?
  • Can people live downtown?
  • What is there for seniors?

The high-powered panelists include:

  • Randy Herbertson: President, Westport Downtown Merchants Association
  • David Waldman: Owner, David Adam Realty
  • Kim Harizman: Realtor, KMS Partners @ Compass
  • Annette Norton: Owner, Savvy + Grace

Chamber of Commerce director Matthew Mandell will moderate.

Click here for the Zoom link. The meeting code is 889 0588 3613. The passcode is wcsa.

What’s up downtown? (Photo/Lauri Weiser)

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Yesterday, the Board of Selectman unanimously adopted this resolution:

WHEREAS, Asian-Pacific American communities are suffering acts of discrimination, hate crimes, and microaggressions, which have been exposed and heightened due to COVID-19; and

WHEREAS, anti-Asian rhetoric and sentiment is stigmatizing, tends to incite fear and xenophobia, and numerous Asian-Pacific Americans are experiencing increased racial profiling, hate incidents, and, in some cases, hate violence; and

WHEREAS, in an effort to bring attention to baseless and xenophobic actions, hate speech, and bias, and most particularly, those against the Asian American and Pacific Island community, the Town of Westport must demonstrate its support for neighbors, families and friends who are adversely affected and traumatized by these acts.

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Westport Board of Selectmen emphatically denounces xenophobia and anti-Asian sentiment. The Town of Westport joins municipalities, counties, and states across the country in affirming its commitment to the safety and well-being of Asian-Pacific Americans and in combating hate crimes targeting Asian-Pacific Americans; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that Westport remains committed to condemning all manner of racism, stigmatization, hate speech, hate crimes, xenophobia, discrimination and violence.  Protecting residents, business owners, workforce members, and victims of hate through supportive programs and policies that embrace inclusivity, diversity, civil discourse, and acceptance for all, remains at the forefront of our intentions as a community to combat hate and racial injustices.

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Yesterday’s “06880” Roundup mention of Christopher Lloyd prompted Jack Backiel to dig out his Staples High School 1958 yearbook.

Here’s what he found for his now-famous classmate:

Football? Party of the year? Lawrence (sp) Olivier? But hey — he still looks (almost) the same.

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Whitney Raith spotted this scene on Monday, just a few steps from busy Parker Harding Plaza. The swans were protecting their nest.

(Photo/Whitney Raith)

But, she notes: “When I walked by, one of the parents got very upset. I know swans can get nasty. I hope people are aware, and keep their distance.”

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On the same day, Daniel Hoffman spotted this guy at Compo:

(Photo/Daniel Hoffman)

“Spring is officially here,” Daniel says.

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After 38 years as founder and chair of the Susan Fund — where she oversaw raising and distributing nearly $2 million in scholarships to 285 Fairfield County students diagnosed with cancer — Ann Lloyd has stepped down from her role.

Incoming chair Jeff Booth’s first official act was to name Ann chairman emeritus.

That’s her second recent honor. Last month, the indefatigable Westporter was an “06880” Unsung Hero of the Week.

Ann Lloyd

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And still another sign of spring — and the (hopeful) end of the pandemic:

(Photo/Bill Ryan)

Bill Ryan says that the Longshore golf course sand traps are raked — and rakes are in place, ready to be used.

Last year, COVID restrictions included the removal of all rakes. Fore!

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And speaking of sports: Dave Briggs is a great interviewer. (He should be: He spent more than 2 decades at Fox News, NBC Sports and CNN.) His Instagram Live sessions have become must-see viewing for ever-larger audiences.

It helps that he snags great guests.

Today’s is Jay Williams. The NBA analyst and ESPN radio host is — like Dave — a a Westport resident.

It’s live at 2 p.m. today (Thursday, March 25; @WestportMagazine). The 2 guys welcome your questions. Shoot!

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In January 2020, “06880” reported that Little Beet was coming to the Fresh Market shopping center.

The chain offers “wholesome, healthy food that not only tastes great, but makes you feel great.” Food is “carefully sourced … from farmers and purveyors we trust, guaranteeing all of our food is gluten-free and better for you.”

The menu includes make-your-own rice and quinoa-based meals, poké and other bowls, vegetable sides, and breakfast sandwiches, parfaits and oatmeal.

Little Beet would open that summer, I confidently said.

COVID and (perhaps) other issues intervened. The storefront sat empty. But now, work has begun.

Perhaps a summer 2021 opening is on the table?

(Photo/Dan Woog)

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Last month, “06880” paid tribute to Bob Comstock. After a legendary career in New Jersey journalism, he spent nearly 20 years in Westport. He was active in the Unitarian Church and Y’s Men.

Yesterday, at his daily COVID press briefing, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy added his own tribute to Bob. Click below to watch:

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And finally … we celebrate 2 big musical birthdays today: Aretha Franklin and Elton John. What a duo they would have made!

Roundup: Operation Varsity Blues, Christopher Lloyd, Women’s Voices …

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Operation Varsity Blues” — the Netflix movie about the rich-and-famous college admissions scandal — has taken America by storm.

There’s a Westport angle. Thankfully, it has nothing to do with a parent pretending his or her child was a star water polo player, even if he or she cannot swim.

“Operation Varsity Blues” was written and edited by Jon Karmen. He’s the 2008 Staples High School graduate who made a huge name for himself there as half of “Rubydog” — a moviemaking duo who, working with media instructor Jim Honeycutt, made a number of way-beyond-high school videos back in the day. (Click here to see some of their pioneering work.)

Karmen is known too as the writer/director of “Fyre” (2019), a behind-the-scenes look at that infamous music festival.

“Varsity Blues” was #3 on Netflix’s Top 10 Most Watched Movies & TV Shows yesterday. But it wasn’t the only one with an “06880” connection. Jamie Mann’s “Country Comfort” checked in at #7. (Hat tip: Kerry Long)

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Speaking of Staples: More than 60 years after helping found Staples Players, Christopher Lloyd is still acting.

In 1958 he was a Staples High School student who wanted to do more than just act in a class play. He found a mentor in English teacher Craig Matheson. The rest, as they say, is history.

Lloyd went on to a career that includes “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the “Back to the Future” trilogy, “Star Trek III,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and 2 “Addams Family” films.

At 82 years old, he’s got a new movie: “Senior Moment.” He stars with Jean Smart and William Shatner, who play a pair of older star-crossed lovers in an old-school romcom.

Lloyd talks about that project; his 5 wives — and growing up in Westport — in a wide-ranging Guardian interview. He was the youngest of 8 children, though the closest in age was 7 years older. Click here for the full interview. (Hat tip: Jeff Mitchell)’

Christopher Lloyd in “Senior Moment.”

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Speaking again of Staples: Staples history classes absolutely crushed the National History Day regional competition.

Their papers, documentaries and exhibits examined everything from the Daughters of the Confederacy and Queer Communications in the Age of Oppression to Crypto-Analysis in World War I, Cigarette Advertising and the Freedom Riders.

How dominant was Staples? 32 students placed. There were only 5 other winners in the entire region, from just 2 other schools.

Placing first were Ishan Prasad, Sabrina Paris, Maya Hruskar, Lilly Weisz, Srushti Karve, William Jin, Michael Nealon, Zachary Brody, Jeffrey Pogue, Jack Ginsburg, Preston Norris, Tyler Clark and Matthew Gatto.

Finishing second were Nikos Ninios, Franca Strandell, Camille Vynerib, Julet Tracey, Lily Klau, Olivia Stubbs, Hannah Fiarman, Franky Lockenour, James Dobin-Smith, Coco Laska, Karlie Saed and Sarp Gurdogan.

Taking third were Sebastian Miller, Analise Vega, Emma Porzio, Arda Ernamli, Hannah Conn, Samantha Paris and Ethan Cukier.

Their (superb) teachers are Drew Coyne, Nell-Ann Lynch, Cathy Schager and Kelly Zrenda.

Up next: state and (hopefully) national competition.

A US championship? That would be historic.

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Speaking once again of the arts: On Tuesday (March 30, 7 p.m.), the Westport Country Playhouse presents a world premiere of “New Works/New Voices.” These 4 new pieces — all written by community members — honor women who inspired them: Constance Baker Motley, Anne Bogart, Mary Freeman, Mary McLeod Bethune and Gloria Steinem.

Local storytellers and actors will bring to life these very personal, beautiful stories recorded on the WCP stage.

Viewers are invited to pay what they can. 50% of ticket sales and donations during the broadcast go to the Playhouse’s community partner, Women’s Mentoring Network, providing career, educational and personal resources for the economic empowerment of low-income women and their families.

Click here to register for “New Works/New Voices.”

The artists and storytellers who will bring 5 women’s stories to life.

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Westporter Rob Simmelkjaer was confirmed yesterday, by a bipartisan State Senate vote, as chair of the Connecticut Lottery.

It’s a volunteer — but quite active — role he’s served in since May. Area senators Will Haskell and Bob Duff spoke warmly on the media executive’s behalf.

Rob Simmelkjaer

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Update from Parks & Rec: The concession stand at Compo Beach will open in mid-April. Last year, during COVID, it opened late, and ran only from a trailer adjacent to the brick building.

The concession stand at Compo Beach will be open next month.

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MoCA Westport has added 5 members to its board of directors. Two are from Westport.

Jennifer Kanfer has served on the board of The Conservative Synagogue, including co-chair of the Social Action, Membership and Fundraising Committees. and with the Coleytown Elementary School PTA. She previously worked in healthcare communications for 14 years. She holds a BA in political science from the University of Michigan, an MPA in healthcare policy and administration from NYU, and an MBA in Finance from NYU’s Stern School.

Samantha Yanks is an award-winning editor with over 20 years experience in luxury fashion and lifestyle publishing. In 2018 she launched a social, digital and branding agency, Samantha Yanks Creative. She was most recently editor-in- chief of Gotham and Hamptons magazines. As senior accessories editor at O, she collaborated closely with Oprah Winfrey. Yanks has discussed fashion, beauty and lifestyle on “The Today Show” and “NBC Nightly News,” “New York Live,” “Good Day New York,” E!, the Martha Stewart and Howard Stern shows, and more. She graduated from Tulane University.

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‘Tis the season — for both holiday lights and daffodils.

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

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And finally … the great — and greatly underrated — Billy Stewart was born today, in 1937. He died in 1970, only 32 years old.

If you only have time to listen to one song, it’s “Summertime.” But everything he touched was a classic.

 

Players’ Next Radio Show Will Be “Marvelous”

For over 60 years, directors and upperclassmen have passed Staples Players’ traditions and lore on to underclassmen.

After all, they — including directors David Roth and Kerry Long — were once freshmen and sophomores too.

This year, COVID did more than cancel mainstage, Black Box studio and One-Act  performances. The pandemic also jeopardized those cultural connections.

The nationally renowned troupe adapted to the loss of live theater, with a series of radio shows. They’ve produced 7 — musicals, comedies, thrillers — to great acclaim.

Most of the roles went, naturally, to juniors and seniors. Because the casts were smaller than major shows, underclassmen missed the chance to get a foot on Players’ impressive ladder to the stars.

Roth and Long also missed something: the chance to get to know a new generation of students. For the past year, Roth — who teaches theater at the high school — says that all he sees in class are “kids with masks, or in little boxes on my laptop.”

Providentially, as the directors discussed doing a radio show for 9th and 10th graders only, they found the perfect vehicle.

Roth and Long run a 6,000-member Facebook group for theater educator worldwide. A woman from Australia posted a play she’d written: “The Marvelous Mellow Melodrama of the Marriage of the Mislaid Minor.”

“It’s one of the funniest scripts I’ve ever read,” Roth says. “No one’s ever heard of it. But it’s a fantastic send-up of over-the-top dramas.”

It airs this Friday (March 26, 7 p.m.). Audiences worldwide — including the playwright in Australia — can hear it on wwptfm.org.

The “Marvelous” cast of freshmen and sophomores. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Students sent audition tapes. The cast of 24 — the largest by far for a Staples radio show — jumped quickly into the project. They’ve been aided by Jasper Burke, a senior who is a superb dialect coach, teaching every accent from upper-class British to Irish to Cockney.

The directors added 10 more actors. They’ll produce classic radio commercials.

Roth and Long have gotten to know the underclassmen well. Five assistant directors — all seniors — pass along Players’ traditions and rituals, just as they would during a mainstage.

As with other Players radio shows, all actors will be fully costumed.

You won’t see those costumes, when you click on wwptfm.org this Friday. But for the next 3 years, you’ll see those freshman and sophomore actors grow on the Staples stage.

And then they’ll pass all they’ve learned as Players on to the generation that follows.


Ben Herrera and James Dobin- Smith fight for the heart of Quinn Mulvey (in red), as father, Henry Carson, tries to save the day. (Photo/Kerry Long)

 

 

Roundup: Oystercatchers, Drive-In Concerts, Clear Cutting …

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Tina Green reports that the American oystercatcher pair has returned to Compo Beach for the season.

“Their loud. distinctive calls announced their early morning arrival for all to hear yesterday,” she says.

“No doubt they will try to nest again in the same area of the beach just north of the cannons. The pair successfully raised and fledged 3 juvenile birds last year, due in part to the beach being closed because of COVID. They had the beach to themselves until May, along with the piping plovers.

“Compo visitors — especially those with dogs — should keep away from the oystercatchers and give them some space. Westporters are very fortunate to have a front row seat to watch nature up close and personal in our hometown.

American oystercatchers at Compo Beach yesterday. (Photo/Tina Green)

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Besides the oystercatchers, there’s another returnee to Westport: drive-in concerts.

The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Westport Library sponsor 2 next month. The site is the Imperial Avenue parking lot.

Sophie B Hawkins — a great talent, and Westport resident —  opens the season on Friday April 23rd. The show — featuring her 5-piece band is a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Deep Banana Blackout follows on Saturday, April 24. The 8-piece band is an area favorite, with a high-energy mix of jam, funk and blues.

Tickets for each show are $150 per car (5 person max). Tickets for Sophie B Hawkins go on sale on this Monday (March 29, 10 .am). Deep Banana Blackout will go on sale Tuesday, March 30, also at 10. Click here to order.

Sophie B Hawkins

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Speaking of entertainment: Jamie Mann — the Staples High School senior who stars in Netflix’s new hit, “Country Comfort,” which premiered Friday — has written a great piece for Backstage on the highs and lows of being a young actor.

He writes honestly about his love for dance, the “dead zone” when child actors grow too tall and add braces, the mentors he found in Westport like Cynthia Gibb and Jill Jaysen, being just another cast member with Staples Players, and more. Click here to read.

Jamie Mann (Photo/Curtis & Cort)

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John Noble writes: “I live near Earthplace, and walk by this house on Woodside Avenue almost every day.

It’s a teardown. I totally get it — but why did the developer take down over 17 large mature trees to create this eyesore of a lot now? There’s always 2 sides to a story, but as a neighbor this tree obliteration really bugs me.”

(Photo/John Noble)

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The Westport Library is seeking candidates for its Board of Trustees. Of particular interest: people with expertise in finance, fundraising and development for non-profits; knowledge and understanding of current trends in digital media and information technology, or a background in municipal government and/or not-for-profit law.

Trustees serve 4-yeare terms. Click here for more information.Interested candidates should email a resume and letter of interest to rpowell@westportlibrary.org. The deadline is April 19.

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Westporter Ana Cristina Purcell died on March 16. She was 68.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she immigrated with her parents to the US in the 1950s.

Ana was a graduate of Staples High School. She served as the office administrator for Purcell Moving Corporation, a family-owned business, for over 20 years. She enjoyed traveling, the beach, and spending time with family and friends.

She is survived by her husband Lawrence; daughter Cristina; son Shane (Jennifer Soyeck); sister Julia Huber; niece Rachel Greene; nephew Philip Huber, and grandchildren TJ Altman, Kroy Purcell and Camilla Purcell.

Harding Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. Services will be held at Assumption Church this Saturday (March 27, 11 a.m.). After, close friends and family are welcome to their home to share memories of her life.

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And finally … happy 67th birthday to legendary University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma.

They beat High Point by a whopping 102-59 on Sunday. Tonight (9 p.m.) they face Syracuse. Go Huskies!

Remembering Bobra Harris

Noted actress and former Westporter Anthonette Bobra Suiter Harris died Friday. She was 97 years old.

Born in 1923 in Council Bluffs, Iowa, her life spanned the early age of aviation and the automobile, to the space age and digital era.

An avid and early adopter of her prized iPhone and iPad, she stayed current and opinionated on all issues, especially political, and was always guided by her strong Catholic faith.

Moving to a small farm in Omaha with her family during the Depression, the family got along by trading eggs and produce for gasoline and other staples.

Bobra Harris

Her father’s self-taught love of the classics, from Plato to Shakespeare and beyond, led to her appreciation of opera. Every Saturday, the family  gathered around the radio to hear live broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera. Bobra imagined herself singing professionally.

She enjoyed watching movie matinees during the golden age of Hollywood. That — and talent — led to an audition for Lerner and Loewe for the Broadway company of “Brigadoon,” touring in Chicago. Loewe listened to her from a seat far up in the balcony, and hired her on the spot.

FShe had roles in “Kiss me Kate” and “Carousel” in New York. She married Broadway dancer Bill Harris in 1950, a year after meeting in “Brigadoon.”

Her first child arrived in 1953. Bobra continued to act in early television. She specialized in Tennessee Williams’ plays, with a lead in “Summer and Smoke.” The Harris family moved to Old Mill Beach in 1956. A number of theater friends had already moved there.

When her youngest son started school she went back to acting in earnest. She spent the next 27 years on the CBS soap opera “The Guiding Light,” and appeared in numerous small parts on the second cast of Saturday Night Live with Jim Belushi. She had bit parts in “The Godfather,” “Marathon Man, ” “Trading Places,” “The Awakening” and others.

Her last appearance at the Westport Country Playhouse was in a 1974 production of “Tobacco Road.”

She was a founding member of the Actors’ Workshop with Keir Dullea, in Westport.

In her spare time she served as president of the Westport Young Woman’s League. She was also an avid bridge player.

A proud member of SAG and AFTRA, she was made a voting member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decades ago. She received DVDs to vote on for the upcoming Academy Awards at the time of her death.

She would pounce on the New York Times Sunday crossword, and usually completed it.

A remarkable woman of great strength and perseverance in the face of adversity who relied on her faith to get her through, she lived for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She made a great effort every day to stay in touch, support, and mentor them with a quick phone call, text or email.

She was predeceased by her husband of 50 years, William R. Harris Sr., in 2000; her middle son Scott Anthony, a career CIA officer who died in 2008, and her 3 brothers. She is survived by her sisters, Rosemary Anderson of McLean, Virginia and Jeri Rizzuto of Omaha; sons Bill Jr. of Westport and Craig of Longmont, Colorado, 5 grandchildren and 2 great grand-children.

A mass of Christian burial will take place at 10 a.m. Wednesday (March 24) at Assumption Church, with burial to follow at Assumption Cemetery on Greens Farms Road.

Donations in Bobra’s name may be made to the AAAA Scholarship Foundation, which is establishing a memorial permanently endowed scholarship in her and her husband’s name, or the Smilow Yale Cancer Center.

 

Westport Country Playhouse Announces Virtual 2021 Season

The Westport Country Playhouse has announced its 2021 season.

As they have for 90 seasons, audiences will enjoy a variety of productions. They’ll entertain and provoke.

But unlike the previous 9 decades, audiences won’t enjoy those shows in the historic, beloved former tannery.

The coming season will be fully virtual. Productions will be streamed. The upside: Theater lovers anywhere can be entertained and provoked.

For the 2nd year in a row, there will be no audiences in the Westport Country Playhouse. But the show(s) will go on. (Photo/Dan Woog)

A year ago when the pandemic first struck, the Playhouse made the difficult decision to postpone its season.

Twelve months later, there is light at the end of the tunnel. But that does not include spotlights. Actors’ Equity and other stage union guidelines do not yet allow gatherings for rehearsals or performances.

Artistic director Mark Lamos, managing director Michael Barler and their staff have come up with a season that works well virtually.

“Tiny House” is the first production, in June. It’s a thoughtful new comedy with characters whose lives are reduced to smaller human circles. “That’s something we can all relate to” notes director Lamos.

“Doubt: A Parable” closes the virtual season in late fall. The Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner is an intimate drama that explores the consequences of missed cues and decisions made, from differing points of view.

Westport Country Playhouse

In between, the Playhouse brings back 2 gems from its HD video archives.

Pending approval of streaming rights, they’ll share the critically acclaimed 2018 musical, “Man of La Mancha,” as well as another fan favorite.

In addition, the Playhouse will present 4 more virtual Script in Hand play readings. The next — Evan Zes’ wild and wonderful “Rent Control” — begins April 26. The full schedule will be announced soon.

Meanwhile, the once-postponed “Next to Normal” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’” have been pushed back again to 2022. LA Williams, previously set to direct “Blues for an Alabama Sky” in 2021, will return next year with another play of his choosing.

The Playhouse wants audiences to experience those 3 shows in person.

As for this year’s streams: All content will be available on demand, at each viewer’s convenience.

Plans are underway for pre- and post-performance events to take place online, furthering connections with friends and Playhouse staff.

“We’re excited to get into virtual rehearsals, and start taking the show to your living rooms,” Lamos says.

And, he is convinced the Westport Country Playhouse will be back, live and on stage, in 2022.

Roundup: Mississippi And Westport, Players Radio Shows, Sivan Hong …

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Westport artist Tracy Sugarman’s experiences as a 1964 Freedom Rider influenced the rest of his life. They were the catalyst too for a long connection between Westporters, and leaders of Mississippi’s civil rights movement like Fannie Lou Hamer.

The Westport Public Art Collections has mounted an exhibit of Sugarman’s illustrations from that momentous time. It can be viewed by appointment (frontdesk@westportct.gov; 203-341-5072), or online.

On April 6 (7 p.m.), the Westport-Mississippi connection continues. A conversation about “Art, Civil Rights, and Social Justice” features Dr. Redell Hearn of the Mississippi Museum of Art, and town arts curator Kathie Bennewitz. Immediately after, TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey will moderate a Q-and-A session with Hearn.

It’s part of the Westport Library’s WestportREADS program, in partnership wit the Westport Arts Advisory Committee.

Hearn is no stranger to Sugarman’s work. In 2019 she curated an exhibition that paired his Freedom Summer illustrations with song lyrics like “Eyes on the Prize” and “This is America.

“July and 100 Degrees in the Shade at the Sanctified Church for Freedom School Kids, Ruleville, Mississippi” (Tracy Sugarman)

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If you missed any Staples Players’ radio shows — or you loved them, and want to hear them again — you’re in luck.

All 3 will be rebroadcast this Sunday (March 31). “Little Woman” kicks off the evening at 6 p.m.; “Sorry, Wrong Number” follows at 7:10 p..m., and “Dracula” provides a horror-show finish at 7:3 p.m.

Click on www.wwptfm.org for the trifecta.

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Westport author/illustrator Sivan Hong has published 2 new children’s books: Benny J. and the Horrible Halloween and George J. and the Miserable Monday. Like her other books, Sivan’s new ones focus on young children who overcome emotional challenges, with perseverance and bravery.

She ‘ll talk about them (virtually) with young readers on Saturday, April 3 (noon). At 1:30 p.m., she’ll be at the Westport Library for a socially distanced book signing. Books will be sold there. They can also be purchased in advance (click here).

 To register for this virtual program, click here.

Sivan Hong

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And finally … on this day in 1918, Congress established 4 US time zones — and approved Daylight Saving Time.

Jamie Mann: Good Ol “Country Comfort”

“I sucked at soccer,” says Jamie Mann. “I knew I wasn’t going to be a pro.”

But the Staples High School senior sure can dance. And sing. And act.

After being mesmerized by a performance of “Swan Lake” at 3 — and always dancing whenever he heard music — his mother suggested he try ballet.

Jamie was hooked.

“Dance is a special art form. It’s the purest form of emotional experience,” he says. “You tell a story without speaking. It’s graceful, unique and fulfilling.”

Jamie Mann (Photo/Curtis & Cort)

Jamie studied at the Alvin Ailey Athletic Boys program — dance is also a pure form of athleticism — as well as the School of American Ballet and Ballet Etudes. He has performed in “Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake” with the New York City Ballet, and did “Nutcracker” at the Westport Playhouse too.

Then came “Billy Elliot.” The first Broadway show he’d seen, he felt it called him to be on stage.

Soon he was — in 4 regional productions around the country. He learned as much about singing and acting as did dancing.

Working with a director for the first time, during long, strenuous rehearsals, Jamie became resilient. Seeing the “insane number of people” involved bringing a show to life solidified his desire to make theater his life.

He honed his craft with Staples Players. Jamie sang and acted in 8 shows, from “Newsies” to “Curtains.” The summer before junior year, he starred in “Because of Winn-Dixie” at the Goodspeed Opera House.

“I’m so fortunate to have grown up in this artistic community, where so many people helped me on this path,” he says.

He gives shout-outs to his first acting teacher, Jill Jaysen, and Cynthia Gibb at Triple Threat — his voice teacher, acting coach and mentor for 10 years.

Jamie Mann (right) in “Because of Winn Dixie” at the Goodspeed Opera House. 
(Photo/Diane Sobolewski)

Last year he auditioned in New York for a new project. “Country Comfort” is a Netflix comedy about an aspiring country singer who finds new life as a nanny for a handsome widower and his 5 charming children.

In the middle of rehearsals for Players’ “Mamma Mia!” Jamie got the job. He flew to California, for rehearsals and taping.

Jamie Mann (5th from left, in blue) in “Mamma Mia!” Photo/Kerry Long)

He had never been on a film set. He had to learn different blocking, not to look into the camera — and adapt to constant line changes. Every night brought a new script.

It was Jamie’s first time originating a role. He developed “Brody” — the 2nd oldest kid — as a character. “I found his mannerisms, and explored his character,” Jamie explains.

Brody is “someone I’d be friend with in real life. He’s a good brother. Parental in a way. He’s a little insecure. He doesn’t really know fully who he is. But he grew as a character from a blank slate. And I grew with him.”

Meanwhile, the entire cast — including Katharine McPhee, Eddie Cibrian and Ricardo Hurtado — had to create “a convincing family dynamic.”

They did. Jamie — who in real life has 3 younger siblings — feels like he now has a “second family.” He can’t wait for the world to see it, when it debuts this Friday (March 19).

Jamie Mann (left) with his “Country Comfort” family. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

But the show’s path from California set to Netflix distribution was not as smooth as it sounds.

Right after the 4th episode was filmed, COVID struck. The cast dispersed. They did not get together again until September.

“Up to then we didn’t know if we’d ever be back,” Jamie recalls. “But we jumped right in.”

Six more episodes were completed by the end of October.

Jamie Mann (center), ready for prime time. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Post-production takes time. Back in Westport, Jamie watched “Bridgerton” and “Stranger Things” on Netflix.

“It was weird to see them, and think I’d be on that platform soon,” he admits.

“But it got me excited. It’s cool that people all over the world can watch this.”

And in other languages. It felt very strange to watch a trailer in Spanish — his body, but his voice dubbed in by someone he’d never met.

As an actor, it’s always hard to watch himself, Jamie says. He will probably view the first episode on Friday with his “real life family,” at their Compo Beach home. But he’ll see most of the other shows by himself.

“Country Comfort” billboard in Times Square.

Then he’ll wait to see if “Country Comfort” — which has earned strong pre-reviews — will be picked up for another season.

Meanwhile, he’s reveling in being a Staples senior, even in this COVID-crossed year. He was part of Players’ radio show “Dracula,” and is waiting to hear from colleges.

He’s applied for musical theater programs. Competition is tough.

Yet it’s hard to imagine many other candidates have the ballet, singing — and “Country Comfort” — resumes of Jamie Mann.

BONUS REEL: “06880” first noticed Jamie in 2016. As a Bedford Middle School 7th grader, he danced a “Billy Elliot” routine in the talent show. I described the support he got as a young dancer from his friend Josh Suggs — and the thunderous applause he earned on the middle school stage. Click here for the story, then below for the video.