Category Archives: Entertainment

All-Star Cast Raises Voices For ADL

Fairfield County is a microcosm of our country. People of every race, ethnicity and religion — and with every imaginable political view — live within minutes of each other.

But we all live in strictly defined towns and cities. We hardly ever mix — let alone listen to each other.

For over 100 years, the Anti-Defamation League has used its strong voice to build mutual respect among communities.

On Sunday, September 10 — thanks to the leadership of ADL’s Connecticut director Steve Ginsburg, a Westport resident — the organization will use many voices to bring area residents together in a celebration of similarities and differences.

“Voices: A Concert for Unity” will inspire its Levitt Pavilion audience through music, dance, video and spoken word. The list of performers is very impressive.

Emcee Paul Shaffer — of David Letterman fame – will introduce the red-hot Plain White T’s, and national artists Suzanne Vega, Garland Jeffreys and Napoleon da Legend.

Plain White T’s

They’ll be joined by Westporters who have earned national notice: Alisan Porter (winner of “The Voice”), “Newsies” star Adam Kaplan, Michael Bolton’s drummer Drew McKeon, and Justin Honigstein (lead singer of Honeystone). The Staples High School 2016-17 Orphenians will sing too.

Also onstage: Bridgeport’s ABCD, Neighborhood Studios and Pivot Ministries Choir; Weston’s Chris Coogan and the Good News Choir, and Fairfield’s Double Up Dance Studio and FRANK (School of Rock).

Westport’s own Alisan Porter. with “The Voice” trophy.

Artistic director Sarah Green is one of the Founders of Kool to be Kind, and the director of the wildly successful Slam Jam held earlier this year at the Westport Country Playhouse.That broad array of talent is matched by a variety of partners. ADL is working with more than 40 non-profits across the area.

They’re reaching out too to religious groups, universities, local and state law enforcement agencies, and government officials across the political spectrum — though this is a non-political event.

The outpouring of support from national and local celebrities, businesses, volunteers and the host town of Westport is greater than for any previous local ADL event, organizers say.

Sponsors are still being sought, to enable community partners to attend free of charge — and help fund ADL’s programs to fight bias, bigotry and bullying of all kinds.

ADL has been a powerful voice in an important fight. They’ve assembled other powerful voices for September 10. Now you can add yours, too.

(For tickets to “Voices: A Concert for Unity,” click here. To learn more about sponsorships click here, or contact Terry Sidera by email [tsidera@adl.org] or phone [203-780-0209]).

Ringo’s Hair

For the sold-out crowd in the Town Hall auditorium last weekend, Fred Cantor’s documentary “The High School That Rocked!” combined Woodstock and class reunions with a trip down memory lane.

Men with far less — but grayer — hair than in the mid-’60s, and women wearing not granny but actual glasses smiled, laughed and clapped as the true story of how the Doors, Sly & the Family Stone, Rascals, Cream and Yardbirds played at Staples High School was told by folks who Really Were There.

There were plenty of anecdotes. Two Westport girls baked a cake for the Rascals; another touched Jim Morrison’s face.

Ed Baer

And then there was the tale told by Ed Baer. A former WMCA radio “Good Guy” and longtime Westporter, he spoke on camera about the astonishing effect the Beatles had on everyone at the time. The example he used was a contest his station sponsored. The grand prize: a locket of Ringo Starr’s hair.

The audience smiled knowingly.

But one woman could not believe her ears.

Leslie Schine graduated from Staples in 1971 — Cantor’s year. But in 1964 she was 11 years old.

And she won the same contest Ed Baer described in the film.

A Bridgeport Post news story shows 11-year-old Leslie Schine clutching her Beatles album.

At a reception after the showing, she mentioned the astonishing coincidence. And, she said, she had not even entered the contest. She did not know who sent in her name.

A 1964 story in the Bridgeport Post suggested it was a colleague of her father’s. Leonard Schine was a noted local attorney, and a former Westport Town Court judge.

The lock of hair — clipped from Ringo’s head on the Beatles’ 1st US tour — arrived at Leslie’s Bayberry Lane home, along with a photo of the Beatles cutting his hair; an affidavit signed by Ringo; a letter from WMCA, and a fan club postcard signed by all the Beatles (except John).

More than 50 years later, Leslie Schine mimics her previous pose. Here, she holds a photo she was sent by WMCA, showing “the Good Guys” cutting Ringo’s hair. (Photo/Carlotta Grenier Schaller)   

When Leslie told this story last weekend, she thought she still had it “somewhere.”

Sure enough, the next day — in just 15 minutes — she found it in her attic.

Along with the documentation.

“I seem to remember bringing it to Coleytown Elementary, and handing out single strands to friends,” Leslie says.

It’s amazing. Of all the anecdotes Ed Baer could have told, that’s the one he chose.

And of all 300 people in the auditorium last weekend, one of them was Leslie Schine.

Ed Baer was there too. Unfortunately, neither he nor Leslie knew of the coincidence, so they did not meet.

Still, it’s an astonishing story.

Yeah, yeah, yeah!

Pic Of The Day #90

The Reunion Band rocked the packed Levitt Pavilion last night. Comprised entirely of graduates of Staples High School’s Class of 1971, its members have played and recorded with — among many others — Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Miles, Van Morrison, Smokey Robinson and Orleans. (Photo copyright Ted Horowitz)

Justin Miller: Master Of Harmony

Justin Miller has a storied career as a music director. The 2001 Staples High School graduate — and noted Orphenian — graduated with degrees in music education (vocal) and performance (conducting) from Chapman University. In his 1st job, he led the Westminster Chorus to a Choir of the World championship in 2010.

In 2010 he succeeded his own teacher, Alice Lipson, as choral director at Staples. Simultaneously, he directed the Big Apple Chorus. He left both in 2012.

Justin Miller

Miller’s roots were always in barbershop. His father, John Miller, won 2 international championships, singing with Grandma’s Boys in 1979, and New Tradition in ’85.

Justin attended his 1st Barbershop Harmony Society convention at the age of 2 (with his dad, duh).

At 18, Miller joined the Masters of Harmony. As a singer, he won gold medals at BHS international competitions, in 2002, ’05 and ’08.

Now Miller — whose full-time gig is director of choral music at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, California — is back with the Masters of Harmony.

Not as a singer. In 2012 he was named chorus director.

Two years later he led them to a 2nd-place finish at the international convention in Las Vegas.

This year, Miller’s men — 140 strong — won it all. Click the video below, and you’ll see why.

In another great testimony to the barbershop world, Justin’s father traveled back and forth between Connecticut and California so he could sing with Masters of Harmony, under his son’s tutelage.

In an emotional coda to the competition, Justin was able to hand a gold medal to his father and fellow international barbershop champion, John Miller.

The entire chorus erupted in — not song, but applause.

Justin Miller gives his gold medal to his father, John. And the barbershop crowd goes wild.

Unsung Hero #6

This Saturday at 4 p.m., when the Westport Cinema Initiative screens “The High School That Rocked!” Fred Cantor will sit contentedly in the Town Hall auditorium.

Few in the audience will know that the ever-smiling Westporter came up with the idea for a film about 6 major bands — you may have heard of the Doors? — that played at Staples High School in the mid-1960s.

Cantor then produced the intriguing film. He tracked down archival photos, arranged interviews and found funding.

Fred Cantor, at the opening of the Westport Historical Society’s “The High School That Rocked!” exhibit. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

After the talkback that follows the showing, Cantor will head across the street to the Westport Historical Society for a cocktail hour. Guests will enjoy the “High School That Rocked!” exhibit — inspired, and curated in part, by Cantor.

At 8 p.m. Saturday, Cantor will sit on the Levitt Pavilion grass. He’ll watch with satisfaction as an all-star cast of Staples High School 1971 classmates — Charlie Karp, Brian Keane and Michael Mugrage, all of whom played and recorded with the biggest names in entertainment — join several other very talented ’71 classmates for one of the best shows of summer.

Cantor masterminded that event too.

He won’t get much credit for any of this. But he won’t mind. It’s just his way of contributing to the life, joy and history of the town he’s called home since he was 10 years old.

Cantor moved to Easton Road with his family from Fresh Meadows, Queens. (He loves that place too — and wrote a book about the middle class families that thrived there after World War II.)

While serving as a public interest lawyer in New York City, he and his wife Debbie Silberstein bought a 2nd home on Drumlin Road. They now live there full-time. True to his volunteer — and community-minded — form, Cantor is active in his road association, and a great neighbor to all in need.

Fred Cantor, in the Staples High School 1971 yearbook.

His selfless ways are legion. Several years ago, a Staples freshman soccer player with a single mother had no transportation after practice and games. Every day, Cantor — a former soccer star at Staples and Yale — drove him home.

Twenty years ago Cantor combined his passions for soccer, writing and history with a book, “The Autumn of Our Lives.” He followed the Staples team for an entire season, and told a compelling story of the changes — and similarities — between 2 teams, 25 years apart.

Cantor has done more than perhaps anyone in the world to keep the Remains’ memory alive. The Westport band that opened the Beatles’ 1966 tour — and that was, Jon Landau said, “how you told a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll” — has been memorialized in an off-Broadway play (“All Good Things“) and documentary film (“America’s Lost Band“).

Cantor came up with the idea for both. And made sure that both got made.

Always, he stayed out of the limelight.

These days you can often find Cantor at the Westport Library. He’s researching some element of Westport history.

Often, that research — or simple inspiration — leads to an “06880” story idea.

You may not have known the enormous impact Fred Cantor has had on this blog. Or this town.

Now that he’s this week’s Unsung Hero, you do.

(Know of an unsung hero we should celebrate? Email details to dwoog@optonline.net)

Staples Players’ Summer Musical “Working”: A Perfect Day Off For Audiences

When the school year ends, David Roth and Kerry Long don’t stop working.

After directing Staples Players’ 2 mainstage productions and a host of Black Box Theater shows, they turn their attention to the very popular summer musical.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the directors’ summer show. For the hard-working, very creative Roth and Long — and the equally hard-working and very talented Staples Players cast and crew — the selection is appropriate:

“Working.”

On July 20, 21 and 22, more than 50 students — from recent alumni to rising freshmen — will stage the sprawling, toe-tapping adaptation of Studs Terkel’s 1972 book. Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked,” “Godspell,” “Pippin”), James Taylor and Lin-Manuel Miranda contributed the music.

Using real words of actual people, the production takes an intimate look at the struggles and joys of a variety of Americans: factory workers, millworkers, project managers, cleaning ladies, masons, stay-at-home moms. Using a style similar to “A Chorus Line,” “Working” weaves together the stories of nearly 40 laborers over the course of one workday.

Rising freshman Samantha Webster and Staples 2016 grad Samantha Chachra rehearse Lin Manuel-Miranda’s “A Very Good Day.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

It’s a fascinating show, and it resonates for many reasons.

For one, it’s timely. As America debates all aspects of work — lost mining jobs, jobs moved overseas, how to prepare for jobs that don’t yet exist, gender stereotypes and roles, you name it — Miranda’s latest revision is compellingly relevant. As much as we talk about work, we seldom explore the meaning we get from whatever we do.

For another, Roth has wanted to direct the show since he was 16. He was a junior at Staples, and applied to present it as a studio production. Al Pia chose a senior’s project instead.

More than 30 years later, Roth gets his chance to work on “Working.”

For a third, it’s a musical that engages the 55 actors and 20 tech members. Freed from the pressures of schoolwork, they’re spending this summer totally devoted to something they love.

Summer shows draw together a wider range of ages than school-year productions. During the month of rehearsals and set construction they form strong bonds — essential to an ensemble work like “Working.”

Younger ones learn what it means to be a Staples Player. Older ones mentor them.

Christian Melhuish graduated last year, and is studying musical theater at Temple University. June graduate Jacob Leaf is headed to Northwestern. Both have roles onstage, and help Roth and Long as acting coaches.

Rising junior Antonio Antonelli, with alum Christian Melhuish in Staples Players’ production of “Working.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

For hours every day since school ended, dozens of teenagers have been hard at work. Their job: producing a show that seems effortless, while offering insights, inspiration, and tons of entertainment.

They’ve done it all for free. After all, they’re Staples Players.

But if they were getting paid, everyone would deserve a huge raise.

(“Working” will be performed Thursday, July 20; Friday, July 21 and Saturday, July 22 at 7:30 p.m., with a 3 p.m. matinee on Saturday, July 22, in the Staples High School auditorium. Click here for tickets. Tickets may also be available at the door 30 minutes prior to each show.)

Beneath Playhouse Stage, A Hallway Of History

The list of actors who have graced the Westport Country Playhouse stage is long and luminous.

Alan Alda. Tallulah Bankhead. Richard Dreyfuss. Joel Grey. June Havoc. Helen Hayes. James Earl Jones. Liza Minelli. And of course our own Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

Their head shots line the walls beneath the famous stage. Before every performance, actors in the current production walk out of their dressing rooms, past those photos.

Westport Country Playhouse company manager Bruce Miller, with some of the head shots near the dressing rooms underneath the stage.

Many of the 500 head shots show less famous actors. They too are part of the Playhouse’s wonderful history of 87 years, and more than 800 shows.

But on one wall — at the end of a hallway — hang 25 images. They are men and women who appeared at least once on the stage above.

The unidentified photos hang at the end of a hall.

They have no tags. Their names have been lost to the ages.

Yet one by one, company manager Bruce Miller is figuring out who they are.

The story begins with that very 1st show in 1931:”The Streets of New York.” Dorothy Gish’s photo went up in the wood-paneled lobby. For more than 70 years, dozens of other head shots joined hers.

For the 2003 renovation, Playhouse officials cleared the catacombs of photos, programs and other records. About 20% were moldy; they were thrown out.

The rest were stored off-site, in Bridgeport. When a sprinkler head bust, half of those items were lost.

Do you know this man …

During the renovation, someone decided to switch the locations of the head shots and the posters advertising previous shows. The idea was that the actors would appreciate seeing photos of their predecessors right outside the dressing rooms; theatergoers, meanwhile, would want to see the posters.

Now — thanks largely to those patrons — the gaps in the Playhouse’s history are being filled in.

Once a month, Miller says, someone calls or emails with something like this: “We were cleaning out my grandmother’s attic. We found a poster for this old show. Do you want it?”

… or this woman?

Playhouse staffers help too.

John Mosele was intrigued by the photo of an unknown mustached man. Working only with a partial name and Google, Mosele found the name “Emil Bundesmann” on a Spanish website.

Bundesmann turned out to be a member of the Playhouse’s original repertory company. He appeared in — and served as stage manager for — that 1st-ever show, “The Streets of New York.”

Anton Bundesmann, looking very suave.

After staging 3 plays in New York, Bundesmann was hired by David O. Selznick as a casting director — supervising screen tests for “Gone With the Wind.”

Under the name “Anthony Mann,” Bundesmann then directed films for Paramount, RKO and MGM, including 7 with James Stewart. His final 3 films were “Cimarron,” “El Cid” and “The Fall of the Roman Empire.”

Meanwhile, for years the only thing anyone at the Playhouse knew about the 1934 production of “The Virginian” was that Henry Fonda was in it. One day, Miller’s wife was talking to someone, when the Playhouse was mentioned. The woman said her mother had acted in “The Virginian.” She gave Miller her mother’s head shot. It now hangs near Fonda’s.

A young Henry Fonda.

But what about those photos the Playhouse has always had — yet remain unidentified?

Each year during the springtime open house, someone peers closely and says, “Oh, that’s so-and-so.” Miller searches online to confirm. Often, he can match the actor to the show.

Surprisingly, Miller says, the folks who know these long-ago actors are baby boomers — even millennials. They recognize the faces from movies — not plays.

A few of the identifications come from older actors. No one, however, has yet identified him or herself.

That would be a great plot twist.

Pic Of The Day #71

Not Woodstock — Westport. This was last night’s “Back to the Garden” season-opening concert at Levitt Pavilion. (Photo copyright Dave Curtis/HDFA Photography)

Courtney Kemp’s “Power”

Fans of “Power” — the Starz drama series whose 4th season debuts tomorrow — will love a Q-and-A that appears in today’s New York Times.

Showrunner Courtney Kemp — a 1994 Staples High School graduate — discusses the evolution of the character Ghost, her approach to her work, and more.

Click here for a behind-the-scenes look at a Hollywood showrunner. Click here and here for more on Kemp and “Power.”

Courtney Kemp (Photo/Kayla Reefer for New York Times)

(Hat tip: Mary Condon)

Tuesdays @ The Train

One of the enduring images of postwar Westport was Mom rounding up the kids, tossing them in the back of the station wagon, and driving down to Saugatuck to pick up Dad as he stumbled off the bar car — I mean, got off the train — after a hard day of work.

Times have changed. Mom now commutes; Dad works from home. One-car families gave way to 2 (or 3, or 4); the “station car” is now likely to be a BMW or Tesla. The bar car went the way of the 59-minute train ride (it’s now 68 — at least).

But the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce pays homage to those days. Starting this Tuesday, June 27 — and continuing July 18 and August 8 — they’re sponsoring a new event.

“Tuesdays @ the Train” are family-friendly (and free). From 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., you can meet Mom (or Dad) at the train, then cross under the tracks to Luciano Park (for 25 years the home of Festival Italiano).

There will be live music; food for purchase from Dunville’s, Tarry Lodge and Viva’s, plus Phil and Tom’s ice cream; a beer-and-wine garden, and games like bocce, bean bag target toss and badminton.

Chamber of Commerce executive director Matt Mandell built 2 giant Jengas and a Giant Kerplunk.

There’s a playground right in the park too, with a basketball hoop.

NOTE: You don’t need to be a commuter — or have a family — to enjoy “Tuesdays @ the Train.” Local workers, those who drive to work or work from home, retirees — and singles, divorced, flown-nest and childless couples — are warmly welcome too.

(For more information on Tuesdays @ the Train, click here.)