Category Archives: Entertainment

First Night Is On! (But Fireworks Are Off)

Today — the last day of 2017 — is forecast to be one of the coldest of the year. Temperatures will peak at about 17 this afternoon, then drop to around 13 at night.

That should not deter anyone from First Night. In fact, it should inspire you! Sure, you’ll be chilly moving from event to event. But once inside the various venues, you’ll be toasty warm. And the outside stuff includes snuggle-close activities like horse-drawn carriage rides, stargazing and a warming fire.

In fact, the only casualty of the weather is the fireworks display.

For good reason: The Saugatuck River is frozen.

The Saugatuck River, as seen from Grace Salmon Park. The photo is from 2015 — but you get the idea. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The barge can’t get on the water. So — even though First Night director/guru Barbara Pearson-Rac spent the day with fire officials and the fireworks contractor trying to figure out a solution — that’s been scratched.

But that’s it! Everything else is on. Here are a few highlights:

  • Musical performances from Broadway, movies, jazz and the blues — including Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Mark Naftalin, award-winning pianist Chris Coogan, musical theater great Michele Grace and the School of Rock
  • A hypnotist
  • Train displays
  • Saugatuck School’s Kids Park, with indoor bounce houses, dancing, sing-alongs, balloon twisters, caricatures, a Magic Genie and ventriloquist
  • Theater acts
  • Puppet shows
  • Vaudeville
  • Family Zumba classes
  • Psychic readings
  • Comedy
  • Magic

Sites include Saugatuck Elementary School, Toquet Hall, the Westport Historical Society, Christ & Holy Trinity Church, Seabury Center, Jesup Green and more. (Click here for the full schedule.)

All performances are within walking distance. Free shuttles run from Jesup Green to Saugatuck Elementary.

First Night kicks off at 3:30 p.m., and runs through 10.

All you need is a button. They’re $15 each (kids under 2 are free), available online or at Trader Joe’s, Westport Library, Westport Historical Society, and Westport and Weston Town Halls. They’re also for sale during First Night itself at Town Hall and all venues.

Who needs fireworks, anyway?

Happy New Year!

(Hat tip: Kami Evans)

Remembering Jessica Shure

Jessica Shure — a Staples Players star in productions like “Guys and Dolls,” “Mame,” “The Mystery of  Edwin Drood” and “The Sound of Music” — died on Wednesday of a brain aneurysm.

The 2001 graduate is remembered by Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long for her “exceptional soprano voice, quirky sense of humor and devotion to musical theatre.” Here she is as Deirdre Peregrine/Rosa Bud in “Drood”:

As a senior, she performed a memorable spring concert solo with Alice Lipson’s choir.

She headed to Northwestern University and pursued acting after Staples, then changed careers and focused on food. She became a valued pastry chef at Bill Taibe’s Whelk and Kawa Ni. (Click here for a profile of her there.)

Jessica Shure (Photo courtesy of CTEatsOut.com)

Friends are invited to stop by the Shure house today (Saturday, December 30), from 1 to 6 p.m.

Her sister Caitlin and brother Dan suggest that contributions in her name can be made to a local animal shelter or the American Civil Liberties Union,

(Hat tip: Jim Honeycutt)

Friday Flashback #72

The new tax bill signed by President Trump may devastate Newman’s Own Foundation. Since 1982, the Westport-based organization has donated $512 million to charities helping veterans, children with cancer, low-income students and many other causes. (Click here for the full story.)

That news reminds us of the actor/food and lemonade manufacturer/automobile racer’s enormous, longtime impact on our town.

From the time he moved to Coleytown in the late 1950s — attracted here by the movie “Rally Round the Flag, Boys!” — he and his wife Joanne Woodward — were good, giving neighbors.

From the Westport Historical Society and Westport Country Playhouse to speaking with middle school students about substance abuse, the couple did plenty for all of us.

Everyone who’s lived here a while has a Paul Newman or Joanne Woodward story.

But I’d sure like to know the one behind this photo, taken shortly after he moved around the corner from the elementary school:

(Photo courtesy of Dave Parnas via Facebook “Exit 18” page)

Jane Green’s Moth Hour

The world knows Jane Green as the author of 19 novels, including 17 New York Times bestsellers. She has over 10 million books in print, is published in more than 25 languages, and has several books in development for film and TV.

Westporters know her as our neighbor (and the founder of the great Front Porch Facebook group).

And Moth listeners — over 1 million, and counting — know her as a wonderful storyteller.

In November of 2015, Green was invited to speak at Cooper Union.

Jane Green

Her tale — called “Greener Grass” — began with a trip from Westport to New York. When not one man looked at her, she realized to her chagrin that at 44, she had become “completely invisible.”

Green thought her life in the suburbs — with 5 kids, 2 dogs, 5 cats and 17 chickens — was good. But she met a “sweet, winsome, brilliant” — and young — writer in California.

She tried to figure out if they were flirting. When she was in London, they emailed. She still wondered if they were flirting.

She headed back to California, where the handsome young writer lived. Her husband came too.

After all, it was his birthday.

She saw the young writer’s house. They went for a walk.

The rest — we’ll you’ll have to listen yourself.

Which is easy, because The Moth posted “Greener Grass” online.

Listening to Jane’s story is well worth your 14 minutes.

One million listeners are clearly not wrong.

(Click here for Jane Green’s Moth story.)

Tributes Pour In For Sally White

Sally White was not an internet person. She much preferred interacting with people, face to face.

But when the longtime, much-loved owner of Sally’s Place — and before that, manager of Klein’s record department, and Melody House worker — died of cancer yesterday at 88, every online platform was filled with memories.

Generations of Fairfield County men and women (and teenagers) were Sally’s customers — and friends. She influenced literally tens of thousands of us. She opened our ears — and our minds and souls — to all kinds of music.

And she opened her heart to us.

Everyone has a Sally White story. Here are 2 of  my favorites. The first is from Drew McKeon. A Staples High School class of 2000 graduate, he’s spent the past several years touring the world with fellow Westporter Michael Bolton. Sally is a big reason why.

So sad to say goodbye to my old friend, Sally White. I’ll never forget the hours spent sitting one on one, listening to her stories of seeing the greats live (Sinatra, Hendrix, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Coltrane, Dylan, Buddy Rich, Miles), and how much our town had changed since she came to Main Street in 1954.

The wonderful Sally White

She sold me the first jazz albums I ever bought (“Kind of Blue”, “Speak No Evil,” “The Real McCoy,” Jarrett Trio “Live at the Blue Note”), and shook her head every time I came in for the latest Zorn Tzadik release.

I bought my first copy of “Purple Rain” there, and Tom Waits’ “Mule Variations,” and “Bright Size Life,” as well as every album Bill Frisell, Alison Krauss and Belá Fleck released from 1995-2014. I got Nirvana “Unplugged” there too.

She told me the same story about the guy offering to buy her Sinatra poster for $1000 (even though she had 2!) every time I came in, and regaled me with childhood tales about a shy and gentle Horace Silver.

She felt so guilty about declining invites to my high school shows that she gave me a gig playing standards with a quartet outside the shop during the Memorial Day parade.

I cringed every time she cut open a CD so haphazardly, the X-acto knife lunging in towards her abdomen. I’d tell her not to rip the cellophane just so I could obsess over the Winter&Winter packaging. “Hey, they don’t call it Sally’s for nothing — my store, my rules!”

Sally doing what she loves most: interacting with one customer. Another browses behind her.

She sold me “Innervisions” and Maceo’s “Life on Planet Groove” and “Babylon By Bus,” and gave me “Appalachia Waltz” for my 15th birthday. She stuffed 2 copies of Downbeat in my bag with every purchase, and tuned in to every episode of the WWPT radio show I hosted with Ted Thompson. My obsessive love for Joni and Edgar Meyer was born and fostered at 190 Main Street.

I, like so many other local musicians, am so thankful to have had Sally recognize and encourage my unquenchable thirst for music of all styles at a young age. I always thought it was so cool that I got my first Miles record from the same badass lady that a young Scofield did, a couple decades before. (I got a shitload of Sco records from her, too.)

Perhaps more than anything, I’ll always remember skimming through her prized postcard collection from the great Adam Nussbaum. He, years prior, was one of “Sally’s Kids” too.

At the time, I couldn’t fathom ever actually going to places like Malta, Cairo or Shanghai — let alone, getting paid to play drums there. But I knew I wanted to more than anything, and she assured me I would “be out there soon enough.”

I hope Blue Eyes is singing one for my gal Sal tonight!

——————————————

And this, from Jim Motavalli. He graduated from Staples in 1970 — 30 years before Drew McKeon — but he too will remember Sally White forever.

With 2partners, I started a record store in Fairfield, circa 1975. It was called Trident, because there were 3 partners — one of whom was my twin brother. The 2 of us had just graduated from the University of Connecticut, where we took not one business course.

We had a plan — we would pioneer the sale of used records in Connecticut — but beyond that we didn’t have a clue how to set up and stock a store. Fortunately, we had a friend, Sally White, then running the record haven at the downtown Westport department store Klein’s. Far from stocking just the hits, Sally made sure that the store was bulging with jazz — including albums from players who lived in the area: Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan (and, later, McCoy Tyner and Max Roach).

We called her, and she came over to talk business. Despite the fact we were planning to compete with her, Sally held forth all evening on all aspects of dealing with suppliers, getting credit, buying a cash register, handling returns, and was endlessly helpful.

I was thought of this episode on learning that Sally White died this week. She had closed her store, Sally’s Place (which succeeded her long stint at Klein’s) in 2013 — a victim of the digital revolution. I’m sure not being able to greet her many friends took something out of her — she’d sold records for 57 years!

After describing the recent revival of vinyl, Jim concludes:

Goodbye Sam Goody’s, Goodbye Tower Records. It’s not likely I’ll mourn the passing of these corporate superstores.

But I will shed a tear not so much for Sally’s Place, but for Sally herself. A real mensch.

(Click here to read Jim Motavalli’s full story, on his music blog Territorial Imperatives.)

Remembering Sally White

Sally White — who influenced, inspired, amazed and befriended generations of local musicians, music lovers and music wannabes — died this morning at Autumn Lake Healthcare in Norwalk.

For 57 years — first at Melody House on Main Street; then running the music department at Klein’s, a few doors away, and finally as the owner of Sally’s Place — she was one of Westport’s most beloved figures. 

In July of 2013, I posted the story below. It drew 57 glowing comments. Her passing will elicit many more.

There is no word yet on services. Whenever and wherever Sally White is laid to rest, I’m sure there will be plenty of great music.

————————————————————————-

Sally White has been selling music on Main Street since 1956.

Sometime this summer, her song will finally end.

The beloved owner of Sally’s Place — the record/CD store where Keith Richards and Mary Travers shopped (and schmoozed) with Sally, and any other music lovers who wandered up the steps at 190 Main Street — is closing down.

She’s not sure when (probably later this summer). And she has no idea what she’ll do with the hundreds of posters, autographed photos and musical tchotchkes that line the way (maybe sell them?).

Sally White, standing underneath a photo of one of her all-time favorites: Frank Sinatra.

Sally White, standing underneath a photo of one of her all-time favorites: Frank Sinatra.

She does know, though, that she’ll leave a business she’s loved from her 1st day at Melody House, a few doors away, 57 years ago.

She also knows why she’s closing. The internet dragged too many customers away. The stagnant economy dragged business down further.

Sally’s Place has a niche in Westport that will never be replaced. I walked in this afternoon at the same time as another customer. She wanted a vinyl copy of “Rubber Soul.” Sally promised it would be in by Saturday.

When Melody House closed in the late ’50s, Stanley Klein offered her a job in his department store’s record section. Raising 2 sons alone, she said she could work only 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. She also told him how much she needed to be paid. He hired her on the spot.

She worked there for more than 20 years. Her gentle nature, loving presence and encyclopedic knowledge of music influenced generations of Westporters — myself included.

Sally's Place is at 190 Main Street -- on the right, just past Avery Place.

Sally’s Place is at 190 Main Street — on the right, just past Avery Place.

When Klein’s record department closed in 1985, she decided to open her own store. Her brother-in-law wrote a business plan. She showed it to the president of Westport Bank & Trust.

He gave it right back. “We don’t need it,” he said. He trusted her word.

She offered her house as collateral. He refused. He was happy to back Sally’s Place without it.

It’s been an “amazing” 27 years, Sally says. “The bank, the record companies, my landlord — everyone has been fantastic.”

Especially her customers. “They make me feel special,” says Sally. “But I’m just doing what I love.”

Another customer this afternoon asked Sally for a turntable needle. She handed him a phone number. “This is the Needle Doctor,” she said. “He has everything.”

Sally’s musical roots run deep. She’s seen Frank Sinatra on stage. Also Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw.

Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan were close friends. So are many customers who never played a note. All are bound by a love of music — and the treasure that is Sally.

Sally doing what she loves most: interacting with one customer. Another one browses in back.

Sally doing what she loves: interacting with a customer. Another browses in back.

“I’ve been working since I was 14,” Sally says. “I’ve been a part of this town for a long time. This is my heart and soul. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.”

She’s survived as long as she has on special orders. Bluegrass compilations, rap, the “Roar of the Greasepaint” soundtrack — all are hand-written, in old-school logbooks. People find her from around the country.

She does not charge for mailing. “It’s my way of saying thanks,” she says.

As if on cue, a customer requested “old Polish-American polka music” for a wedding. She mentioned a composer. “S-t-u-r-r,” Sally spelled. “Right!” the woman said.

There is plenty of new vinyl -- and CDs, and random stuff, and musical knowledge -- at Sally's Place.

There is plenty of new vinyl — and CDs, random stuff, and musical knowledge — at Sally’s Place.

She does not stock Lady Gaga. “You can get that at Walmart for 10 bucks,” she says.

You can get it online, too — along with virtually everything Sally sells. Which is why she has written this message (by hand):

After 27 years of business I have decided to retire. The economy and internet sales have made it impossible for me to continue.

I thank you for your support, and hope you wish me well in retirement. I’ll miss you.

“Quick and easy,” she says. “I don’t need the schmaltz.”

But we need to say “thank you” to Sally White. Please hit “Comments” to share  your memories, or offer praise.

And then — whether you’re a longtime admirer, a former customer who faded away, or someone who always meant to stop by but never did — go see Sally.

She’ll be glad to see you.

And her broad, loving smile will make your day.

(Click here to read a previous post about Sally’s Westport Arts Center award.)

Back to the Basics: A Portrait of Sally White from Claire Bangser.

Lalie’s Lullabyes

Years ago, Saugatuck Congregational Church drew Lalie Madriguera in.

She loved co-pastor Marty McMane and Alan Johnson’s sermons. The community of worshipers embraced her.

And the choir was wonderful.

The Saugatuck Congregational Church choir.

That was important. Lalie (it’s pronounced “Lah-lee”) was a singer.

She discovered her talent years earlier. Living in New York — but unsure of what to do in life — she heard a little boy screaming in a grocery store.

Without thinking, Lalie sang “Pennies From Heaven.” Instantly, the child stopped.

His grateful mother invited her to sing at the boy’s 3rd birthday party. Then she invited Lalie to share her talent with others.

“If you can calm a special needs child,” the mother said, “every parent will love you.” So Lalie embarked on a singing career that featured many children’s shows. She called her performances “Flash! Bam! Alakazam!”

At last, Lalie has recorded some of those comforting songs. “LalieByes” — a play on the word “lullabies” — is her debut CD.

I should mention here that Lalie is 76 years old.

And a great-grandmother.

“LalieByes” is strictly a cappella. After all, Lalie notes, “when a mother sings to her child, there’s no piano, guitar or orchestra.”

The songs are from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. She hopes they will soothe not only infants and small children, but elders and those with special needs.

Some of the tunes– recorded at New York’s St. Michael’s Church — are from her children’s shows. But many are different.

“They have to be calming,” Lalie explains. So she sings “Summertime,” and one her own mother sang to her: “You Were Meant For Me.”

Lalie says she is “carrying on the great American songbook. I’m trying to pass on this music to the next generation.”

Lalie Madriguera

She knows her musical history. Lalie’s father Enrico was a Spanish-born violin prodigy whose orchestra performed at New York’s Biltmore and Waldorf Astoria hotels, and on WNYC. Her mother — vocalist Patricia Gilmore — hosted a weekly radio show on NBC. And Lalie’s aunt married guitarist Andres Segovia.

Lalie’s daughter, Linda Couturas, lives in Westport. She’s a Black Duck regular, performing with Cinderella Saturday or a big band.

Earlier this month, Lalie offered “LalieByes” to Saugatuck Church parishioners — where she sings in Heather Hamilton’s magnificent choir. You can buy the CD here.

Of course, Lalie notes, many people today don’t own CD players. So it’s available to download too: just click here.

We’re in an exciting new musical world. And — thanks to Lalie Madriguera — it’s a comforting old one too.

BONUS FUN FACTS: Lalie performs her original composition “Mother’s Song” every Earth Day at the Saugatuck Church. And — as in past years — she’ll sing with Chris Coogan’s trio at the Seabury Center this Sunday, as part of Westport’s First Night.

Cohl Katz’s A-List Clients

Cohl Katz makes everyone feel like a celebrity.

The talented hair stylist and makeup artist works with a devoted clientele at Dream Spa. The handsome stand-alone home on the Post Road next to Crate & Barrel is a perfect spot for the low-key but very creative Cohl.

But she finds time to make actual, legit celebrities look even better than usual.

Her clients literally span A (Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin) to Z (Zelda Williams).

The other day, she prepared Jodie Foster for her “Silence of the Lambs” parody on the “Late Show Stephen Colbert.”

Cohl Katz adjusts Jodie Foster’s “Clarice Starling” wig.

Then it was time for Tracy Morgan. His new TV series debuts this spring.

And she posed for a selfie with longtime client Tom Hanks.

Then it was back to Westport. Her customers needed her to make them look fabulous too.

Today’s Extra-Special Holiday Gift

Santa has his elves. The Staples High School music department has Jim Honeycutt.

Though he retired in 2016, the video production teacher returned this month to coordinate video coverage of the Candlelight Concert.

Now — with help from audio production instructor Geno Heiter and consultant Mike Phillis — Candlelight fans around the globe can enjoy the 77th annual show.

Highlights include:

  • “Sing We Noel” is at 8:35.
  • Luke Rosenberg’s choral groups (15:45 27:35, and 36:00).
  • Adele Valovich’s symphonic orchestra (46:40).
  • Nick Mariconda’s symphonic band (59:15).
  • Don Rickenback’s production number (01:20:00).
  • The rousing “Hallelujah Chorus” (01:34:10).

Unwrap this gift carefully. It’s very precious!

 

Ferdinand!

For nearly 80 years, Ferdinand has delighted the world.

Well, nearly everyone.

The story — about a gentle Spanish bull who prefers flowers to bullfighting — was banned in Spain and burned in Nazi Germany, because of its “pacifist” overtones.

But it’s been translated into over 60 languages (and never gone out of print). A Disney cartoon adaptation won a 1938 Academy Award. The other day, a 3D computer-animated version was released, to pretty good reviews.

Many “06880” readers know the local connection: The 1936 book was illustrated by Robert Lawson. He’s the only person to win both a Caldecott Medal (for most distinguished children’s picture book) and Newbery Award (for important contribution to children’s literature).

Lawson was a longtime Westporter. He named his house Rabbit Hill — then wrote a 1944 Newbery-winning book of the same name, based on all the animals there (the book also includes a reference to Deadman’s Brook).

The home — which still stands — is adjacent to the United Methodist Church, on Weston Road. (Rabbit Hill Road is off nearby Sipperley’s Hill Road.)

One of Robert Lawson’s many “Rabbit Hill” illustrations.

Earlier — from around 1923 to ’33 — Lawson and his wife Marie lived in the house that is now the Tavern on Main restaurant. They moved to Taylor Place, before buying their property on Weston Road.

Turns out, there are even more local Ferdinand connections. While Lawson illustrated “The Story of Ferdinand,” it was written by Munro Leaf. He’s the grandfather of Sam Leaf, who now lives (of course!) in Westport.

Sam’s son Jacob — Munro’s great-grandson — is well-known around here too. Before graduating from Staples High School last June, he starred in many Players productions. (He was, for example, Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof.”)

Too bad that the latest “Ferdinand” movie is animated. What a hoot it would have been to have found a big role in it for Jacob Leaf.

That’s no bull.

(Hat tips: Maxine Bleiweis and Elizabeth Devoll)