Category Archives: Entertainment

Pops! Goes The Concert

After 1296 straight days of rain and cold, the sun finally came out today.

This evening, so did the crowds.

Over 1,500 people — proud parents, folks whose kids graduated from school back in the 20th century, little kids who were born in the 2010s — packed the Levitt Pavilion for the 2nd annual Westport Pops concert.

A bottle of wine, some Pops, and wow!

The Bedford Middle School jazz ensemble, and Long Lots’ steel drum band — is there another elementary school with one this side of the islands? — warmed up the crowd.

Orphenians sang the same stirring arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that they wowed crowds with at Yankee Stadium.

The Long Lots Elementary School steel band.

Then Staples’ 3 orchestras, Orphenians (again) and jazz band took over.

Staples High School’s brassy sax ensemble.

The program rolled from “West Side Story” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” to Dolly Parton and freedom songs. Madison Malin and Riley Thrush nailed solos.

Madison Malin solos, Luke Rosenberg conducts, and the Orphenians sing Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.”

And then — waving American flags handed out by the musicians — the enormous crowd clapped along to a rousing “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Stars and stripes on the Levitt lawn, during “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

A night like this was worth all 12,960 days of rain and cold.

“Live at Lincoln Center” producer Andrew Wilk guest conducts the symphonic and sophomore orchestras in “Stars and Stripes Forever.” (Photo/Valerie Smith-Malin)

Broadway actor, noted entertainer and Weston resident Jim Naughton emceed the pops concert with wit and grace.

The Westport Police Department Color Guard opened and closed the show.

BONUS FEATURE: Here’s what the Levitt looked like last night, from Brandon Malin’s quadcopter:

Andrew Wilk Picks Up Pops’ Baton

Most days, Andrew Wilk works behind the scenes. As executive director of PBS’ “Live from Lincoln Center,” the longtime Westport resident has brought the magic of Luciano Pavarotti, Leonard Bernstein, George Balanchine, Yo-Yo Ma, Renée Fleming, Nathan Lane and many others to viewers across the country. The show is noted for stretching technical and creative boundaries.

Last year Wilk advised the Staples TV production staff, as they aired the high school’s 1st-ever Pops Concert at the Levitt Pavilion.

The event returns this Friday. (Tickets sold out as soon as they were available.)

This time, Wilk takes center stage: literally.

One of his passions is conducting. So — at the invitation of orchestra director Adele Valovich — Wilk will wield the baton for Friday’s grand finale: the rousing “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Andrew Wilk, rehearsing the orchestra at Staples.

“It’s a beautiful facility,” Wilk says of the Levitt. “It’s so picturesque, smack on the river. It will be packed with musicians, and the audience will be full. I’ll be happy to stand up there, as a proud Westporter.”

For once he won’t have to worry about camera angles or cutaway shots.

Making sure the brass and piccolos don’t miss a beat — that’s a snap.

The Live From Lincoln Center remote truck during television production of Lincoln Center Theater’s production of FALSETTOS which is now nominated for five Tony Awards

Alan Alda And Mozart “M*A*S*H” Staples

The final episode of “M*A*S*H” aired nearly 2 decades before they were born.

But 5 Staples High School musicians played Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A, K. 581, flawlessly last night.

They played it far better, in fact, than the 5 Chinese musicians who made it famous, in the “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” episode that Alan Alda co-wrote and directed. With over 100 million viewers that night, it remains the most-watched finale of any American television series ever.

Alan Alda posed last night with Staples’ quintet (from left): Woongki Hong, James Gikas, Michael Fording, Jack Whitten and Sophia Thomas. (Photo/Kelle Ruden)

Carrie Mascaro’s students were at the Westport Library last night, as part of Alda’s “Booked for the Evening” appearance. In the middle of Cynthia Gibb’s introduction — as she noted his many “M*A*S*H” accomplishments — the Staples quintet struck up the piece that struck such a chord with Major Charles Winchester.

It still affects anyone who has ever seen that stunning final episode.

And why did Alda pick that particular piece to weave into his finale?

He met his future wife Arlene more than 60 years ago. She’s a professional clarinetist — and she was playing that very same beautiful Mozart melody.

Alan Alda Booked In Westport

The largest crowd in the 19-year history of the Westport Library’s “Booked for the Evening” fundraiser listened, laughed and learned with Alan Alda last night.

After video clips from many admirers — including former Westporter Marlo Thomas, and the Chilean doctor who saved his life in 2003 — the actor/singer/director/activist/humorist/humanist (as introduced by Westport actress/singer Cynthia Gibb) took the stage.

Speaking without notes — but with tons of energy, his trademark smile and a clear love for his subjects — Alda wove together his ideas about communication, empathy, science and wonder.

A small portion of the large crowd that enjoyed Alan Alda last night at the Westport Library.

There was plenty of audience participation — even a couple of opportunities to test out his theories on active listening.

The final episode of M*A*S*H — which Alda co-wrote — drew a record audience. It still stands.

More than 3 decades later, the record library crowd understood why.

At a pre-event reception, Alan Alda jokes with Larry and Martha Aasen.

Pic Of The Day #46

Levitt Pavilion stairs (Photo copyright Lynn U. Miller)

Levitt Looks Lovely

The Levitt Pavilion’s summer season opens soon.

In addition to another 50 nights of free entertainment, concert-goers will enjoy enhanced landscaping. (If you’ve wandered outside the library, you’ve seen it already.)

What you may not know is that it’s largely thanks to one man.

Alfredo at work.

The other day, an alert — and appreciative — “06880” reader noticed Alfredo weeding the hill.

“That’s a big job,” she said.

“Yes,” he smiled at her. “I’m lucky I have the work.”

When that was done, he began mulching.

A few more plantings are coming soon.

When the summer series begins, I hope Alfredo will be there — relaxing to both the music and the flowers.

Martha!

It’s been a dozen years since Martha Stewart sold her Turkey Hill home, and moved to Westchester. Both she and we moved on.

But Westport and Martha remain an item in the minds and hearts of the many followers who still revere the lifestyle guru.

And this weekend, diehard fans from as far as Wisconsin and Canada will make a pilgrimage here, for her.

On Saturday, June 3, Positive Directions — the Westport-based awareness and treatment program for adolescents, adults and families affected by addiction — sponsors a private afternoon tour of Martha’s old farmhouse and gardens.

Locals will be there. Joining them is a flock of others, for whom the chance to meet their idol — at the actual spot where her empire began — is worth a trip from anywhere.

On Saturday, Martha Stewart returns to Turkey Hill.

Joey Jelnicki calls himself “the biggest Martha Stewart fan,” and he may well be. He lives in Philadelphia, but he calls his gardens “Turkey Hill.” His email address is “WestportJoe81.”

He’s had it ever since he got his first computer as a kid 20 years ago. Westport is “a place I can only dream about calling home,” he says. “It’s country living and beaches — the best of both worlds.”

On Joey Jelnicki’s previous visit to Westport, he posed at this sign.

“I adore Martha,” Joey says. “She adds a touch of class and good things to what can be a hard life to live.”

He has goosebumps thinking of walking through Turkey Hill — which he calls “my Graceland.”

It will be Joey’s first time meeting Martha in person (they talked once on her radio show for 7 minutes). But it won’t be his first visit to Westport.

Several years ago he stayed at the Westport Inn (which he’ll do again). He walked up and down the Post Road, swam at Sherwood Island, shopped locally, and talked with everyone he could about the town.

“Hearing how people grew up in Westport was great,” Joey says.

Dennis Landon’s email pays even more direct homage: “MarthaFan.” The Madison, Wisconsin resident has loved her ever since 1993, when a co-worker gave him her magazine. He got great ideas about changing a room’s shape with paint.

He’s kept copies of every magazine since, and videotaped nearly all the “Martha Stewart Living” TV shows. He’s converting them all to DVD.

“My life in the kitchen and garden has been totally been influenced by Martha,” Dennis says. “Her guidance over all these years is timeless.”

Dennis Landon, in his Martha-inspired Wisconsin kitchen.

The chance to take a tour — led by Martha herself — “really hasn’t sunk in yet,” he admits. “It doesn’t seem possible.”

Dennis flies in 3 days early. He hopes to visit some of the Westport places she’s referenced over the years.

Nathan Schmidt

Nathan Schmidt will drive here from Pittsburgh. He’s been a fan since 1992, when he was not yet 15 and his parents bought him a Christmas gift: the book “Martha Stewart’s New Old House.” He devoured it, and has re-read it many times since.

His friends encouraged him to come here, for “the chance of a lifetime.” A ticket to the tour was expensive, but Nathan says it supports a good cause.

He has been to Westport a number times — he even had a job interview here once. He’s driven past Turkey Hill — and the Adams house on Long Lots, the subject of his holiday gift book — but this will be his first chance meeting his idol, and touring her property.

Rox-Anne Henderson will be coming with her mother from Kitchener, Ontario, making this an international event.

Rox-Anne Henderson in Ontario, with the Canadian flag.

In fact, she says, besides her parents only Martha has influenced her life more. Rox-Anne was introduced to the magazine in 1990, at age 9; got her own subscription at 16, and learned to bake, craft and can her own food, all by reading and watching.

A few years ago Rox-Anne started her own lifestyle blog: Celebrating This Life. When creating content, she always asks, “What would Martha do?” That silent guiding voice has taught Rox-Anne that women can be both homemakers and business people.

The chance to speak to — and perhaps pose for a photo with — Martha makes Rox-Anne dizzy. She’s never been to Westport, but follows a few local bloggers.

“I’m excited to explore the city for myself!” she says.

Martha has been gone a while. But Turkey Hill remains a storied destination for many of her fans.

We look forward to welcoming Martha Stewart back this weekend.

And if you see Joey, Dennis, Nelson or Rox-Anne — or any other Martha devotees — give them a big “06880” hello!

(A few tickets remain for Saturday’s event. Click here for details.)

Jane Green Goes Pink

As a writer, Jane Green is familiar with art imitating life.

Now, life is imitating art.

Her art.

The Westport author is about to bring a scene from her latest novel to life, at Gilbertie’s Herb Garden in Easton.

In The Sunshine Sisters, Lizzy — one of 3 sisters estranged from their difficult, self-absorbed mother — is a chef who regularly hosts pop-up supper clubs on rooftops and farms in the tri-state area. Eventually, she sets up a permanent restaurant at a farm in … Easton.

Green’s publisher, Penguin Random House, is celebrating her “perfect summer novel” by recreating Lizzy’s supper club on the farm.

The date is Saturday, June 3 (6:30 p.m.). There will be farm-to-table food, signature cocktails, signed copies of the book, and goody bags from local sponsors.

A portion of all proceeds goes to Pink Aid, the breast cancer support group.

Green is well known for her 17 best-sellers. But she’s also spent a lifetime creating recipes, cooking for family and friends, and entertaining at her home here in Westport.

When she’s not writing, novels or cookbooks Jane Green entertains.

Readers love her novels — and her inventive dishes, photos of homemade food and recollections of special meals, shared online and in her cookbook Good Taste.

Now it all comes together, in real time and real life.

For a real good cause.

(For tickets and more information, click here.)

Duck! It’s 25 Years Of Karaoke

In 1992, Leigh Henry tried to sell Pete Aitkin a karaoke jukebox.

The Black Duck owner said no.

But he asked Leigh — a 1968 Staples High School grad, with a long and varied music career — if he’d host a karaoke show instead.

Leigh said yes.

Which is why — a quarter century later — the Duck is celebrating 25 years as Westport’s go-to karaoke restaurant/bar.

Leigh is a storied figure in Fairfield County. While still a Staples student, his band — Mandrake Root — opened for the Doors, and Sly and the Family Stone.

Leigh spent 15 years organizing shows, then booked music for clubs and private events. For 3 decades his band Celebration has played weddings and parties. He’s the vocalist in another group — the Leigh Henry Band — and also DJs.

In the early ’90s Leigh was selling karaoke machines, like those in Asia where people pay to sing. But Aitkin thought that if the Duck sponsored karaoke, there should be a host.

Before the opening show, Leigh wondered if anyone would come. He still recalls the first person — a woman named Maureen. She sang “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”

At that moment, Black Duck karaoke took off.

Black Duck karaoke, in the early days.

“Tuesday nights were wall to wall,” Leigh says. He added Mondays too, for 23 years.

Leigh’s karaoke fans like older music — classics. Not a lot of hip hop. The 3 all-time favorites, Leigh thinks, are “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Sweet Caroline.”

The Duck itself plays a huge role in Tuesday karaoke’s long success.

“The vibe is completely comfortable,” Leigh notes. “It’s a great equalizer. There are no pretensions. Bikers, tech guys, yuppies — everyone leaves their attitude at the door, and mucks in together.”

Just another Tuesday at the Duck.

The layout helps too. “There’s a bar where people sit safely. They can engage or not,” Leigh observes. “You can sit at tables. The place is small enough to be intimate, but large enough so there’s a lot of energy.”

Mike “Wolfie” Connors — the popular bartender from Day 1 to 2015 — also played a big role, Leigh says.

Five years ago, the Duck celebrated 20 years of karaoke with a party — and a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

Westport’s favorite karaoke spot.

For this 25th, Leigh upped the ante.

Tuesday, June 13 and 20 are “Applause for the Cause” nights. They’re like Relays for Life — except people sing to raise money, rather than walk.

The 1st night is “Only a Pay-Per-Tune”: donate $25 to sing a song.

The 2nd evening is a “Sing-a-thon.” Team leaders who raise $500 earn a 3-tune mini-set. They can perform themselves, or offer their slot to friends.

Leigh’s goal is $10,000 for the American Cancer Society.

Good times never seemed so good.

(To become a team leader, sign up for a song or make a contribution, click here. For more information, email lh@leighhenrymusic.com) 

Brett is one of many Black Duck karaoke stars.

“Night On The River” Is For The Birds

After 21 years, nearly everyone in town has a birdhouse.

For more than 2 decades, residents enjoyed a Birdhouse Auction. The idea was creative, fun — and totally Westport.

Local artists created amazing, unique and very cool birdhouses. They were showcased in Main Street store windows, kicked off by a springtime “stroll.” Then — as the highlight of a fun party — people bid to buy them.

All funds went to Project Return, the North Compo Road group home for girls and young women undergoing difficult times.

This special lenticular birdhouse was created by Miggs Burroughs.

But according to Jeff Wieser — CEO of Homes With Hope, the Westport housing organization that oversees Project Return — the effective shelf life of a fundraiser for most non-profits is 7 to 10 years.

The Birdhouse Auction took a tremendous amount of time and effort, by a dedicated core of volunteers. They asked a lot of very generous and talented and local artists.

And — as noted above — you can fit only so many birdhouses in your back yard.

Last year marked the final Birdhouse Auction. But Project Return needs as much support as ever.

Fortunately, a group of volunteers has created a new fundraising event. It’s a summer party with cocktails, dinner and dancing at the Saugatuck Rowing Club. Called “Night on the River,” it’s set for Saturday, June 3.

Vineyard Vines’ Main Street window — with white outfits specially for the “Summer Nights” gala.

Wieser is particularly pleased that a “great group of younger people” has taken over the planning.

“The next generation is getting involved in Westport volunteerism,” he says. “They’ve got a new canvas of creativity.”

But they’re keeping some of that old Main Street stroll flavor.

Because the dress code for “Night on the River” is “strictly summer white,” organizers are asking downtown merchants — most of whom own clothing stores — to feature white clothes in their windows.

In addition, Amis restaurant created a special “Summer Nights” cocktail. It drew raves at its recent debut.

“Hopefully this is the start of a whole new tradition,” Wieser says.

Hopefully too the birds won’t notice there are no new feeders this year.

(Click here for more information on — and tickets to — “Night on the River.”)