Category Archives: Westport Country Playhouse

Roundup: COVID Testing, MLK Followup, Stars On Stage …

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Westport’s newest COVID test center is now open.

Progressive Diagnostics offers same-day PCR results at no cost at the Greens Farms train station. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday.

Appointments are required. To register online, click here.

Progressive Diagnostics’ testing center is inside the Greens Farms train station.

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Martin Luther King Day was Monday. CNBC’s Shepard Smith celebrated with a fascinating story about Martin Luther King’s summers in Connecticut.

As a 15-year-old freshman at Morehouse College, he spent the summer of 1944 working as a farmhand at the Cullman Brothers shade tobacco farm in Simsbury. It was part of a program to raise funds for tuition. He returned in 1947.

The summers were eye-opening. Foro the first time, King saw a world beyond the segregated South. He and his fellow students dined in restaurants with white patrons, and tasted freedoms they’d never experienced.

Smith’s report details those years — and the efforts by Simsbury High School students to delve deeply into King’s summers in their town. They helped lead a successful drive to preserve those 280 acres as a historic site.

What makes that event — and the CNBC story — even more compelling is the Westport connection. Cullman Brothers was a holding company owned by the uncles of current Westport residents Bob Jacobs and Joel Treisman. It was started by Bob’s grandfather, and Joel’s great-grandfather.

Click below for Shepard Smith’s must-see report:

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The last of 3 “Stars on Stage from Westport Country Playhouse” shows airs this Friday (January 21). It’s 9 p.m. on New York’s Channel 13; check local listings for other PBS stations. The New York Times put it on their “What to Watch This Week” list.

Dixon — whose credits include Harpo in “Color Me Purple,” Eubie Blake in “Shuffle Along,” Barry Gordon in “Motown: The Musical,” and of course Aaron Burr in “Hamilton” — taped 2 shows at the Playhouse in September, with a live audience.

The first 2 “Stars on Stage” shows — produced by Westporter Andrew Wilk — starred Gavin Creel and hoshana Bean

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There are few visitors to Burying Hill Beach this winter. Well, few human visitors, anyway. These guys are perfect for a mid-January “Westport … Naturally” feature.

(Photo/Peter J. Swift)

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And finally … Edgar Allan Poe was born on this day in 1809. He died just 40 years later, under circumstances that remain mysterious. Many of his works endure more than 2 centuries later. Phil Ochs — who also died young — adapted this beautiful poem, and made it his own.

 

Roundup: Missing Woman, Signs Of Compassion, Floodplain Management …

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An extensive search river and land search was conducted yesterday by the Westport Department and Fire Dive team, after a 22-year-old woman disappeared from a canoe near the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge.

After 5 hours, the woman was seen on a surveillance tape at a local business. The search was suspended.

Early this morning she was located in Norwalk, and reunited with her family. Chief Foti Koskinas thanked all who aided in the search.

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In 2017, Miggs Burroughs’ “Signs of Compassion” project inspired visitors to the Westport Library.

Based on Emily Dickinson’s poem of the same name — and spurred partly by the darkening political climate — the noted Westport artist asked 30 Westporters to participate.

Old and young; Black, white and Asian — all learned one word or phrase in American Sign Language. Through Miggs’ unique lenticular photography, each sign shows the beauty of that form of communication. It’s also a “visual chorus of our community, expressing the need for compassion in the world.”

Nearly 5 years later — thanks to the generosity of Westporter Melissa Ceriale — the 30 portraits have been permanently acquired by Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains. They were installed on Wednesday.

COVID has delayed a formal unveiling. But the hospital has a robust social media presence, and they’re showing off their new acquisition to the world.

As Miggs notes, his piece lives on, “in a place dedicated to compassion and healing.”

Miggs Burroughs’ “Signs of Compassion,” at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital. And yes, that’s me in the top row, 2nd from left.

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Want to know what goes on behind the scenes at “06880”?

I don’t give tours (because there’s nothing to see). But you can watch my talk to the Y’s Women.

I spoke on Monday, via Zoom. I talked about how the blog began, how it grew, why I got rid of anonymous comment, and much more.

They women asked very wise (ho ho) questions.

Click here to see. Then click on some of the other, equally (or more!) fascinating speakers the Y’s Women have hosted over the past couple of years.

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Looking for some great reading this holiday weekend?

Click here for the “Westport Progress Report on Floodplain Management.”

As you probably know, the report is prepared annually to enable residents to receive a 10% reduction in flood insurance. That insurance is offered by FEMA, to communities participating in the Community Rating System.

Municipalities are ranked from 1 to 10. A ranking of 1 offers the highest reduction in flood insurance rates. Actions taken by the Planning & Zoning Commission over the years have brought Westport’s ranking from 10 to 8. More efforts are planned.

Insurance is important to homeowners in flood-prone areas like Compo Cove.

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Speaking of water: Yesterday was moving day at Joey’s by the Shore.

Equipment was moved out of the longtime deli/market, now closed for several months.

The property has been on the market. No deals have been finalized, and there is no word on what is next for the historic property across from Old Mill Beach.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

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Nicholas Marsan has been promoted to deputy chief of the Westport Fire Department, while Theodore Crawford has risen to lieutenant. They — and new Fire Chief Michael Kronick — were sworn in yesterday at Town Hall.

The promotions fill vacancies created by the retirement of Chief Robert Yost on January 1.

Marsan became a Westport firefighter in 2007. He then served as fire inspector and lieutenant.

He is a veteran of the US Army and the CT Army National Guard. In 2010 he was deployed overseas. He received the Army Commendation Medal for Valor during operations in Afghanistan, and is a 2-time recipient of Westport Rotary Public Protection & Safety Awards, and 2 unit citations.

Marsan was also president of the Westport Uniformed Firefighters Association, Local 1081. He earned a master’s degree in history from Western Connecticut State University. He is now completing a master’s in public administration and emergency management at Sacred Heart University.

Crawford joined the department in 2011. He is an EMT, and president of the Westport Uniformed Firefighters Charitable Foundation.

He is also a rescue diver on the Westport Police/Fire dive team, and a hazardous materials technician on the Fairfield County Hazmat Team. He received a Westport Rotary Public Protection & Safety Award, the Firefighter Dominic Zeoli Award, and 2 Unit Citations.

Crawford is a graduate of Clarkson University, majoring in civil engineering.

From left: Theodore Crawford, Nicholas Marsan, 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, Fire Chief Michael Kronick.

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Audiences across the country look forward to tonight’s “Stars on Stage From Westport Country Playhouse” (Friday, January 14, 9 p.m. Channel 13; check listings for other PBS stations).

Shoshana Bean is the star of this episode. It was taped in September, before 2 local audiences.

But that’s not the only Shoshana news this week. The “Wicked” and “Witness” actress has just been signed to the cast of the new musical comedy “Mr. Saturday Night,” with Billy Crystal. The shows opens at the Nederlander Theatre on April 27.

Click below for a teaser of tonight’s broadcast.

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For some reason, Westporters are captivated by turkey vultures. Today’s “Westport … Naturally” image comes from Morningside Drive North.

“There must be 3 dozen, in the trees and on the ground,” says Jilda Manikas.

(Photo/Jilda Manikas)

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And finally … in honor of the “Westport Progress Report on Floodplain Management” (see above):

Roundup: Arts $$$, Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward, IRS Help …

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CT Humanities has awarded grants to non-profit museums, cultural organizations, humanities organizations and arts organizations. The funds will help them recover from the pandemic, connect K-12 teachers and students to strong humanities and arts content, and improve information technology and digital infrastructure.

CT Cultural Fund Operating Support Grants are part of $30 million allocated over the next 2 years by the state General Assembly.

Local recipients include:

  • Artists Collective of Westport – $5,600
  • Beechwood Arts & Innovation – $8,800
  • Earthplace – $168,700
  • Friends of Westport Public Art Collections – $5,900
  • Levitt Pavilion – $38,500
  • MoCA Westport – $65,600
  • Play With Your Food – $13,000
  • Remarkable Theater – $12,500
  • Weston Historical Society – $10,200
  • Westport Community Theatre – $7,700
  • Westport Country Playhouse – $80,900
  • Westport Museum for History & Culture – $26,900
  • Westport School of Music – $21,800

One of many organizations earning a grant.

(Hat tip: State Senator Will Haskell)

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Too many Americans today know Paul Newman only as the popcorn guy. And not enough know his wife, Joanne Woodward.

Yet, as Variety notes: “They were a Hollywood power couple who chose to live and raise their family in Connecticut, far removed from the center of moviemaking. They were box office draws who remained true to their art, using their celebrity to finance smaller dramas and passion projects. They epitomized glamour and romance for legions of fans, but remained more devoted to social justice and philanthropy than red carpet premieres.”

A new 6-part documentary will bring their lives and legacies to light.

“The Last Movie Stars” is directed by Ethan Hawke and executive produced by Martin Scorsese. The series debuts on CNN+ later this year, and will be available on HBO Max.

No word on its content, but there’s sure to be plenty about Westport — an integral part of their lives — in at least some of the 6 parts. (Hat tips: David Roth and Kerry Long)

Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman and friend.

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Yesterday’s “06880” Roundup noted the lawsuit filed by Westport writer Ruth Shalit Barrett against The Atlantic magazine.

It’s a national story. The New York Times has covered the lawsuit. Click here to read.

And Barrett has created a website with the full complaint. Click here to see.

Ruth Shalit Barrett (Photo/Robertson Barrett, courtesy of Washington Post)

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Westporters — especially seniors and those with low to moderate incomes — can once again take advantage of the town’s no-cost full-service AARP/VITA/IRS Volunteer Tax Assistance Program.

On-site personal counseling is available by appointment at Town Hall (Mondays from 1 to 4 p.m.) and the Senior Center (Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Thursdays from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.), starting January 24. Call 860-590-8910 for an appointment.

The service is also available through a secure internet site. Click here for an appointment.

The program is administered by Westport’s Department of Human Services.

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The 2nd of PBS’s 3 special concerts — “Stars on Stage From Westport Country Playhouse” airs this Friday night (9 p.m. ET on Channel 13; check other local listings). The series is also available on PBS.org and the PBS Video app.

Shoshana Bean is this week’s guest. The Broadway (“Wicked,” “Waitress”) and recording star taped 2 shows at the Playhouse in September.

The series — spearheaded by executive producer Andrew Wilk of Westport — debuted last week with Gavin Creel. It concludes January 21, with Brandon Victor Dixon.

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Always wanted to write your memoir?

The Westport Library and WestportWRITES sponsors a pair of workshops, with best-selling author, personal essayist and memoir writer Mary-Lou Weisman. She’s taught her craft too, at The New School, New York University and Manhattanville College, and through Westport and Norwalk continuing education programs.

The Introductory Memoir Writing Workshop meets Tuesdays (12:30 to 2:30 p.m.) from February 15 through March 29. Click here for information.

The Advanced Memoir Writing Class meets Thursdays (12:30 to 2:30 p.m.) from February 17 through May 17. Click here for information.

Mary-Lou Weisman

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There’s a bit of a back story to today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo.

Robin Frank reported yesterday: “Our puppy cannot go in the backyard because this raccoon has been outside our kitchen window all day.”

(Photo/Robin Frank)

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And finally … today is the birthday of Slim Harpo. The spectacularly named blues singer-songwriter and musician was born in Louisiana in 1924. He died of a heart attack in 1970, at just 46.

 

Roundup: Planning & Zoning, Local To Market, Margot Bruce ….

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Earlier this week, “06880” noted the full agenda of the Planning & Zoning Commission’s Regulation Revision Subcommittee meeting.

Yesterday, the group discussed a proposed amendment to preserve mature trees on private property. It received both positive and negative feedback. The text amendment will be re-drafted, for further discussion at a future subcommittee meeting.

Proposals that would permit 2nd floor retail, as well as stores over 10,000 square feet, downtown will be considered at next Thursday’s work session, to be brought as a P&Z-sponsored text amendment at a future meeting.

A proposal to allow non-team activities — for instance, guided hikes, painting classes and yoga — at Baron’s South will also be considered at next Thursday’s work session, to be brought to a future public hearing as a P&Z-sponsored text amendment.

Discussions will continue on a Planning & Zoning Commission tree proposal.

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Local to Market — the food-and-more store featuring (duh) all local goods, at the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza — has a constantly changing array of items.

But they’re always on the lookout for more.

Which is where we all come in.

Next Tuesday (January 11, 4 to 5 p.m.), they’re sponsoring a “think tank.” Everyone is invited to hear about procurement, ask questions, suggest ideas, and meet fellow food lovers.

Want two more reasons to go? There’s also a wine tasting from Stappa Vineyards. And you’ll get 15% off if you shop during the event.

What else would you like to see on the shelves?

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Westport, get ready for your star turn.

Tomorrow (Friday, January 7; 9 pm on New York’s Channel 13; check listings for other PBS stations) marks the first of 3 “Stars on Stage from Westport Country Playhouse” specials.

Gavin Creel stars in the inaugural broadcast, taped during 2 shows in September, and produced by our own Andrew “Live from Lincoln Center” Wilk.

Pre-press has been excellent. The Los Angeles Times called it a “Pick of the Week,”

But see for yourself (below). Then mark your calendars for the next 2 Fridays: Shoshana Bean on the 14th, Brandon Victor Dixon the 21st.

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Want to see another world premiere?

2011 Staples High School graduate Margot Bruce’s short film, “Harbor,” debuts at the Westport Library next Wednesday (January 12, 7 p.m.). She’ll be there, and hosts a conversation afterward. Click here to register.

“Harbor” offers a modern twist on selkie stories from Celtic, Gaelic, and Norse folklore.

While at Staples, Margot swam and played water polo, and was a member of the band, orchestra and chorus. She discovered a passion for filmmaking at Fairfield University, and graduated from the College of Wooster with a BA in English. She recently completed an MFA in cinema at San Francisco State University.

Margot Bruce

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Suzanne Bauman — the pioneering female documentary filmmaker who lived near Old Mill Beach from 1976-1991 — died on January 2, from complications of cancer. She was 76 years old.

She and her husband Jim Burroughs gave noted 1971 Staples High School graduate Brian Keane his start in film scoring.

Suzanne was editor and co-producer of the Academy Award-nominated “Against Wind and Tide: A Cuban Odyssey” (1981). She and Jim produced the film while living in Westport. It was the first one scored by then-27-year old Keane.

She produced, directed and wrote more than 80 films, both documentary and drama.

Suzanne took crews all over the world, and worked with — among others — John Kenneth Galbraith, Norman Mailer, the Sixth Earl of Carnarvon, Diana Vreeland, astronaut Edgar Mitchell, Neil de Grasse Tyson, Anna Wintour, Gianni Versace, Tina Brown,  Jane Alexander, David Rockefeller, Fidel Castro, Ted Kennedy, Annie Liebowitz, Gloria Steinem, Cybill Shepherd, Raul Julia, Stacy Keach, Martin Sheen and Sir Ian McKellen.

She was supervising producer/director of “The Writing Code,” a landmark series for PBS on the invention, history, art and craft of writing, from ancient times to the internet.

“Water Wars” won the award for best documentary feature at the 2014 Universe Multicultural Film Festival.  Her feature documentary “Shadow of Afghanistan” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam. “Jackie Behind the Myth,” a two-hour documentary special on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, was People Magazine’s Pick of the Week, premiered on PBS nationwide and aired in more than 30 countries.

Suzanne is survived son Ryan, and step-children Rain, Shannon, Shane and Doah Burroughs.

For more information on Suzanne’s life, click here and here.

Suzanne Bauman

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Today’s “Westport … Naturally” Earthplace photo has been hanging around the “06880” files for a while. But a good mushroom never gets old.

(Photo/Peter Gold)

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And finally, as we mark the 1-year anniversary of the storming of the US Capitol, we continue to hear — from some quarters —

Roundup: Vaccine Info, Christmas Carols, Stars On Stage …

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Connecticut has introduced its version of a “digital vaccine passport.” Residents who click on their COVID-19 vaccination records through the state immunization database, CT WiZ (click here), can then get a “SMART Health Card” to save on their smartphone photo roll, or in an app like the iPhone Wallet.

The “card” includes a QR code that uses the same standard as New York, California and Canada.

The “vaccine passport” is optional and voluntary, officials note. Click here for a full Westport News story.

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This is the busiest time of year for Staples’ Orphenians.

The elite high school a cappella group has spent weeks singing holiday music. They visit civic clubs, elderly residents and Christmas tree lightings. Earlier this month, they entertained a large crowd at the “06880” Stroll.

They return downtown on Thursday, with a twist: alumni.

Former Orphenians are invited to join current members for an hour-long meander along Main Street and environs.

The group gathers shortly before 6:30 p.m. this Thursday (December 23), near the entrance to Starbucks in Parker Harding Plaza.

Groupies are welcome to tag along and listen, too.

The Orphenians entertained at this month’s Town Hall holiday tree lighting. (Photo/Dan Woog)

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Due to COVID concerns, tonight’s Westport Astronomical Society lecture by Harvard professor Avi Loeb, titled “Extraterrestrial Life: Are We the Sharpest Cookies in the Jar?” will be virtual only.

To access the 8 p.m. event by Zoom, click here. For the YouTube livestream, click here. For the WAS’ YouTube channel, click here.

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It’s Christmas Day. You’ve opened the presents, put all the stuff that needs assembling together, and gone to CVS for batteries. You’ve had lunch, and an egg nog or two.

What’s left?

At 3:06 p.m. — that’s right, just after the news — tune in to WSHU-FM. Westport Country Playhouse Radio Theater reprises last year’s clever audio play, “A Merry Little Christmas Carol.”

Missed it on Christmas? Tune in the next day — Sunday, December 26, also 3:06 p.m. — for a rebroadcast.

Pro tip: You don’t have to listen on radio. “A Merry Little Christmas Carol” is  available now through January 2 at the Playhouse website — click here.

“A Merry Little Christmas Carol” is written and directed by Mark Shanahan, adapted from his play of the same name, and based on “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. Shanahan is curator of Playhouse Radio Theater, and also curates the Playhouse Script in Hand playreading series.

“With the remarkable Paxton Whitehead as Scrooge, Dickens’ masterpiece charges us to recall that we are all responsible for the wellbeing of our brothers and sisters—an idea which rings true now more than ever,” Shanahan says.

“Our merry little audio play invites those who cannot be with us in person at the theater to close their eyes and imagine they are once again nestled into their cozy red seats at the Playhouse, experiencing a remarkable story filled with laughter, tears, and holiday cheer.”

Bah humbug!

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Speaking of the Playhouse: A promo is out for next month’s PBS specials: “Stars on Stage from Westport Country Playhouse.”

The shows — set for 3 consecutive Fridays (January 7, 14 and 21, all at 9 p.m.), featuring Broadway stars Gavin Creel, Shoshana Bean and Brandon Victor Dixon — will put our historic theater squarely in the national spotlight.

They were filmed in September, before live audiences.

Here’s a screenshot from the promo

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David Ader shot today’s “Westport … Naturally” image.

(Photo/David Ader)

He explains: “Turin has its shroud. On Woodside Avenue, we have the bird.

“These photos are of a haunting outline of a bird on a picture window, a good 20 feet off the ground. I noticed this and thought it was the lingering remains of something my kids had put up years before, but it wasn’t a sticker’s residual on the inside.

“I suspect this was from a bird that smashed into the window and left, somehow, this image. I ran outside to see if a dead or stunned bird lay below on the driveway, but there was nothing, not even a feather.

“I’d like to believe it’s a sign of something — perhaps an angel’s wings, or a symbol of peace?

“Or, worst case, that we’re all flying straight into a wall!”

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And finally … on this day in 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs — the world’s first full-length animated feature film — premieres at the Carthay Circle Theatre. in Los Angeles.

As the clip below shows, the film — and song — definitely stand the of time.

Stephen Sondheim Letters: The Sequel

The other day, I posted a story about Stephen Sondheim’s letter to the Westport Country Playhouse.

The man who became one of America’s most celebrated Broadway composers had not yet started his career; in fact, he was still a student at Williams College. He asked for a few days’ delay before beginning a position that helped inspire him to stardom: summer apprentice.

Sondheim’s letters became legendary. After his death, an entire Instagram account was created about them.

More than half a century after his Playhouse note, Sondheim again wrote about Westport.

In 2003, Staples Players staged “Merrily We Roll Along.” An audience member loved it so much, he suggested that Sondheim himself see it.

He replied quickly and graciously:

That would normally be the end of that.

But — Players being so far beyond an ordinary high school troupe — there’s more to the story.

Had Sondheim seen the show, it would have been his first encounter with Justin Paul. The then-senior played composer Franklin Shepard in the production.

Paul and his composing partner Benj Pasek have gone on to great fame, with projects like “Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman.”

Their success is due in part to Sondheim’s mentorship, and support of their work.

Justin Paul in Staples Players’ “Merrily We Roll Along.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

But that’s not all.

If Sondheim had seen Staples’ “Merrily” — and gone backstage — he would have met Gina Rattan. A junior in 2003, she served as assistant director to David Roth and Kerry Long.

Gina is now Marianne Elliott’s associate director of “Company.” That Sondheim show is currently running on Broadway.

Now — in 2021 — Roth and Long say, “Alas, Mr. Sondheim didn’t make it to the production. But we are grateful for this letter, and love the connections with this show. The theater world really is a small one.”

Perhaps an idea for the next Pasek and Paul musical?

ENCORE! Click here for a link to some video clips of Players’ “Merrily We Roll Along” production, courtesy of Jim Honeycutt.

 

Roundup: Jose Feliciano, Fred Cantor, Angelo Veno …

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There are lots of Christmas songs I get sick of.

“Feliz Navidad” is not one of them.

José Feliciano’s buoyant, jangly tune is 51 years old. Now — just in time for Navidad — a documentary about the life and music of the longtime Weston resident will be screened just a couple of miles away.

The Norwalk Film Festival will screen “Behind This Guitar” on Saturday, December 18 (7:30 p.m.) at the Wall Street Theatre. The movie follows Feliciano’s journey from growing up blind in Puerto Rico, to his 9 Grammy Awards and international acclaim. Click here for details and ticket information.

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Speaking of entertainment: Monday’s “06880” story about next month’s “Stars on Stage From Westport Country Playhouse” PBS series noted a major gift from Roz and Bud Siegel.

But several other Westporters were big contributors too. Hats off to Judy and Scott Phares, Eunice and David Bigelow, Kate and Bob Devlin, Joyce Hergenhan, Anna Czekaj-Farber, Mary Ellen and Jim Marpe, Christian J. and Eva Trefz, and Stacy and Howard Bass. 

The show will go on — thanks to some very generous neighbors!

(From left): Shoshana Bean, Brandon Victor Dixon, Gavin Creel: stars of “Stars on Stage.”

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Have you found “Finding Westport”?

That’s the online site for local-themed apparel and more.

Jillian Elder has just added a new Minute Man design. It’s available on tank tops, t-shirts, hoodies, tumblers, mugs and tote bags.

It’s a great way to show off your town pride (and a lot cheaper than that other Westport icon: a Range Rover). Click here for styles and orders.

“Finding Westport”‘s Minute Man hoodie.

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Yesterday’s “06880” story on fences reminded June Rose Whittaker of this one:

(Photo/June Rose Whittaker)

It’s one of Westport’s most visible: Riverside Avenue, at Treadwell.

The intricate, whimsical fence — designed by Andrew Hamilton Reise — was the subject of an “06880” Photo Challenge in July.

As many readers knew, the owners are Pietro and Janine Scotti. He’s the owner/chef of the former and still beloved Da Pietro’s restaurant, just down Riverside (and across the street) closer to town.

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A Conservation Department reminder:

If your property has or is adjacent to wetlands, a watercourse or a pond, all residents and contractors should “call before you dig.” If you’re unsure whether the property contains wetlands, call the Conservation Department: 203-341-1170.

The last year has seen an increase in violations. resulting in unpermitted building, cutting, clearing and filling of wetlands.

Violations cause owners having to cease work, appear at public meetings, pay fines and post bonds. Violations are also part of the public record.

Property owners and/or contractors should contact the Conservation Department before work starts, to determine what permits are required.

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Looking for a gift for a sports fan?

It helps if he or she loves the New York Knicks. But a fan of any team — or any sport — can appreciate the passion of Fred Cantor. The 1971 Staples High School graduate and longtime “06880” contributor recently wrote Fred From Fresh Meadows.

It’s a loving account of the ups and downs of fandom, sure. There’s another reason to buy it though: All proceeds go to the John Starks Foundation. The Stamford-based nonprofit helps high school students afford college.

Click here for more information. Click here for last night’s News12 story on Cantor and the book.

Screenshot from last night’s News12 interview with Fred Cantor.

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Angelo “Cookup” Veno — a true son of Saugatuck — died earlier this month, after a long and happy life.

Born in Saugatuck in 1928 to Louis and Mary Veno, he went through the Westport public school system. After school each day, Angelo manually set pins at the bowling alley downtown.

He was a 3-sport athlete at Staples High School, starring in football, basketball and baseball. After graduating in 1946 he played semi-pro football with the Westport Advertisers, and basketball with the Saugatuck Veterans, Westport YMCA and Clam Box 5.

Angelo also took up boxing, and had a 12-2 record as a pro. In 1986 he earned a Sportsman of Westport award.

In 1951 Angelo joined the Navy. He served for 4 years on the USS Howard D. Crow as an engineer. He joined the fleet’s boxing team, and lost only one fight.

Following his service he came back to Westport and helped coach the Westport PAL football team. He and his first wife, Judith Lissberger, had 2 children, Timothy and Belinda. Both remember their trips to New York Giants’ exhibition games in Pittsburgh, then straight to the Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy for dinner.

Angelo married Theresa Karutz in 1984, a former Miss Atlantic City winner. He enjoyed spending time with his stepsons Wallace and William Karutz.

Angelo had a long and successful career in the world of construction as president and CEO of his company, AJ Veno Construction. He started the business as a window replacement company, and grew it into a full-fledged construction company. He built corporate buildings and residential homes for many years.

Angelo made friends and made people everywhere, from the local pizza restaurant to nurses caring for him. He loved spending time at Compo Beach, with friends or alone feeding birds.

Angelo is survived by his brother Joe and sister Theresa (Richard Valentine). He was predeceased by his sister Ida Lockwood. He is also survived by his children, Timothy Veno (partner Gwen Purcell) and Belinda (Richard Benincasa); grandchildren Richard (Nora Benincasa), Ryan (Noelle Benincasa) and Morgan Benincasa; many cousins, nieces and nephews, and his recent great-grandchild, Ryan Casey Benincasa.

A funeral is set for Monday (December 13, 10 a.m., Assumption Church) for a Mass of Christian Burial. Interment with full military honors will follow in Assumption Cemetery on Greens Farms Road. The family will receive friends in the Harding Funeral Home on Sunday (December 12, 2 to 6 p.m.) Click here to leave online condolences.

Angelo Veno

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The family of Joel Hallas has announced 2 options for donations in his memory. Click here for the Connecticut Food Bank; click here for the American Radio Relay League, for ham radio operators.

Joel Hallas

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It’s already gone. But yesterday morning’s snow provided the perfect subject for today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo, from Bob and Karen Weingarten’s lawn:

(Photo/Karen Weingarten)

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And finally … Emily Dickinson was born today, in 1830. She may be the only 19th-century poet immortalized in the words of a 20th-century singers.

Give The Gift of Giving

‘Tis the season to be jolly.

And to give.

This year — which for many Westporters was a surprisingly good one, Wall Street-wise — as we buy presents for loved ones, friends, and people whose good graces we need to keep, we should also think about help others.

Give what you can.

It does not hurt that helping them can also ease our tax burden a few months from now.

But who to give to?

Far be it for “06880” to say. So here is a list — off the top of my head — of some worthy local organizations. Each one has a clickable link 🙂

I know I’ve missed some. Rather than bite my head off (very un-Christmas-y), please mention them in the “Comments” section. Then I’ll add them to this list.

And please: Keep your suggestions local (southern Fairfield County). There are way too many very worthy national and international groups to include. Thank you!

Animals

Christine’s Critters: Rehabilitation of big birds
Connecticut Humane Society
: Westport branch
Save Our Strays: Animal rescue
PAWS: No-kill animal shelter
Rising Starr Horse Rescue: Gives at-risk horses a second chance at life
TAILS: Spaying and neutering
Westport Animal Shelter Advocates: Care, shelter and adoption of homeless dogs
Wildlife in Crisis: Preservation and emergency help

Arts and history

Artists Collective of Westport: Creativity, education, shows, forums and more
Beechwood Arts and Innovation: Exhibits, salons, talks, food — wow!
Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County: Supporting cultural organizations, artists and creative businesses
Levitt Pavilion: More than 50 nights of free entertainment
MoCA Westport
: Exhibitions, concerts, education and more
Music Theatre of Connecticut: Musical theater education for youngsters ages 4 through high school
Remarkable Theater:
Providing entertainment and employment for people with disabilities
Westport Country Playhouse: 90-year-old cultural institution
Westport Museum for History & Culture: Exhibits and education
Westport Public Art Collections: Bringing art to schools and public spaces

Community aid

Al’s Angels: Help for children and families battling diseases and hardships
Bridgeport Rescue Mission: Fighting poverty, offering help
Center for Family Justice: Provides services to fight domestic, child and sexual abuse
Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants: Service and advocacy for immigrants, refugees and survivors of human trafficking and torture
Integrated Immigrant & Refugee Services: Resettlement agency
Lifebridge Community Services: Bridgeport youth development behavioral health and family resources organization
Norwalk Hour
: Aid to families in need
United Way of Coastal Fairfield County:
Access to food, shelter, transportation and childcare
VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399: Helping veterans, servicemembers and their families
Westport Department of Human Services “We Care”
:
Many options, including financial help with school supplies and heating costs
Westport PAL: They do it all: college scholarships, youth sports programs, fireworks, ice rink, etc., etc., etc.
Westport Weston Family YMCA: Help in many ways

Disabilities

Catch a Lift: Westport supports veterans through fitness programs
Circle of Friends: Teens work with children with disabilities
CLASP
: Group homes and opportunities
MyTEAM Triumph:  Road race support for children, adults and veterans
STAR Lighting the Way: Support for all ages
Sweet P Bakery: Provides jobs for adults with learning disabilities; supplies The Porch at Christie’s with delicious baked goods

Education and youth

A Better Chance of Westport: Education and support for outstanding minority boys
Achievement First: Schools provide Bridgeport families of color with a high- quality education at no cost
Adam J. Lewis Academy: High-quality experience for Bridgeport youngsters
Carver Foundation: K-12 pre- and after-school programs in Norwalk
Child Advocates of SW Connecticut: Providing advocates for abused children
Child & Family Guidance Center: Counseling and support for youth and families
Kids in Crisis: 24-hour support, including emergency housing and crisis counseling
Kidz Give Back: Children helping children
Neighborhood Studios: Arts education for Bridgeport youngsters
Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities: Helping fulfill potential; support for parents too
Staples Tuition Grants: Need-based scholarships for Staples High School students and alumni
The Susan Fund: Scholarships for young people affected by cancer

Environment

Aspetuck Land Trust: Preserving open space; maintaining 45 preserves
Connecticut Audubon Society: Protecting birds, other wildlife, and their habitats through conservation, education and advocacy
Earthplace:
Education, wildlife exhibits, and a 62-acre sanctuary
Friends of Sherwood Island: Preserving, maintaining and enhancing our state park
Future Frogmen: Teaching students to protect the oceans
Norwalk River Valley Trail: Maintaining 30 miles of open space 
Save the Sound
: Protecting Long Island Sound
Sustainable Westport: Helping our town become Net Zero by 2050
Wakeman Town Farm: Sustainability center, with plenty of programs
Westport Farmers’ Market: Food, education, programs and more

Food and shelter

Filling in the Blanks: Providing weekend meals for children in need
Food Rescue:
Helping volunteers pick up and deliver excess food
Homes with Hope: Supportive housing, food pantry, food distribution and more
Open Doors Shelter: Aiding Norwalkers in need
Person-to-Person: Food, rent help, clothing and more

Grant-giving and foundations

100 Women Who  Care of Fairfield County: Raising funds to give them away!
Fairfield County Foundation: Philanthropy to strengthen communities
Near and Far Aid:
Fighting poverty in Fairfield County
Newman’s Own
: Okay, they’re global — but they’re headquartered in Westport!
Westport Rotary: Noontime chapter meeting of Rotary International
Westport Sunrise Rotary: 7:30 a.m. chapter meeting of Rotary International
Westport Woman’s Club: Raising funds for charitable, educational, cultural and public health services
Westport Young Woman’s League: Building community through volunteerism and social activities

Health and Safety

Breast Cancer Emergency Aid Foundation: Funds for non-medical expenses
Domestic Violence Crisis Center:
Help for victims and families
Mission
: Helping survivors create lives after cancer
Pink Aid: Financial aid and services to woman and families facing breast cancer
Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Service
: Providing staffing, supplies and apparatus to keep the town safe

LGBTQ

Triangle Community Center: Providing programs and resources for the LGBTQ community


Literacy

Mercy Learning Center: Life skills training for low-income women
Read to Grow: Promoting children’s literacy from birth, supporting parents as babies’ first teachers
Westport Book Sales: Providing employment for people with disabilities — and offering books, while providing funds for the Westport Library
Westport Library: They do it all!

Mental health and addiction 

Laurel House: Mental health and recovery resources
Positive Directions: Treatment and prevention for addictive behaviors

Seniors

Jewish Senior Services: Skilled nursing and other care
Friends of the Westport Center for Senior Activities: Support for the Senior Center (below)
Westport Center for Senior Activities
: Senior Center provides programs, meals and more

Women

AWARE: “Assisting Women through Action, Resources and Education”
Dress for Success Mid-Fairfield County: Empowering women by providing professional clothes and other support
Malta House: Shelter and programs for young pregnant women and their babies

Westport Playhouse Takes National Stage

Andrew Wilk could have lived many places.

One reason he chose to move here in 2006 was the Westport Country Playhouse.

The beautiful theater — and the part it plays in our town’s artistic heritage — appealed to the arts and entertainment executive, who helped found the National Geographic Channel, then worked for Sony. (The great school system, and proximity to water, were other draws.)

The 90-year-old Westport Country Playhouse.

Wilk went on to earn 5 Emmys for his work as executive producer of PBS’ “Live at Lincoln Center.”

But the 4-hour-a-day commute got to be a bit much. When a man died on a Metro-North train near Wilk, he took it as an omen. He quit his Lincoln Center gig, while maintaining his ties with PBS (and his extensive Rolodex).

During morning coffee conversations with Westport friends, the Playhouse often came up. They noted how underutilized it was — and wondered how, besides dramas and musicals, its historic stage could be used for other forms of art.

Early in the pandemic, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe asked Wilk for entertainment ideas. Always thinking outside the box, Wilk wondered: Why not move Lincoln Center’s “Stars in Concert” here?

“Stars on Stage” was born.

Andrew Wilk and one of his Emmys, in his Lincoln Center office.

Playhouse managing director Michael Barker was on board. They donated the  theater itself, plus staff and crew support

But talent does not come cheap. Wilk worked his Rolodex to find available and willing entertainers — and generous donors.

He landed Gavin Creel (Tony Winner in “Hello, Dolly!”; “The Book of Mormon”), , Brandon Victor Dixon (Aaron Burr in “Hamilton,” Emmy nominee in “Jesus Christ Superstar”) and Shoanan Bean (Billboard artist; “Wicked,” “Waitress”).

Led by Bud and Roz Seigel, Westport donors came through too.

Wilk was determined to do this right. In early September, a control truck rolled into the Playhouse parking lot. A New York production crew with 8 cameras — including an 18-foot jib and a Steadicam — and first-class sound equipment went to work.

It was not easy. COVID made the daily rehearsal and production ritual with the stars, their bands and the entire technical and production staff arduous.

Everyone had to test 72 hours, then 48 hours and finally 24 hours before contact with anyone in the show could be made.

Wilk had to hire a COVID compliance officer to check everyone in, take everyone’s temperature, and send an online questionnaire every morning at 6. There was on-site testing too, if needed.

Performer had to rehearse in masks, up till the final performance. Everyone wore lanyards, showing where they were allowed to be (stage and wings only; audience and lobby only, etc.)

Those were the same procedures mandated for every television and movie set in the country, by theatrical unions.

Finally they filmed 2 shows a night, for 3 days. The intimate setting worked wonderfully. Creel, Bean and Dixon performed show-stoppers, classic and contemporary songs, and told stories.

Audience members were thrilled. For many, it was the first live, in-person entertainment since the pandemic began.

Yet Wilk’s work had just begun. He spent the last 3 months editing, and finalizing contracts with PBS.

Today, the network announces the shows. “Stars on Stage From Westport Country Playhouse” premieres on 3 consecutive Fridays — January 7, 14 and 21, 9 p.m.) on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS Video app.

PBS calls itself “America’s largest stage.” Now — thanks to a collaboration with a much smaller, but more historic — stage, audiences across the country can enjoy a theater we sometimes take too much for granted.

Stephen Sondheim’s Westport Years: Helping Lee Strasberg, Cleaning Latrines

The Stephen Sondheim stories keep coming.

A recent New York Times story notes that the composer was famous for writing letters. Sent to “students and professionals and fans, they were thoughtful and specific, full of gratitude and good wishes, each on letterhead, each with the elegant, sloping signature that’s familiar now from the Stephen Sondheim Theater marquee.”

One of those notes — written very early in his career — has a Westport connection.

In the spring of 1950 Sondheim graduated from Williams College, and was accepted for a summer apprenticeship at Westport Country Playhouse. He replied to managing director Martin Manulis (below).

He apologized for his delay in responding to the offer , said he would not need a room as he would be commuting from his parents home in Stamford — and asked for a delay of 12 days before starting.

He wanted “a few days’ rest before transferrin from the ivory tower of education into the cold, cruel world.”

The Playhouse agreed.

More than 50 years later — in preparation for a Playhouse tribute to him, hosted by Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward — Sondheim was asked by the Times about that letter.

“I just wanted a week off,” he said.

The Westport Country Playhouse, as it looked for many years.

Sondheim’s summer at the Playhouse was eye-opening.

“You learn about all the intricacies of putting on a play: how many people are necessary to make a moment work onstage, from the writers to the stagehands,” he said.

“At Westport I got to work with non-musicals and have different actual jobs instead of just fetching coffee and typing scripts. Now the best way to learn the theater, always, is to be a stage manager, and one of the great things about the Westport program was that you got to be an assistant stage manager on at least one show during the summer.”

He did that on “My Fiddle’s Got Three Strings,” directed by Lee Strasberg and starring Maureen Stapleton. When the actors started reading, I couldn’t hear one word. You want to talk about mumbling.

He was surprised how many actors mumbled during the read-through. And the reality of watching Strasberg direct was far different than hearing him talk about his craft.

“There is a difference between theory and practice,” Sondheim said.

“To listen to what Strasberg said was amazing. To see it was terrible.”

Stephen Sondheim (crouching, top of photo), during his 1950 apprenticeship. The photo was taken at the Jolly Fisherman restaurant. Also in the photo: future film director Frank Perry (front row, left) and Richard Rodgers’ daughter Mary (2nd row, 4th from left).

Sondheim’s apprenticeship covered a range of duties. He — and fellow apprentice Frank Perry, who went on to a noted career directing films — fetched props, sold Cokes, parked cars and “cleaned latrines,” among other duties.

Stephen Sondheim’s association with the Westport Country Playhouse was long and important.

And today, his long-ago letter — with that very recognizable signature — is an important piece of Playhouse momoribilia.