Tag Archives: Dodie Pettit

Roundup: Lynsey Addario, Dracula, Tornadoes …

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Yesterday’s “06880” highlighted Tyler Hicks’ haunting photos from Ukraine.

But he’s not the only New York Times photographer shooting images in that threatened nation.

He’s not even the only one who is a Staples High School graduate.

Hick’s colleague Lynsey Addario — who graduated 3 years after Hicks, in 1991, and is both a Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur Fellow winner — has contributed her own important work.

This one shows — and humanizes — embattled Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky.

Ukraine president Volodomyr Zelensky (Photo/Lynsey Addario for the New York Times)

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Wednesday’s “Fall in Love with Westport” event was a great success.

A number of new neighbors joined “old timers” at Greens Farms Church. They shared tips and stories about life in this town. Just as importantly, they connected around kids, previous residences and similar needs.

It was a diverse crowd, with an international flavor. They plan to get together again soon.

If you missed the event and want to know more, email office@greensfarmschurch. All are welcome — church membership is not required!

“Fall in Love with Westport” at Greens Farms Church.

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On Halloween I was honored to hear the world premiere of “Dracula: The Covenant.” That’s the musical project Westporter Dodie Pettit worked on for years with her husband, the late Broadway star Kevin Gray. (It was in the works long before a similar show with the same name flopped.)

With help from husband Rex Fowler — with whom she performs, as Aztec Two-Step 2.0 — Dodie completed the project.

Now it’s on Spotify and other digital media. CDs will arrive soon. To download and listen now to this enthralling work, click here.


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In the wake of December’s devastating Kentucky tornadoes, Westporter Steve Crowley and his sons organized a fundraiser downtown.

Governor Andy Beshear recently thanked Crowley for both the money donated, and the specially designed t-shirts created for and sent to affected families.

Beshear also cited the “love and support” of donors, noting “we can come together in troubling times and give a lift to our friends and neighbors. In Kentucky we say ‘we will get through this, we’ll get through this together.’ Thank you for caring and contributing in our time of need.”

Steve Crowley (right) and sons sold t-shirts downtown.

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Edward Thompson is the beloved minister of music at Westport’s Unitarian Church.

He does far more than pick songs and direct the choir. He’s a working composer. On Saturday, February 26 (8 p.m., Unitarian Church of Westport), New York’s Choral Chameleon offers the world premiere of his 12-movement choral piece “Step into the Night.” A jazz quartet will join the voices.

Thompson wrote the work in response to situations like the pandemic, filled with isolation and fear. It includes elements of both the classical tradition and jazz.

Tickets are $25 each, available online and at the door.

Edward Thompson

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There is always something new at Finding Westport.

Jillian Elder has just added t-shirts (short and long sleeve), tanks, hoodies, tumblers, totes and mugs with 2 designs: the Minute Man in an “Interstate” crest (click here to see and order) and “I Really Miss Westport” (click here).

New “Finding Westport” designs.

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Alison Milwe Grace wears two toques. She’s a highly regarded culinary teacher at Staples High School. And her AMG Catering offers not just food for every event, but cooking classes.

Now she’s a television star. News12 Connecticut is featuring her, offering 5 favorite recipes, like honey-glazed chicken thighs and mussels with garlic toast. Click here to see (and then cook!).

Screenshot of Alison Milwe Grace.

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There’s a moose on the Sherwood Island Connector.

At least, it looked like that to Katja Gabrielson. When she posted this image — which I’m stealing as the “Westport … Naturally” image today — on Facebook, many users chimed in that they thought exactly the same thing.

Longtime “06880” readers George, Bev and Jeff Bullwinkel were not available for comment.

(Photo/Katja Gabrielson)

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And finally … because this is (as you know) National Condom Week:

 

 

“06880” Podcast: Rex Fowler & Dodie Pettit

It’s tough to cram half a century of music stardom — and a spectacular new musical about Dracula — into a half-hour conversation.

But that’s what Rex Fowler, Dodie Pettit and I did in our latest “06880” podcast, at the Westport Library’s Verso Studios.

He’s the co-founder of Aztec Two-Step, the internationally known folk-and-more band. She’s a longtime Westporter/Broadway singer and dancer who — while married to fellow actor/singer/Staples High School graduate Kevin Gray — collaborated on that Dracula show. (Not the one that flopped on Broadway.)

Now Dodie and Rex are married too. They perform together as Aztec Two-Step 2.0. And they recently unveiled the soundtrack of their “Dracula” musical at their Westport home.

Click below to listen to their fascinating stories about life on stage, and here.

 

“Breathe”

Rex Fowler calls John Lennon “a genius.” “Imagine,” for example, is “one of the simplest, most straightforward protest songs ever.”

But not all Lennon’s social commentary songs measures up. “Power to the People,” for example, is “one of the worst.”

Fowler should know. Since founding the folk-rock band Aztec Two-Step nearly 40 years ago, he’s written his share of political tunes. “Living in America” and “Naked” are 2 examples.

It’s not easy, though. Fowler — a Westport resident — notes, “there’s a temptation to preach, or use platitudes.”

Fowler and his wife Dodie Pettit — now part of Aztec Two-Step — avoided those pitfalls with their latest release.

Aztec Two-Step: Dodie Pettit and Rex Fowler.

“Breathe” was born out of this summer’s peaceful, passionate protests after the murder of George Floyd, and other unarmed Black men and women.

“I was proud of so many people — young and old, every color and creed — getting out and doing something. It really gave me hope,” Fowler says.

But he knew better than to try to force a song. A good creation must be “visceral, soulful,” he says. “Once it starts, it rolls out. But I can’t manufacture it.”

For a couple of weeks, Fowler fiddled with a guitar melody. He particularly liked Neil Young’s “Down by the River.” Pettit thought her partner was on to something.

“It’s such an iconic song,” Fowler explains. “‘Be on my side, I’ll be on your side … You take my hand, I’ll take your hand…'”

Fowler and Pettit included 2 of Young’s verses, then added their own.

They also drew on Martin Luther King, Sam Cooke’s soaring anthem “A Change is Gonna Come,” rapper Killer Mike’s rallying cry to vote, and a few notable slogans chanted by the hundreds of thousands of peaceful protestors.

The result was “Breathe.”

Aztec Two-Step could not use Neil Young’s lyrics without permission. They tried hard to get it. They hired a lawyer, and sent letters to his publicist and manager. They received a cease-and-desist order. Fowler and Pettit are sure the singer/songwriter never knew what they were asking.

“He rightfully doesn’t want people taking his music, and changing it,” Fowler says. “But I think if he heard ‘Breathe,’ he’d really enjoy it.”

In fact, Fowler adds, in January Young — a Canadian by birth — became an American citizen. He did it in part to be able to vote against President Trump.

Undaunted, Fowler and Pettit removed the “Down by the River” verses. They changed Young’s melodic ideas.

But the beginning — Pettit’s gritty lead guitar solo — sounds like a tribute to Young’s style. “He really resonates with us,” Pettit says.

The song was recorded here in Westport, in Aztec Two-Step’s home studio. Band members came in one at a time — because of COVID-19 — to overdub their parts.

Rex Fowler and Dodie Pettit were married in Westport. Their studio is in their home.

At first, Fowler wanted to send “Breathe” out to disc jockeys and program managers complete with the back story. Instead, he and Pettit decided to let listeners hear it with “clear ears,” and figure the meaning out themselves.

All proceeds will go to Black Lives Matter. That’s controversial, the couple acknowledges. There’s been pushback on social media from some people they thought were friends.

Still, Pettit says, “this is a moral cause we’re proud to lend our support to. We’re setting down our marker. We’re standing up and bein counted. We have a voice, and people listen.”

Aztec Two-Step’s New Words

The other day, WFUV’s “Mixed Bag” host/longtime Mets fans Don McGee celebrated the return of baseball by playing “Stay at Home for the Ballgame.”

It’s a new song by Aztec Two-Step’s Rex Fowler and his wife, Dodie Pettit.

Though married only 2 years, they have known each other for decades. Nearly 40 years ago, she played guitar and sang on Aztec’s 5th album. Dodie went on to a long Broadway career.

She and Rex now perform as “Aztec Two-Step 2.0.”

I loved the COVID-safe message, and asked Dodie for a link to post on “06880.” The song is so new though, that none is yet available.

But there is other Aztec Two-Step news. “Words” — released in April — dates back to 2017. Rex started writing it after his musical partner Neal Shulman’s wife died of cancer.

During the COVID lockdown, Rex and Dodie finished it. They recorded it at their Westport home, with bandmates coming in individually (wearing masks).

Dodie Pettit and Rex Fowler perform together.

“We thought it would be a song of comfort,” Dodie says. She’s lived with her own tragedy: Her husband, Staples High School graduate and Broadway actor Kevin Gray, died of a heart attack in 2013 at age 55.

Dodie adds, “We wanted to do a real grown-up, thoughtful statement of how hard the aftermath is — without using any of the standard, patronizing fare.”

They’ve performed it on Facebook, for a traumatic brain injury group.

Their next song — a mash-up of Neil Young’s “Down by the River,” focused on Black Lives Matter — will be released soon.

Meanwhile, enjoy the “Words” video below.

And keep your ears open for “Stay at Home for the Ballgame.’

Woodstock: Westport Remembers

If you grew up when I did, you’ve got a Woodstock memory.

I had a ticket and everything (except actual plans about how to get there).

Me, in my Woodstock days. Or should I say, Woogstock.

Then I got grounded. (Well deserved, I must admit.) Instead of getting rained on, sleeping in the mud and being awakened by Jimi Hendrix, I sat at home. I read about the huge festival in the New York Times. A few months later, I saw the movie.

Several years later — now out of college — I was cleaning my old room at my parents’ house. I found my Woodstock ticket: still pristine, never used.

“Oh,” I said to myself. “That’s interesting.”

And promptly threw it out.

That’s not the most compelling — or financially savvy — Woodstock story. But it’s mine.

Other people have much better ones.

Like Michael Friedman (Staples High School 1961 grad/music producer/ photographer). Roger Kaufman (Staples ’66 musician/musicologist). Dodie Pettit (Westport actress/singer/Woodstock attendee). Paul Nelson (Johnny Winter’s guitar player). Ira and Maxine Stone (Woodstock performers). Bruce Pollock (author).

They’ll all be at the Westport Woman’s Club this Wednesday (May 15, 7 p.m.). They’re part of a “Woodstock: 50 Years Down the Road” panel, talking about their experiences at that almost-50-years-ago/seems-like-yesterday historical event.

“Lotta freaks!” Arlo Guthrie said. “The New York State Thruway is closed!”

After the discussion, the Old School Revue’s Woodstock All-Stars will play  favorite hits from Woodstock. Performers include Kaufman, Pettit, the Stones (Ira and Maxine, not Mick and Keith), Pete Hohmeister, Frank Barrese, Bob Cooper, Billy Foster and Nina Hammerling Smith.

Special guests include Rex Fowler of Aztec Two-Step, Robin Batteau and the Saugatuck Horns (Joe Meo and Fred Scerbo).

The event is free (but register online; seating is limited).

In other words, you don’t need a ticket.

That’s good. If I had one, I’d probably throw it away.

(For more information, click here. “Woodstock: 50 Years Down the Road” is sponsored by the Westport Library.)

Dodie Pettit’s Next Act

Kevin Gray — the  1976 Staples High School graduate who became the youngest actor to play the lead role in “Phantom of the Opera,” and acted in or directed more than 150 productions — died in 2013, of a heart attack. He was just 55.

Kevin met his wife, Dodie Pettit, in “Phantom.” Quite a performer herself, she starred in “Cats” on Broadway, was in 3 Tony-winning shows, and worked with Staples Players (where her husband learned his craft) in a summer production.

Since then, Dodie has kept Kevin’s memory alive. She produced a tribute CD, with over 170 Broadway singers. She also hosted and organized an evening of songs at the Levitt Pavilion, dedicated to her husband.

But life goes on. Now Dodie’s life has taken a wonderful turn.

In 1979 she met Rex Fowler. He was Aztec Two-Step’s singer/songwriter. She was hired to play guitar and sing on the folk rock band’s 5th album.

Nearly 40 years later they ran into each other again.

On August 4, they got married.

Husband and wife.

The ceremony — in Dodie’s Meeker Road back yard — included locals Terry Eldh, Raissa Katona Bennett and Frank Mastrone. All were in “Phantom,” and all sang at the ceremony.

Mary Jo Duffy was there; she sang too. Many musician friends of Rex’s performed, including his Aztec Two-Step partner of 47 years, Neal Shulman.

Of course, Dodie and Rex sang as well.

Rex has adopted Dodie into his band, on guitar, piano and vocals. They’ve toured often since the spring, when they announced their engagement.

They play Saturday, September 15 at the Mitchell Farm Fest in East Haddam, Connecticut. Jonathan Edwards is also on the bill.

A Westport date may be in the works.

Congratulations, Dodie and Rex!

Dodie Pettit and Rex Fowler perform together.

“Phantom” Hits 30; Dodie Pettit Remembers Kevin Gray

“Phantom of the Opera” is the longest-running production in Broadway history.

The other day, the musical celebrated its 30th anniversary with a gala. The original cast was honored at curtain call, sharing the stage with current actors.

Among those taking a well-deserved bow: original company member Dodie Pettit.

It was a bittersweet moment. The longtime Westporter met her husband, Kevin Gray, during the show. He was the youngest actor to play the title role.

Gray — a 1976 Staples High School graduate, who learned his craft with Staples Players — died in 2013 of a heart attack. He was just 55.

Dodie Pettit, at the 30th anniversary gala.

Two years later, Pettit produced a tribute CD. She gathered over 170 Broadway singers, including 10 from the “Phantom” cast. Each had a personal connection to Kevin and Dodie.

Westport was well represented on the CD, by Terry Eldh, Adam Riegler, Paul McKibbins, and of course Pettit.

All proceeds go to scholarships in Kevin’s name, at his alma mater Duke University, and the University of Hartford’s Hartt School, where he taught (and where the Kevin Gray Foundation was organized by Westporters Peter Byrne and Jamie Wisser).

Pettit made sure to mention the CD, during gala interviews. After all, he was an integral part of the show’s amazing history.

And if “Phantom” runs 30 more years, Pettit will make sure that Kevin Gray is remembered then too.

The “Kevin Gray: Forever Always” CD is available for sale on iTunes, Amazon and by clicking here.

Dodie Pettit is interviewed in the video below:

 

Levitt And Dodie Pettit Honor Kevin Gray

In theater, the show must go on.

Staples Class of 1976 grad Kevin Gray went on more than 8,500 times, on Broadway and national tour performances. He was the youngest “Phantom” of the Opera ever. He starred in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “The King and I” and “The Lion King.” He performed at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, and on “Law and Order” and “Miami Vice.”

Despite severe thunderstorms this afternoon, tonight’s tribute to Kevin — who died in 2013 — went on as scheduled, at the Levitt Pavilion.

Dodie Pettit, on the Levitt Pavilion stage.

Dodie Pettit, on the Levitt Pavilion stage.

His wife, Dodie Pettit — who met Kevin when she joined “Phantom” in 1989 — opened the show in stirring fashion. She sang a duet, with his recorded voice.

Class of 2016 grad Adam Riegler — Young Shrek and Pugsley on Broadway — sang, backed by Kevin’s Hartt School of Music students. He was accompanied by his mother Lynn on piano. She too is a Staples ’76 grad.

Members of that class — celebrating their 40th reunion this weekend — were out in force. They — and the large audience, enjoying clearing skies — were entertained by many of Kevin’s Broadway friends and colleagues.

Also on stage: Kevin’s former Orphenian member Tery Eldh, who played Carlotta and ensemble roles nearly 3,000 times on Broadway with “Phantom.”

The show indeed went on. And it was great.

Part of the large Levitt Pavilion crowd.

Part of the large Levitt Pavilion crowd.

The weather WAS fit for man and dog.

The weather WAS fit for man and dog.

Another view of a great night.

Another view of a great night.

Dodie Does The Levitt

Each summer, the Levitt Pavilion presents at least 50 nights of free entertainment. I can’t imagine how hard it is to schedule all those comedians, kids’ performers, rock and country and reggae and military bands, and the occasional Willie Nelson, Buckwheat Zydeco and Orleans.

It’s like Ed Sullivan 6 days a week. All that’s missing is Topo Gigio.

But at least Ed was in New York. Snagging every act on their way to or from Westport must be a monumental task.

Occasionally though, the Levitt features homegrown talent.  That’s the case next Thursday (July 7, 8 p.m.). And what a talent she is.

Kevin Gray and Dodie Pettit, near the Levitt.

Kevin Gray and Dodie Pettit, near the Levitt.

Westport’s own Dodie Pettit — a veteran of 3 Tony Award-winning Broadway shows — hosts an evening of Broadway songs. They’re dedicated to her husband, Staples graduate Kevin Gray. One of Broadway’s brightest stars, he died 3 years ago. He was just 55.

Joining Dodie are several former “Phantom of the Opera” castmates (including Phantoms Cris Groenendaal and Craig Schulman); recent Staples graduate Adam Riegler, who played Pugsley in “The Addams Family,” and Kevin and Dodie’s students from the Hartt School and Rollins College.

Kevin performed over 8,200 times on Broadway, starring in “Phantom,”  “The King and I,” “The Lion King” and “Miss Saigon.”

The free concert coincides with the 40th reunion of Staples’ Class of 1976. Kevin graduated that year.

Every night at the Levitt is special. This will just be a little more special than most.

Remembering Kevin Gray — 3 Years On

Kevin Gray — a very talented member of Staples Players in the 1970s, who became the youngest actor to play the lead role in “Phantom of the Opera,” and acted in or directed more than 150 productions — died 3 years ago today of a heart attack. He was 55.

His wife — Dodie Pettit — cherishes his memory. She helped put together a video called “Acts of Faith,” incorporating one of his concerts. It shows Kevin as he was: funny, inspiring, and immensely talented.

He left us far too young.