Tag Archives: Jacob Leaf

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)

 

They Do Grow Up!

On July 1, 2003, a small group gathered underneath a pear tree, on a patch of grass separating a rutted parking lot from the sprawling, 1-story Staples High School campus.

Several speakers at the low-key ceremony praised the high school as “the jewel in the crown” of the Westport school system.

Then superintendent of schools Elliott Landon, principal John Brady, 1st selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell, Board of Education chair Sandra Urist and 10 other educators, politicians, citizen-volunteers and Turner Construction Company representatives turned over symbolic shovels of dirt.

Ground was broken for construction of an even more sprawling, 3-story school. Another major chapter in Staples’ fabled history had begun.

The Westport News ran a front-page photo of a young boy helping out:

As the caption noted, 4-year-old Jacob Leaf was the grandson of Dan Kail, chairman of the Staples School Building Sub-Committee.

The paper was wrong, however. Jacob is a member of the Class of 2017 — not 2018.

Tomorrow (Thursday, June 22, 2 p.m.), he and over 450 classmates graduate.

They’ll do so in the fieldhouse — one of the only parts of the building not touched by the $84 million renovation.

The project — completed in 2005 — transformed Staples forever. It is a 21st-century building, and this year’s graduating class have done their high school — and town — proud.

Sitting especially proudly in tomorrow’s crowd will be one of the Westporters most responsible for the modern Staples High School: Jacob’s grandfather, Dan Kail.

Congratulations to all the graduates; to all who made Staples possible, and all who continue to do so.

Luke Rosenberg: “I Get To Make Music With Young People Every Day”

Friday night’s choral concert at Staples High School was typical.

That is, typically spectacular.

Scores of teenagers — representing 6 different ensembles, including Orphenians — sang a wide variety of difficult, inspiring and beautiful pieces. The theme was “Arise”; the songs carried the audience from early morning to late night.

The entire concert — from concept to the selection of music — was designed by student officers.

But the best part came at the end.

Choral director Luke Rosenberg. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Choral director Luke Rosenberg stood to honor the 29 graduating seniors. They prepared to introduce themselves, and describe what’s next. (A who’s who of great colleges, with majors ranging from musical theater and stage management to biophysics and political science.)

First though, Rosenberg took the mic.

In an emotion-choked voice, he said:

“I get to make music with young people every day. I fall in love with these kids. Then they get old, and go away.

“I want them to grow up and do great things. But it’s bittersweet.”

Rosenberg then described why he loves what he does — and why it is important.

His goal is not to create 30 or 40 music majors. “Quite frankly,” he quipped, “there are not enough jobs.”

Rather, music is “something they can love, and be part of for the rest of their lives.”

Then — proving his point — when Rosenberg was done, and the 29 seniors had taken their bows, the Orphenians took center stage one more time.

With senior Jacob Leaf conducting, they sang a stunning version of “Ave Maria.”

They’d prepared it on their own — just for Luke Rosenberg.

Click below to see Luke Rosenberg’s full speech. It was filmed by Tom Malin — father of graduating senior Madison Malin — and edited by her brother Brandon.

“Music Man” Tootles Into Town

Some people want Hillary. Others want Trump.

Everyone wants “The Music Man.”

This fall — with our nation so divided — Staples Players co-directors David Roth and Kerry Long are staging what Roth calls “the classic American musical.”

The show — which debuted on Broadway in 1957 — “hearkens back to a simpler time. At its heart, this is really about community.”

River City is a town filled with discord, riven by dysfunctional relationships. The school board, for example, bickers about everything — even whose watch is right.

Through music, the town becomes whole. “Professor” Harold Hill turns the school board into a barbershop quartet. When they’re together, they produce beautiful harmonies.

The RIver City quartet: ax Herman (Staples, ’19), Christopher Hoile (Staples, ’18), Tobey Patton (Staples, ’20) and Oliver Smith (Staples, ’17).

The RIver City quartet: Max Herman, Christopher Hoile, Tobey Patton and Oliver Smith. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Music changes everyone in town — including Harold himself.

“Like many people in theater, Kerry and I believe this is the perfect musical,” Roth says. “It’s a fantastic blend of story, comedy, music, dance, drama and romance. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

This is not Players’ first production of “The Music Man.” In 2001 — less than 2 months after 9/11 — Roth staged it as one of his early Staples shows.

Then, as now, fear and dread filled the country. Fifteen years ago, “The Music Man” lifted Westport’s spirits. Roth calls the musical “a love letter to Americana,” and hopes it does the same now.

Staples PlayersWhen the show opens next Friday (November 11) — and runs through the following weekend — audiences will see what may be Roth and Long’s largest and most stunning set ever. Former Player Reid Thompson — who earned an MFA in set design from the Yale School of Drama — has created a stage that conveys an enormous sense of community.

“The town is present in every scene,” Roth says. “It’s a sprawling Iowa landscape.”

There are other differences between this production, and the post-9/11 one. New choreographers Christopher Myers and Rachel MacIsaac have put their own stamp on the dance routines.

In keeping with the sweeping show, the cast is huge. Jacob Leaf — who thrilled audiences as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” — is Harold Hill. Zoe Mezoff  enjoys her 1st big lead, as Marian the Librarian. They’re joined by 62 other Stapleites, and 8 more from elementary and middle school.

Jacob Leaf as Harold Hill, and Zoe Mezoff as Marian the Librarian. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Jacob Leaf as Harold Hill, and Zoe Mezoff as Marian the Librarian. (Photo/Kerry Long)

“The Music Man” is a celebration of community. It’s set in River City. But all of us here will feel the communal spirit too.

Just look around the lobby. There — in a place of honor — hangs Westport artist Stevan Dohanos’ original Saturday Evening Post cover.

Published in 1946, it shows 5 band members all looking away, in mid-toot. The models were all Staples students.

Dohanos’ work had nothing to do with “The Music Man.” But Roth and Long have used it as the poster for the show.

...and the 2016 version.

That’s the kind of thing that brings a town together, and fills it with pride.

Harold Hill: Eat your heart out!

(“The Music Man” performances are Friday and Saturday, November 11, 12, 18 and 19 at 7:30 p.m., with 3 p.m. matinees on Sunday, November 13 and Saturday, November 19. Click here for tickets. They’re also available at a “pop- up box office” at the Westport YMCA on Saturday, November 5 (9-11 a.m.), or 30 minutes prior to the performance in the Staples High School lobby, as available.)

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“Drowsy Chaperone”: Wake Up! Just 2 Performances Left!

It’s one thing for Staples Players to sell tickets to shows like “A Chorus Line,” “West Side Story” and “Guys and Dolls.”

Everyone knows the high school troupe will knock those familiar shows out of the park.

It’s a lot tougher to try to sell a musical few people have heard of — and with a sleep-inducing title.

Trust me: “The Drowsy Chaperone” will do more than keep you awake.

It’s laugh-out-loud hilarious. It’s superbly entertaining.

And it’s as Broadway-quality as every other Players production you’ve ever loved.

Drowsy Chaperone - Christian Melhuish, Aaron Samuels, Charlie Zuckerman - Kerry Long

Aaron Samuels (center) breaks theater’s “4th wall.” Playing “Man in Chair,” he also interacts with actors Christian Melhuish and Charlie Zuckerman. (Photo/Kerry Long)

The premise is a bit odd — a “Man in Chair” imagines an entire 1920s musical in his apartment — but trust me: It works.

Without knowing anything about 1920s musicals, you’ll get both the spoof of the genre — and the homage. The cast and crew clearly have fun. They straddle past and present — and their joy is infectious.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” features superb performances from — among others — Aaron Samuels (Man in Chair), and Jacob Leaf (Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” this time nailing a Latin lover in a performance that would make Rudolph Valentino swoon).

There’s tap dancing, show-stopping songs, and Players’ signature professional sets, costumes and pit orchestra.

Trix the Aviatrix descends onstage, in a memorable number. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Trix the Aviatrix descends onstage, in a memorable number. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Directors David Roth and Kerry Long have been bombarded with emails from fans who — like me — surprised themselves at how much they loved a play they knew nothing about.

Roth and Long knew when they chose “Drowsy Chaperone” that it would be a tough sell. They took the challenge anyway.

They’re happy to see that — thanks to word of mouth — tickets are going fast for Friday and Saturday’s final performances.

Consider this your wakeup call.

(“The Drowsy Chaperone” will be performed this Friday and Saturday — March 18 and 19 — at 7:30 p.m., at Staples High School. Click here for tickets.)