If you’ve been downtown lately you know that most stores are open, and life is returning to Main Street and environs.
If you haven’t been downtown: Here’s your chance.
This Saturday (July 25, 12:30 p.m.), there’s live entertainment. The area around 146 Main Street will be filled with cool and talented musicians.
(Busking will take place near Savvy + Grace on Main Street. Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
The busking is the brainchild of 2 dynamos: Savvy + Grace owner Annette Norton, and actor/singer/educator Cynthia Gibb.
Annette — whose gifts-and-more shop is another great reason to head downtown — firmly believes that interesting events draw people to the Main Street she loves.
Cynthia — a Staples High School graduate, star of “Fame” and founder of Triple Threat Academy for young actors, singers and dancers — has enlisted nearly a dozen entertainers. Some have already recorded professional; others have appeared on TV.
Some of Saturday’s entertainers.
The cast includes “Billy Elliot” dancer/”County Comfort” TV star/Staples player Jamie Mann; Westporter Rob (Slosberg) Morton, whose “Just One More Day With You” has over 100,000 YouTube views; Momo Burns-Min, a recent Weston High graduate who performed with Kelli O’Hara in the Westport Country Playhouse’s April livestream; soulful indie singer/songwriter Rachel Rose of Brooklyn, and Wilton High’s Olivia Vitterelli.
Each singer will perform a couple of songs. It’s fast-paced and fun. Of course, masks and social distancing are required.
Let the busking begin!
Westport’s own Jamie Mann also performs this Saturday.
The reimagined Westport Library was a spectacular success. For a few months, it was packed with users, jammed with events, pulsing with energy.
Then COVID-19 struck.
But 4 months after it closed, the library is poised to reopen. The big date is Monday, July 13.
Limited services begin, weekdays (2 to 6 p.m.) and Saturdays (12 to 4 p.m.). Only 100 people — including staff — will be allowed in the building at any time.
Masks are required. The only entrance is the main one (upper parking lot). The only exit is through the café.
The café and store are not open. Conference and meeting rooms will also be closed. Computer access will be limited to the Express stations.
Curbside pickup services continues weekdays (10 a.m. to 1 p.m.).
The library will extend loan periods, but fines will accrue for materials not returned within the loan periods.
The library will continue to offer virtual programs and services, while phasing in the full reopening of the building.
During these disconnected times, Dave Briggs — former CNN, NBC Sports and Fox anchor (and proud Westporter) — has conducted a series of Instagram Live interviews with interesting residents.
Folks like 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, restaurant owner Bill Taibe and former NFL quarterback/ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky talk about the town, the pandemic, and answer questions from followers.
Today’s guest (Thursday, July 2) is Craig Melvin. The NBC “Today” host has been square in the middle of both the COVID and racial unrest stories.
Just follow @westportmagazine on Instagram, and click on the “Live” tab at the top of their feed at 4:30 for a fascinating chat. It will be reposted later by Dave (@davebriggstv).
There are no fireworks at Compo Beach to celebrate the 4th. BUT … there is a great movie at Westport’s own drive-in!
The Remarkable Theater shows “Dirty Dancing” at the Imperial Avenue parking lot. The classic summer romance/dance film begins at 8:45 p.m. on Saturday (the 4th). The lot opens at 7:45, and pre-film content starts at 8:15.
It’s a great movie. Even if it’s not “Independence Day,” or “Born on the 4th of July.”
COVID knocked out this year’s Yankee Doodle Fair. But the annual Westport Woman’s Club fundraiser has been around for a century. It will be back next year.
And if you want your Fair fix, check out this video shot last year by interns from Fourth Row Films. It premiered last week, at the Remarkable Theater’s opening night drive-in movie benefit for the WWC.
if you’re inspired by the video — or just want to help provide much-needed funds for the Woman’s Club community grants, scholarships, food pantry and other great causes — click here.
Want to win the war on invasive weeds?
That’s the topic of the next “Pollinator Series” online presentation from Wakeman Town Farm.
This Monday (July 6, 7-8 p.m.), University of Connecticut advanced master gardener Alice Ely will spotlight a guide to invasives, developed by WTF’s 2020 senior class interns.
Click here to register. Registrants will be emailed a Zoom link the day of the talk. Everyone gets a free guide to the area’s worst weeds too.
Missed the benefit cabaret that Staples High School senior Jamie Mann organized for Obi Ndefo — the actor/inspiration/friend who lost both legs when hit by a drunk driver?
Here’s your chance. Just click below. The sound is not great at the start, but it gets better. The performances, back story and messages are well worth it!
Obi Ndefo is an actor and screenwriter. He’s been in “Dawson’s Creek,” “Star Trek” and “The West Wing.” A Nigerian-American Jew, he founded Arts Alliance for Humanity, bringing artists together from around the world to unite and uplift the planet.
Last summer, while loading groceries into his trunk in Los Angeles, he was hit by a drunk driver. He lost both legs, but remained tremendously positive and determined. Nine weeks later he was back teaching yoga to special needs youngsters, and taking on new acting, writing and directing roles.
Obi believes things happen “for him,” not “to him.”
Jamie Mann is a rising senior at Staples High School. A very talented dancer, actor and singer, his credits include “Billy Elliot” (national tour), “Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake” with New York City Ballet, Alvin Ailey at the Apollo Theater, “Because of Winn Dixie” (Goodspeed Opera House), and numerous Staples Players shows.
A few months ago, Jamie was in Hollywood filming Netflix’s new musical show “Country Comfort.” Suddenly COVID-19 struck, and production stopped.
Obi and Jamie’s dad were friends from their Yale University days. Jamie had heard stories about what a great actor and singer he was.
While running in his Silver Lake neighborhood, Jamie saw Obi doing 1-hand pushups in his driveway. Suddenly, his father’s stories about Obi and his inspiring personality came to life.
When he learned that Obi had a GoFundMe page for new prosthetic legs, and to cover medical costs, Jamie decided to help.
He contacted “Country Comfort” cast mates (and Joey McIntyre from New Kids on the Block, father of one of them). He asked for videos of their performances.
Then he reached out to other actors and performers across the country. Among the many who helped, Josie Todd submitted a touching song and message to Obi; her brother has special needs.
Analise Scarpaci — who Jamie idolized, and is in “Mrs. Doubtfire” on Broadway — sang a very moving “Somewhere.”
Jamie also got great content from Obi’s a cappella friends from Yale.
Jamie Mann (Photo/Tomira Wilcox)
Jamie’s mom, Jill Johnson Mann, began turning it all into a livestream. She asked a friend for help.
He’s a huge “Stargate” fan — Obi was a series regular — and when he heard about the accident, he was honored to lend a hand.
The result is a fantastic “virtual cabaret.” It airs tomorrow (Tuesday, June 30, 7:30 p.m.) on Jamie’s YouTube channel (click here) and Jill’s Facebook page (click here).
“This is about more than one man, known for his kindness, undying optimism and activism,” Jamie says.
“It’s about the positive attitude and resilience we all need to overcome the challenges of the uncertain era we’re in. From Obi’s wisdom and a peek into his new TV project, to songs from Broadway stars and exciting newcomers — my friends, cast mates, Obi’s friends and others — this will be a great cabaret.”
Viewers will be able to donate to Obi’s GoFundMe page (you can do so right now too; click here.)
“Let’s change his life, so he can keep inspiring all of us,” Jamie says.
The other day, “Good Morning America” host Lara Spencer made a moronic, smirking “joke,” mocking Prince George for taking ballet classes. Her co-hosts cackled along. Audience members joined in the laughter.
The internet erupted in outrage. This is 2019, after all.
Jill Johnson Mann went one better. The Westporter wrote all about ballet in the Washington Post.
Jill Johnson Mann
She should know. Her 4 kids — 2 girls, 2 boys — have all taken dance classes. Plus, she’s a writer. And — oh yeah — back in 2012, she interviewed Lara Spencer for Greenwich Magazine.
Her 9-year-old son Jamie had just performed in “The Nutcracker.”
Jill is a lot softer on Lara than I would be. But she pulls no punches when she talks about her family’s experiences with dance.
She describes how Jamie was “entranced” the first time he saw “Swan Lake.” He was 3 years old.
At 7 he saw “Billy Elliot the Musical” on Broadway. “My son took the leap and began taking ballet classes — with all girls, which is often the case in the suburbs,” Jill writes. “He was not fazed. He loved it.”
The next year, he joined Alvin Ailey’s Athletic Boys Dance Program.
Commuting 90 minutes to class was worth it, so he could experience a studio filled with 25 boys who loved to dance as much as he did. The program is free — a common perk for young male dancers. Especially at ballet schools, the lure of free tuition compensates for the threat of teasing.
In fact, there was teasing. Jamie wanted to go to private school.
But 5th grade “turned out to be fine. Jamie was becoming a stronger dancer and fighting to have a strong viewpoint about what is okay for boys and girls to do. He began studying ballet with a tough Russian teacher who made the boorish kids at school seem like kittens.”
In 6th grade, things got even better. Jamie was accepted into the School of American Ballet — and danced with New York City Ballet. The Wall Street Journal included him in a story on boys in ballet.
Jamie continued to rock the dance world. He landed his dream role of Billy Elliot, in 4 productions from Florida to New Hampshire. Jamie’s parents — including his “ball sports guy” dad — watched proudly as he played his part: “a physical and emotional feat unmatched by any other child role.”
Jamie Mann in “Billy Elliot the Musical.” (Photo/Zoe Bradford)
Still, Jamie was living a real life — not a Broadway musical. His mother writes:
Despite an Actors’ Equity card in his pocket, the biggest test for Jamie was daring to don ballet shoes and perform Billy’s “Electricity” in his middle school’s talent show. In 2016, even in artsy Westport, Conn., “dare” still felt like the accurate term. He got cold feet a few days before. My husband insisted he not do it. “You don’t know how boys are,” he told me. I countered, “He has to do it, for every boy who comes after him and wants to dance.”
I remember Jamie’s mop of golden hair and his white ballet shoes as the spotlight fell across him during his dramatic entrance. My husband and I braced ourselves for heckling, but instead the audience roared with encouragement. Classmates shouted Jamie’s name as though he were a star. He was, because he made it a little bit easier for kids like George.
Jamie is now 3 years older. He’s continuing to dance — and to dance beautifully. This summer, he performed in a new musical at Goodspeed Opera House. It’s based on the great children’s book “Because of Winn Dixie” — a story about kindness and acceptance.
It was a fantastic show. I look forward to watching him on stage this fall in “Mamma Mia!” with Staples Players.
And if Lara Spencer wants to come, she’s welcome to sit next to me.
(Click here for Jill Johnson Mann’s full Washington Post story.)
There have been a lot of stories lately about bullying.
This is not one of them.
Josh Suggs and Jamie Mann.
Today’s stand-up-and-cheer story begins in April 2009. Jill Johnson Mann and her family had just moved to Westport, after 5 years in Madrid. When she searched for play dates for her son Jamie, Sharon Suggs immediately responded. Jamie and Josh Suggs soon became great friends.
In elementary school, Jamie discovered a passion: dance. He’s extremely talented, and dedicated himself fully to his craft.
As great as he is, it’s not always easy being a ballet dancer in middle school. Yet whenever Jamie was taunted, Josh — a popular, athletic, kind-hearted boy — was always there.
He literally stepped forward and confronted his peers — also not easy for a middle schooler to do. (Josh says he learned those strategies in the Kool 2B Kind program, at Greens Farms Elementary School.)
This winter, as the Bedford Middle School talent show neared, Jamie planned to dance. He encouraged Josh — a budding magician — to perform.
Josh had practiced his tricks for ushers at the New York City Ballet, when he watched Jamie perform. (How’s that for friendship! And Jamie has many other supportive friends, who have watched him dance at Lincoln Center.)
Jamie Mann (5th from left) with Bedford Middle School classmates (and friends since kindergarten) Jaimie Hebel, Maddy Edwards, Rachel Suggs, Josh Suggs, Maggie Moore and Ava Lacoseglio. They were at Lincoln Center, watching him dance in “The Nutcracker.”
But as “Bedford’s Got Talent”‘s first rehearsal neared, Jamie worried about how others would react to his routine. But he and Josh were in it together — he couldn’t back down now.
As the cast rehearsed, camaraderie — and excitement — grew. The curtain rose last month, a few days before school vacation.
Josh closed the 1st act with a mind-blowing magic show. His tricks were perfect — poised and professional. The audience loved him.
Josh Suggs works his magic at the “Bedford’s Got Talent” show.
Then — as the finale of Act 2 — came Jamie.
Casting aside any fears — hoisting an original “Broadway Billy Elliot” bag on his shoulder, and wearing Billy attire all the way down to his ballet shoes — the 7th grader proudly took the spotlight.
And made it his own.
He sang, in a Broadway-quality voice. Channeling Billy’s words, he used the show’s signature song “Electricity” to explain how he feels when he dances: “I’m flying like a bird…I’m free!”
Then he danced.
Athletically, spiritedly, beautifully, Jamie Mann danced his heart out, in front of an audience of middle school boys and girls.
It was a bold move. Jamie was doing something different.
His performance caught the eye of a theater website, This Way to Broadway. They wrote that from the opening moments, the Bedford youngsters:
proved they are different too—different from middle school kids of decades ago, the ones who would have sneered and teased a boy who dared to plie on a school stage.
The crowd roared with approval. “We love you, Jamie!” they chanted, as he began to sing: “I can’t really explain it. I haven’t got the words…”
They were Billy’s words, but easily could have been Jamie’s — trying to find a way to describe his heart swelling as his classmates validated his talents. “Go Jamie,” they cheered as he leapt and spun across the stage. The roar of applause at the end, after his series of a la seconde turns, was deafening. The sound traveled across social media for days to come.
Jamie has performed “Electricity” as Billy at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, alongside Broadway actors. No question, the experience was electric. But that evening, when Jamie danced for his classmates and their families, was also electric for everyone in the room. Especially for a kid who thought that kind of acceptance only came from a touchdown or a goal.
[Here is the entire “Bedford’s Got Talent” show. Josh performs his magic tricks at the 45:00 mark. Jamie is 1:33:30 in. Both are spectacular.]
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Thanks!)