Tag Archives: Jamie Mann

Roundup: Shiloh Verrico, Vinny Penna, Parking And Driving …

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This weekend’s Italian American Police Society’s Car Show was special.

And not because over 300 classic, modified, foreign and racing cars competed for trophies. Or because their owners and friends feasted on barbecue, shared $5,000 in raffle prizes, and enjoyed perfect summer weather.

There was also a tribute to Vincent Penna Jr. The former Westport Police Department deputy chief died a week before Christmas, of a heart attack. He was 51 years old.

Westport Police detectives Sereniti Taranto and Sharon Russo, with officers from nearby towns, raised over $10,000 for the Vincent Penna Jr. Scholarship Fund.

Penna’s family — including his wife Denise, and sons Vincent and Nicholas — picked the most prestigious award at the car show: a 1932 yellow Ford coupe, just like John Milner’s from “American Graffiti.”

The car show connection continues. Among his many activities, Penna served with the Westport Police Benevolent Association. They’ve got their own car show this Saturday (August 21, 4 to 8 p.m., Saugatuck train station). (Hat tip: Andrew Colabella)

The Penna family, at yesterday’s Norwalk car show. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

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Among the highlights of the weekend’s final Shopping Day of the summer: The voice of Shiloh Verrico

The 11-year-old actor/singer from New Jersey — a co-star on Netflix’s “Country Comfort” with recent Staples High School graduate Jamie Mann, who also performed — wowed the crowd,

“She literally stopped everyone in their tracks,” says Julie Van Norden. “You could have heard a pin drop when she sang ‘Sound of Silence.’ I’ve never heard such a voice in one so young, at least not in person!”

Shiloh is  a student at 1983 Staples grad Cynthia Gibb’s Triple Threat Academy, for young actors, singers and dancers.

When she hits it big — well, bigger — you can say you heard her here first.

Shiloh Verrico

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One other great moment from the weekend: Dan Levinson’s Palomar Jazz Band, at the Levitt Pavilion.

Another large crowd filled the lawn, as the sun set and music played. After COVID forced a dark summer in 2020, this year’s 60 evenings of free music have been a welcome relief.

Dan Levinson’s Palomar Jazz Band …

… and their fans. (Photos/JC Martin)

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Kids watch their parents. They mimic them — the good, and the bad.

Want evidence that the next generation will grow up to be entitled drivers and parkers, just like their elders? Just look at this photo yesterday, from Church Lane:

(Photo/John McCarthy)

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On a more serious note, kids do watch how their parents drive.

For the past few days, parents dropping off and picking up their children at Wakeman Fields have been driving very, very fast.

The newly paved road linking Cross Highway and the Bedford Middle School parking lot has turned into a Grand Prix straightaway.

With the addition of curbs on both sides, it’s narrower than ever. It’s even tougher now to back up and turn around. Traffic roars by in both directions, while kids cross without looking.

Be careful. Slow down. Please show your children — and all the others — how to drive safely.

The Cross Highway entrance to Wakeman Fields. (Photo/Dan Woog)

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What an end to a great weekend! If anyone wonders why we love Westport, just show them last night’s sunset over Sherwood Mill Pond:

(Photo/Matt Murray)

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Sure, it’s been a hot few days. Time for cool off — “Westport … Naturally” style.

(Photo/Varyk Kutnick)

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And finally … back in 1969, today marked the last day of Woodstock.

There were some legendary performances. Also some really, really atrocious ones.

How to pick what to feature today?

How about some artists who — before or after going down to Yasgur’s farm — performed in Westport.

Richie Havens was in Westport several times. The first was when he took the Staples High School stage as a stand-in for the Blues Project, who were stuck in a New York recording studio.

He was flexible at Woodstock too, improvising “Freedom” on the spot after playing every song he knew, while most of the other first-day acts were stuck in a massive traffic jam.

Sly & the Family Stone played at least twice in Westport — once at Staples, once at Longshore. This is one of the enduring images from Woodstock:

Arlo Guthrie played at the Westport Country Playhouse:

And how about these Woodstock performers who — at some point in their lives — lived (or, in once case still live) in Westport?

Joe Cocker rented here — and auditioned musicians for his “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” tour at the Westport Country Playhouse.

Johnny Winter lived here around the same time. He’d hold court — and play — at Players’ Tavern, next to the Playhouse (most recently, Positano restaurant).

And — though Bert Sommer never made it into the “Woodstock” movie — he performed at Woodstock too. He was accompanied by Ira Stone — now a longtime Westporter.

Staples Players Return! Curtain Rises Thursday.

The big New York news: Broadway is opening up soon.

The bigger Westport news: Staples Players are opening up sooner.

The nationally renowned theater troupe takes to the stage next week — Thursday through Saturday, May 20, 21 and 22 — for a series of hilarious mini-plays by David Ives.

It’s their first time in front of a Staples audience since “Mamma Mia!” in the fall of 2019. COVID canceled “Seussical” a day before its spring opening last year. Gone too were a summer show, fall mainstage, various Black Box productions, and 2 years’ 1-Act Festivals.

The actors and tech crew kept sharp with 7 creative, well-received radio shows. But they were itching to perform a live audience.

And those live audiences can’t wait to have them back.

The production is called “Words Words Words … and Music.” Director David Roth describes Ives’ 7 short plays — and 2 other mini-musicals, plus additional musical numbers (with live musicians) — as “a little bit wacky. It’s like watching ‘Saturday Night Live,’ if every sketch worked.”

From left: Camille Foisie, Colin Konstanty, Samantha Webster and David Corro in “The Almost In-Laws.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

How wacky?

Remember the idea that 3 monkeys typing into infinity will eventually produce “Hamlet”? Ives imagines the monkeys talking at their typewriters.

One play follows 2 people in a conversational minefield. An offstage bell interrupts every false start, gaffe and faux pas — but the actors can’t hear it.

In one of the musicals, a man introduces his fiancée to his parents, who are … elves.

You get the idea.

Chloe Manna and Ben Herrera talk things out. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Roth and co-director Kerry Long had seen the plays before. They’d wanted to produce them for a while. This is the perfect opportunity.

Every senior — the veteran actors who missed out on so much — has a moment to shine. Familiar faces include Jamie Mann (fresh off his Netflix “Country Comfort” appearance), Camille Foisie and Samantha Webster (stars of “Mamma Mia!”), Sophie Rossman and David Corro.

They stayed active — and stretched their creativity — with Players’ radio plays. But they (and their directors) are thrilled to be back on stage.

“The kids are ecstatic. Every step — auditions, read-throughs, tech week — has been like old times,” Roth says. “They got back into the routine very quickly.”

Sophie Rossman, Benny Zack and Samantha Webster take their star turns. (Photo/Kerry Long)

All COVID protocols are being followed. Actors wear special masks, with clear plastic that allows their mouths to be seen.

Rehearsals take place in small groups. Three-quarters of the cast is fully vaccinated.

Only 300 tickets — less than 1/3 of the auditorium’s capacity of 960 — are being sold for each performance. There will be empty rows between each one with people; empty seats separate each pod of ticket-buyers. Every armrest is wiped down between shows.

A number of Players will pursue theater in college. They’ve already learned their most important lesson: The show must go on.

(“Words Words Words … and Music”) will be performed Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 20, 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m., and May 22 at 2 p.m. Click here for tickets and more information.)

 

Mann Oh Mann!

Jamie Mann is drawing praise — and viewers — for his role in “Country Comfort,” the Netflix series about a singing family and their nanny.

But he’s not the only Staples High School student in a TV show this spring.

In fact, he’s not the only one in the same family.

Jamie’s freshman brother Cameron’s show “Mare of Easttown” debuts tonight (Sunday, April 18, 10 p.m.) on HBO. It will stream on HBO Max.

The 7-episode series stars Kate Winslet as Mare Sheehan, a detective trying to keep her life from unraveling as she investigates a murder in her small Pennsylvania town.

Cameron Mann

Cameron plays Ryan Ross, the son of Mare’s best friend. More than a whodunit, the show digs into the complex relationships of a close-knit community, with themes of suffering and redemption.

USA Today says, “Its characters are deeply real and expertly drawn, its sense of place firmly established and specific, and its clues genuinely shocking. It’s intense and satisfying to watch, going to places your average murder mystery wouldn’t aspire.’

Cameron auditioned for the role in September 2019. After sending a tape, he earned a callback with the director and writer in Philadelphia. A final callback followed in New York.

Filming began outside Philadelphia in November 2019 — when Cameron was still at Bedford Middle School — but was shut down by COVID 4 months later. It picked up again in October, and was completed in December.

“Mare” was “cross-boarded” — shot out of order — which complicated things, as the children aged during the long pandemic pause.

One of Cameron’s big scenes in episode 2 — not shot before the shutdown — was cut, probably because it would be too hard to match to the preceding, already-filmed scene when he was a year younger.

His filming took 22 days. But they were spread out, allowing him to continue at both Bedford and Staples. On the days he did work, he was required to spend 3 hours with an on-set teacher.

Cameron Mann took time off from filming to check out the Liberty Bell,

Cameron says that working with Winslet was “amazing. She is very focused and thoughtful about her work. She took the time to meet me, and talk to me about being part of such an intense project. She is super-passionate about acting, and so good.”

This is not the young actor’s first TV show. Cameron has a recurring role on ABC’s “For Life.” He’s been a guest star on “Daredevil” (Netflix) and “New Amsterdam” (NBC), and played former Westporter Melissa Joan Hart’s son in the Lifetime movie “A Very Merry Toy Store.”

And with all that, he found time this winter to play on Staples’ freshman basketball team. Just call the “Mare of Easttown” actor “Cameron of Westport.”

(Meanwhile, Netflix is calculating views, to determine if there will be a 2nd season for Jamie Mann’s “Country Comfort.” All 10 episodes are available now.)

 

Roundup: Oystercatchers, Drive-In Concerts, Clear Cutting …

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Tina Green reports that the American oystercatcher pair has returned to Compo Beach for the season.

“Their loud. distinctive calls announced their early morning arrival for all to hear yesterday,” she says.

“No doubt they will try to nest again in the same area of the beach just north of the cannons. The pair successfully raised and fledged 3 juvenile birds last year, due in part to the beach being closed because of COVID. They had the beach to themselves until May, along with the piping plovers.

“Compo visitors — especially those with dogs — should keep away from the oystercatchers and give them some space. Westporters are very fortunate to have a front row seat to watch nature up close and personal in our hometown.

American oystercatchers at Compo Beach yesterday. (Photo/Tina Green)

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Besides the oystercatchers, there’s another returnee to Westport: drive-in concerts.

The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Westport Library sponsor 2 next month. The site is the Imperial Avenue parking lot.

Sophie B Hawkins — a great talent, and Westport resident —  opens the season on Friday April 23rd. The show — featuring her 5-piece band is a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Deep Banana Blackout follows on Saturday, April 24. The 8-piece band is an area favorite, with a high-energy mix of jam, funk and blues.

Tickets for each show are $150 per car (5 person max). Tickets for Sophie B Hawkins go on sale on this Monday (March 29, 10 .am). Deep Banana Blackout will go on sale Tuesday, March 30, also at 10. Click here to order.

Sophie B Hawkins

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Speaking of entertainment: Jamie Mann — the Staples High School senior who stars in Netflix’s new hit, “Country Comfort,” which premiered Friday — has written a great piece for Backstage on the highs and lows of being a young actor.

He writes honestly about his love for dance, the “dead zone” when child actors grow too tall and add braces, the mentors he found in Westport like Cynthia Gibb and Jill Jaysen, being just another cast member with Staples Players, and more. Click here to read.

Jamie Mann (Photo/Curtis & Cort)

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John Noble writes: “I live near Earthplace, and walk by this house on Woodside Avenue almost every day.

It’s a teardown. I totally get it — but why did the developer take down over 17 large mature trees to create this eyesore of a lot now? There’s always 2 sides to a story, but as a neighbor this tree obliteration really bugs me.”

(Photo/John Noble)

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The Westport Library is seeking candidates for its Board of Trustees. Of particular interest: people with expertise in finance, fundraising and development for non-profits; knowledge and understanding of current trends in digital media and information technology, or a background in municipal government and/or not-for-profit law.

Trustees serve 4-yeare terms. Click here for more information.Interested candidates should email a resume and letter of interest to rpowell@westportlibrary.org. The deadline is April 19.

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Westporter Ana Cristina Purcell died on March 16. She was 68.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she immigrated with her parents to the US in the 1950s.

Ana was a graduate of Staples High School. She served as the office administrator for Purcell Moving Corporation, a family-owned business, for over 20 years. She enjoyed traveling, the beach, and spending time with family and friends.

She is survived by her husband Lawrence; daughter Cristina; son Shane (Jennifer Soyeck); sister Julia Huber; niece Rachel Greene; nephew Philip Huber, and grandchildren TJ Altman, Kroy Purcell and Camilla Purcell.

Harding Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. Services will be held at Assumption Church this Saturday (March 27, 11 a.m.). After, close friends and family are welcome to their home to share memories of her life.

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And finally … happy 67th birthday to legendary University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma.

They beat High Point by a whopping 102-59 on Sunday. Tonight (9 p.m.) they face Syracuse. Go Huskies!

Jamie Mann: Good Ol “Country Comfort”

“I sucked at soccer,” says Jamie Mann. “I knew I wasn’t going to be a pro.”

But the Staples High School senior sure can dance. And sing. And act.

After being mesmerized by a performance of “Swan Lake” at 3 — and always dancing whenever he heard music — his mother suggested he try ballet.

Jamie was hooked.

“Dance is a special art form. It’s the purest form of emotional experience,” he says. “You tell a story without speaking. It’s graceful, unique and fulfilling.”

Jamie Mann (Photo/Curtis & Cort)

Jamie studied at the Alvin Ailey Athletic Boys program — dance is also a pure form of athleticism — as well as the School of American Ballet and Ballet Etudes. He has performed in “Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake” with the New York City Ballet, and did “Nutcracker” at the Westport Playhouse too.

Then came “Billy Elliot.” The first Broadway show he’d seen, he felt it called him to be on stage.

Soon he was — in 4 regional productions around the country. He learned as much about singing and acting as did dancing.

Working with a director for the first time, during long, strenuous rehearsals, Jamie became resilient. Seeing the “insane number of people” involved bringing a show to life solidified his desire to make theater his life.

He honed his craft with Staples Players. Jamie sang and acted in 8 shows, from “Newsies” to “Curtains.” The summer before junior year, he starred in “Because of Winn-Dixie” at the Goodspeed Opera House.

“I’m so fortunate to have grown up in this artistic community, where so many people helped me on this path,” he says.

He gives shout-outs to his first acting teacher, Jill Jaysen, and Cynthia Gibb at Triple Threat — his voice teacher, acting coach and mentor for 10 years.

Jamie Mann (right) in “Because of Winn Dixie” at the Goodspeed Opera House. 
(Photo/Diane Sobolewski)

Last year he auditioned in New York for a new project. “Country Comfort” is a Netflix comedy about an aspiring country singer who finds new life as a nanny for a handsome widower and his 5 charming children.

In the middle of rehearsals for Players’ “Mamma Mia!” Jamie got the job. He flew to California, for rehearsals and taping.

Jamie Mann (5th from left, in blue) in “Mamma Mia!” Photo/Kerry Long)

He had never been on a film set. He had to learn different blocking, not to look into the camera — and adapt to constant line changes. Every night brought a new script.

It was Jamie’s first time originating a role. He developed “Brody” — the 2nd oldest kid — as a character. “I found his mannerisms, and explored his character,” Jamie explains.

Brody is “someone I’d be friend with in real life. He’s a good brother. Parental in a way. He’s a little insecure. He doesn’t really know fully who he is. But he grew as a character from a blank slate. And I grew with him.”

Meanwhile, the entire cast — including Katharine McPhee, Eddie Cibrian and Ricardo Hurtado — had to create “a convincing family dynamic.”

They did. Jamie — who in real life has 3 younger siblings — feels like he now has a “second family.” He can’t wait for the world to see it, when it debuts this Friday (March 19).

Jamie Mann (left) with his “Country Comfort” family. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

But the show’s path from California set to Netflix distribution was not as smooth as it sounds.

Right after the 4th episode was filmed, COVID struck. The cast dispersed. They did not get together again until September.

“Up to then we didn’t know if we’d ever be back,” Jamie recalls. “But we jumped right in.”

Six more episodes were completed by the end of October.

Jamie Mann (center), ready for prime time. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Post-production takes time. Back in Westport, Jamie watched “Bridgerton” and “Stranger Things” on Netflix.

“It was weird to see them, and think I’d be on that platform soon,” he admits.

“But it got me excited. It’s cool that people all over the world can watch this.”

And in other languages. It felt very strange to watch a trailer in Spanish — his body, but his voice dubbed in by someone he’d never met.

As an actor, it’s always hard to watch himself, Jamie says. He will probably view the first episode on Friday with his “real life family,” at their Compo Beach home. But he’ll see most of the other shows by himself.

“Country Comfort” billboard in Times Square.

Then he’ll wait to see if “Country Comfort” — which has earned strong pre-reviews — will be picked up for another season.

Meanwhile, he’s reveling in being a Staples senior, even in this COVID-crossed year. He was part of Players’ radio show “Dracula,” and is waiting to hear from colleges.

He’s applied for musical theater programs. Competition is tough.

Yet it’s hard to imagine many other candidates have the ballet, singing — and “Country Comfort” — resumes of Jamie Mann.

BONUS REEL: “06880” first noticed Jamie in 2016. As a Bedford Middle School 7th grader, he danced a “Billy Elliot” routine in the talent show. I described the support he got as a young dancer from his friend Josh Suggs — and the thunderous applause he earned on the middle school stage. Click here for the story, then below for the video.

Roundup: Vaccine, Leah Rondon, Rotary $$ …

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The latest COVID news, via Kerry Foley and Facebook’s “Westport Coronavirus Info” page:

  • “Tens of thousands” of additional doses should be added to the system this week. That means appointment slots will open up soon.
  • If you have a vaccine appointment in  April May or June, you should be able to get an earlier date in the next 3 weeks. If you do get an earlier date, cancel your later appointment.
  • The state is on target to open appointments to the 45 to 54 age group on March 22.

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For several years, a Birthday Bash in honor of Leah Rondon raised money for several scholarships. It honored the 6-year-old daughter of Bedford Middle School teacher Colleen Rondon, who was killed when struck by a car while playing at a friend’s house.

COVID canceled the most recent event. But the show goes on — literally.

This Saturday (March 6, 6 p.m.), a cabaret with young performers from around the globe will be livestreamed on Triple Threat Academy‘s Facebook and YouTube pages. Triple Threat founder/noted “Fame” actress/Staples High School grad Cynthia Gibb co-hosts, with Leah’s mom Colleen.

Performers – most of whom train with Triple Threat in Westport and Hollywood — include Makayla Joy Connolly of Broadway’s “Harry Potter,” and Westport’s own Jamie Mann, of Netflix’s new show “Country  Comfort.”

Leah’s brother Sam joins on sax, Cooper Sadler tears it up at the Levitt Pavilion, and Sophie Walther sings her heart out from the UK.

The family-friendly benefit relies on donations from viewers and supporters. Click here for the link; click for the livestream via Triple Threat’s Facebook Live and YouTube pages.

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It’s been a tough year for non-profits. In-person fundraising has suffered, while demands for their services has spiked.

But thanks to one organization, another can continue its work.

Westport Rotary Club recently donated $1,075 to Homes with Hope. The funds will provide transportation for children living in supportive housing to HwH’s After School Academic Program, where they receive food, tutoring and mentoring. It’s especially important with the rise in online learning, and the widening academic gap for children without a parent to assist them.

Westport Rotary will distribute all of the funds donated by the community to its 2020 LobsterFest Charitable Giving fundraiser. More grant recipients will be announced soon.

Rotary meetings now held virtually 3 Tuesdays a month (12:30 to 1:30 p.m.). For more information, click here.

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March is Women’s History Month. For 25 years, Winged Monkey has been a woman-owned Westport business.

To celebrate both the month and their 25th anniversary, the popular Post Road East shop is offering — yes — 25% sales. There are other promotions all month long too.

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And finally … 3 big birthdays today. They represent a wide range of genres.

Karen Carpenter was born March 2, 1950. She died in 1983.

Jon Bon Jovi was born today in 1962.

And happy 50th birthday to Method Man.

Downtown Busking Set For Saturday

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.

Roundup: Library Reopens; Craig Melvin; Dirty Dancing; Yankee Doodle Fair; More


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).

Craig Melvin


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.

Tickets are $50 per car. Click here to purchase.

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!


And finally … another fun summertime classic.

Obi Ndefo And Jamie Mann’s Joyful Virtual Cabaret

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 Ndefo

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.”

Obi’s friend Gina Belafonte — Harry’s daughter — provided a tremendous tune. Chazz Palminteri got involved too.

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.

Jill Johnson Mann Takes Lara Spencer To (Dance) School

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.

“06880” wrote about that day. It’s still one of my favorite stories ever.

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.)