Tag Archives: Joanne Woodward

Roundup: Cribari Bridge, Senior Center, Wildfires, WTF, More


Stay away from the William F. Cribari Bridge today. The Saugatuck River span is closed through 3 p.m., for inspection. Use alternate routes!

William F. Cribari Bridge — stay away today! (Photo/Sam Levenson)


Registration for Senior Center October-December classes is underway for Westport residents. Non-residents can register beginning Monday (September 21).

The Senior Center also announces upcoming events:

  • Parkinson’s Support (Sept. 23, Zoom, 10:15 a.m.)
  • New to Medicare (Sept. 24, 5:30 p.m.)
  • Summer Concert Series: Harpist Wendy Kerner (Sept. 25, Zoom, 1:30 p.m.)
  • Caregiver Support (Sept. 30, Oct. 7 and 21, 10 a.m.)
  • Bingo (Oct. 1, with delivered lunch (Pct. 1, Zoom, 1:15 p.m.)
  • Just for Women (Oct. 1, 3:30 p.m.)
  • Walk to End Alzheimer’s (Oct. 11).

For more information, click here, call 203-341-5099, email seniorcenter@westportct.gov/seniorcenter.


Smoke from the wildfires out west have reached Westport. This was the scene yesterday evening, at Compo Beach:

(Photo/Stephen Raffel)


COVID has canceled many traditional activities. But not Oktoberfest!

Wakeman Town Farm celebrates outdoors on Thursday, October 8 (5:30 p.m.).  Chef Alison Milwe Grace cooks up a great German meal (with a veggie option for non-meat eaters). Bring a sweater or jacket and your favorite German beer or adult beverage. Click here for details and tickets.


Teaching has always been stressful. During COVID, it’s exponentially tougher.

To help educators de-stress, Positive Directions has launched a Teacher Support Group. Trained counselors lead discussions Wednesdays from 7 to 8 p.m. via (of course) Zoom. The cost is $40 per session. Email amiceli@positivedirections.org, or call 203-227-7644 for reservations.


With kids back at school — meaning more than half the time, they’re learning at home — parents may need a private office.

Serendipity Labs — the on-demand workspace at 55 Post Road West — offers a complimentary private day office for all new inquiries. It’s available weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Serendipity memberships include high-speed WiFi, complimentary coffee, spacious common areas, guest reception and concierge services. For details click here, call 203-979-4084 or email mburns@serendipitylabs.com.

Serendipity Labs, 55 Post Road West


Classic movies continue this Saturday (September 19, 8 p.m.) at the Remarkable Theater. Earthplace co-sponsors “Raiders of the Lost Artk.” Click here for tickets and more information.


Speaking of movies: Ethan Hawke will direct a new movie about the lives and careers of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. The project has the blessing of Woodward — now 90 — and the actors’ family.

The film is expected to focus on their 50-year marriage, including their decision to raise their children in Westport rather than Los Angeles. (Hat tip: Johanna Rossi)

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman.


And finally … today would have been B.B. King’s 95th birthday. He died 5 years ago, but the thrill of his blues guitar will never be gone.

 

Westport Playhouse: A Look Back At 90 Seasons

Today should have been a red-letter day in Westport Country Playhouse history.

The former cow barn opened its doors — and ushered in a golden era of summer theater — on June 29, 1931. Ever since last year, the Playhouse had prepared for a landmark 90th season.

COVID canceled those plans. But “06880” — the blog and the town — can still celebrate.

The building is actually twice as old as the theater. It was built in 1835 by R&H Haight, as a tannery for hatters’ leathers. Apple trees grew nearby.

In 1860 Charles H. Kemper purchased the plant from Henry Haight’s widow.

Kemper tannery, 1860.

Twenty years later, he installed a steam-powered cider mill.

By the winter of 1930, the property — assessed at $14,000 — had been unused for several years. It was bought by Weston residents Lawrence Langner and his wife Armina Marshall Langner, co-founders of the Theatre Guild, a powerful producer of Broadway and touring productions.

The 1930 barn.

The Langners wanted a place to experiment with new plays, and reinterpret old ones. Westport was already home to actors, producers and directors.

On June 29, 1931, the Westport Country Playhouse opened. The very first play — The Streets of New York — starred Dorothy Gish. Its stage was built to Broadway specifications. Remarkably, that first show made it all the way there.

Westport Country Playhouse interior, 1933.

Bert Lahr, Eva LaGallienne, Paul Robeson, Helen Hayes, Ethel Barrymore, Henry Fonda, Tallulah Bankhead and Julie Harris were some of the many big names who appeared on the Playhouse stage.

The early days (Photo/Wells Studio)

The theater went dark for 4 years during World War II, due to gas rationing.

Thornton Wilder received his Equity card in 1946, so he could play the stage manager in his own hit, Our Town.

In the 1940s, the Playhouse began an apprentice program. The legendary list includes Stephen Sondheim, Frank Perry and Sally Jesse Raphael. The educational apprenticeship programs are still running.

An early shot of the Westport Country Playhouse.

Though Oklahoma! has never been performed at the theater, it played a key role in the legendary show’s history. In 1940, Richard Rodgers came from his Fairfield home for Green Grow the Lilacs. Three years later, he produced Oklahoma!, based on what he’d seen.

Roders also saw Gene Kelly that night at Lilacs, and a few months later gave him his big break: the lead in Pal Joey.

In 1959 the Langners turned operation of the Playhouse over to Jim McKenzie. Later named executive producer, he retired in 2000 after 41 years. His tenure was notable for many things — including his efforts in 1985 to purchase the theater and its property, thwarting a takeover by a shopping center complex.

Gloria Swanson arrives, 1961.

Appearing on stage during McKenzie’s time were stars like Alan Alda, Cicely Tyson, Richard Thomas, Jane Powell, Sandy Dennis, and Stiller and Meara.

A teenager earned her Equity card, and earned a standing ovation on opening night in The Fantasticks. Her name was Liza Minnelli.

Prior to renovation, the cramped lobby was filled with posters from past shows.

In 2000, artistic director Joanne Woodward joined an illustrious team including Anne Keefe, Alison Harris and Elisabeth Morten. They brought Gene Wilder, Richard Dreyfuss, Jill Clayburgh and Jane Curtin to the stage.

Woodward’s husband — Paul Newman — also starred at the Playhouse, in the same role Thornton Wilder played 56 years earlier: stage manager, in Our Town. 

Like so many other Playhouse shows, it (with Newman) soon transferred to Broadway.

But the building — still basically a 170-year-old barn — was in physical disrepair.Woodward and company also renovated the Playhouse physically, and revitalized it artistically.

An 18-month, $30.6 million renovation project in 2003 and ’04 brought the Playhouse into the modern era. It closed in 2003 with a revival of its first show, The Streets of New York.

It reopened in 2005 — its 75th season. At Woodward’s suggestion, a piece of the original stage is still there. The Playhouse moved forward, while paying homage to its storied past.

Westport Country Playhouse, after renovation.

The next year saw the world premiere of Thurgood. Since then — under artistic directors Tazewell Thompson and now Mark Lamos — the Westport Country Playhouse has expanded both its scope and its season.

From a tryout and summer stock house focusing mostly on light, entertaining comedies, to its current April-through-November staging of powerful dramas, musicals and exploratory plays, the Westport Country Playhouse has played a key role in American theater.

Several years ago, Lamos noted, “What had a been a leaky, vermin-infested, un-weatherized — albeit beloved — converted barn became a state-of-the-art theater as fine as any in America.”

Like Broadway, the Westport Country Playhouse is closed during this, its 90th season.

But — as its long history shows — the old barn has weathered many ups, and  a few downs. The curtain will rise again next year.

The show must go on!

(Hat tip: Pat Blaufuss)

(Photo/Robert Benson)

Photo Challenge #285

The Westport Country Playhouse stage is dark this season.

But it remains bright and vivid in our minds. Last week’s Photo Challenge — showing an old-fashioned light above a closed window on the side of a red-painted wood structure — was easily recognized by many as the concession stand kiosk nestled in the courtyard outside one of America’s oldest and most famed summer theaters. (Click here to see.)

Wendy Schaefer, Rich Stein, Elaine Marino, Seth Schachter, Fred Cantor, Joyce Barnhart, Dan Vener, Wendy Cusick, Patricia Blaufuss, Nancy Wilson, Stephanie Ehrman, Jonathan McClure, Shirlee Gordon, Tom Risch, Elizabeth Marks, Seth Goltzer and Kathleen Lewton all knew exactly what the image showed.

All will hopefully be back next year, for the beloved Playhouse’s belated 90th season.

This week’s Photo Challenge picks up — sort of — where last week’s left off. We remember our neighbor Paul Newman for many things, including his role as the stage manager in the 2001 Playhouse production of “Our Town.” (His wife, Joanne Woodward, was the show’s sole producer when it moved to Broadway the next year. She played a major role in the Playhouse’s renovation, a couple of years later.)

We were used to seeing Paul Newman all around town. Everyone’s got a story. But where can we see this banner of him today? If you know where in Westport it is, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Sabra Gallo)

 

Unsung Hero #123

Oops!

This one almost slipped by us.

Earlier this month, Nell Newman was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.

The ecologist, conservationist, biologist, organic farmer — and founder of Newman’s Own Organics, and the Nell Newman Foundation — joins a long list of amazing Nutmeg State women, including Helen Keller, Marian Anderson, Clair Boothe Luce, Ella Grasso and Katherine Hepburn.

Nell Newman

Her work in organic food was inspired by her youth in Westport. When she learned that her favorite bird — the peregrine falcon — was headed toward extinction because of the pesticide DDT, she began studying ecology.

In 2014 Nell received the prestigious Rachel Carson Award from The National Audubon Society, for her environmental leadership.

Westport is justly proud of Nell’s parents, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Both were active in a number of important causes, far beyond stage and screen.

We are proud now too that this Westport native is paying it forward. Congratulations, Nell, on your Hall of Fame honor!

(Hat tip: Kathie Motes Bennewitz)

Friday Flashback #72

The new tax bill signed by President Trump may devastate Newman’s Own Foundation. Since 1982, the Westport-based organization has donated $512 million to charities helping veterans, children with cancer, low-income students and many other causes. (Click here for the full story.)

That news reminds us of the actor/food and lemonade manufacturer/automobile racer’s enormous, longtime impact on our town.

From the time he moved to Coleytown in the late 1950s — attracted here by the movie “Rally Round the Flag, Boys!” — he and his wife Joanne Woodward — were good, giving neighbors.

From the Westport Historical Society and Westport Country Playhouse to speaking with middle school students about substance abuse, the couple did plenty for all of us.

Everyone who’s lived here a while has a Paul Newman or Joanne Woodward story.

But I’d sure like to know the one behind this photo, taken shortly after he moved around the corner from the elementary school:

(Photo courtesy of Dave Parnas via Facebook “Exit 18” page)

Joshua Bell Plays Westport — Again

Joshua Bell is the most famous violinist of our time. Wherever he plays — around the world — he attracts adoring, sold-out audiences.

Despite his grueling recording and performing schedule, Bell often finds time for Westport.

Joshua Bell

Joshua Bell

In 2012 Bell helped launch Beechwood Arts and Innovation, the Westport non-profit known for its creative, eclectic Arts Immersion Salons. Music, art, film, performance, food and technology — all come together in a stunning 1806 home owned by Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito.

Bell — a longtime friend of Chiu, Beechwood’s co-founder and himself an internationally acclaimed pianist — kicked off the 1st year by donating an unforgettable concert of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”

He was joined by Chiu, actor James Naughton of Weston, and 13-year-old theater student Rachel Rival. Afterwards, chef Raul Restrepo of the former River Café served an equally memorable dinner.

Several years earlier, Bell appeared with Chiu — with whom he has played for 35 years — at the sold-out Malloy lecture for the Westport Library. A few days later they performed at the Westport Country Playhouse with Audra McDonald, Glenn Close and Tony Bennett, honoring Westporter Joanne Woodward.

Jeanine Esposito, Frederic Chiu, Paul Newman and Joshua Bell, at an earlier appearance in Westport.

Jeanine Esposito, Frederic Chiu, Paul Newman and Joshua Bell, at an earlier appearance in Westport.

Next month, Bell returns to town. On Thursday, August 25 (8 p.m., United Methodist Church) — in the midst of his own vacation — he’ll give a “high 5” to Beechwood Arts & Innovation, for their 5th-year fundraiser. Chiu once again joins him on piano.

The event includes a VIP Meet-and-Greet, a conversation where they reminisce about their early days as aspiring musicians (with WQXR’s Elliot Forrest), and a celebration party at Beechwood Arts, across the street from the church.

Beechwood logoThough every seat at a fundraiser is important, Beechwood is reserving 40 seats for patrons to sponsor young music students from underserved communities. Local music non-profits Spread Music Now, Turnaround Arts, Intake, Neighborhood Studios and KEYS are helping fill those seats.

Students will sit close to the stage, and talk to Bell and Chiu during intermission. Their parents can share in the event — and all will leave with a CD.

“In our youth, both Joshua and I were deeply inspired seeing master musicians play live,” Chiu says. “Those experiences left impressions that lasted a lifetime.

“This inspires both of us to work with students. And it’s why at Beechwood we regularly include students alongside masters of their craft, in all of our events across music, art, film and performance.”

Bell and Chiu have been friends since meeting at music competitions in their native Indiana. They’ve toured together for nearly 40 years, in the U.S., Europe and South America.

Their friendship will be on display August 25. So will their world-class talents, their deep love of the arts, and their wonderful generosity to all.

(Tickets must be reserved in advance. For tickets or more information, click here or call 203-226-9462.)

On one visit to Westport, Joshua Bell played "Four Seasons." On tour with Frederic Chiu in Ecuador, Chiu stood on the winter side of the equator, and Bell on the summer side.

On one visit to Westport, Joshua Bell played “Four Seasons.” On tour with Frederic Chiu in Ecuador, Chiu stood on the winter side of the equator, and Bell on the summer side.

Now Starring At The Playhouse: Westport

One of the great perks of living here is the Westport Country Playhouse.

And one of the great perks of the Playhouse is the chance — once a year — to go behind the scenes.

Today was that day. The annual season kickoff party featured food, music, and a very cool opportunity to visit the dressing rooms, costume and set shops, and green room.

And — this is very, very cool — to stand on stage, gazing out at the historic house, just like Alan Alda, Tallulah Bankhead, Sid Caesar, Carol Channing, Richard Dreyfuss, Will Geer, Dorothy and Lillian Gish, Uta Hagen, June Havoc, Helen Hayes, Hal Holbrook, James Earl Jones, Eartha Kitt, Bert Lahr, Gypsy Rose Lee, Hal March, Grouch Marx, Liza Minelli, Paul Newman, Ezio Pinza, Basil Rathbone, Gloria Swanson, Joanne Woodward and thousands of others have done right in Westport, for 85 exciting years.

Standing on the venerable stage is a rare treat.

Standing on the venerable stage is a rare treat.

Associate artist Annie Keefe explains the Playhouse's inner workings.

Associate artist Annie Keefe explains the Playhouse’s inner workings.

The green room isn't green. But just think of all the famous actors who have hung out here, waiting for their scenes. (The television shows a live feed of the play.)

The green room isn’t green. But just think of all the famous actors who have hung out here, waiting for their scenes. (The TV offers a live feed of the show.)

7-Sided Barn Holds Several Wonders

The Westport Historical Society has plenty of cool stuff tucked away in the attic and basement.

But its most amazing artifact may be hidden in plain sight: the 7-sided cobblestone barn.

Located right behind the Wheeler House headquarters, opposite Town Hall, it’s the only barn of its kind in the state. And its doors are always open.

The Westport Historical Society barn

The Westport Historical Society barn

When you wander in, the first thing you see is a 5-foot square historical diorama of downtown. Created for the Society by Tom Clough in 1999, it represents Westport in the mid- and late-19th centuries.

Clough calculated the size of buildings and other features from photos. When he actually measured Toquet Hall, he found his estimate was just one inch off.

A small detail of the Saugatuck River waterfront, from the WHS diorama.

A small detail of the Saugatuck River waterfront, from the WHS diorama.

The tallest object — the spire of Christ & Holy Trinity Church — is 4 inches high, on a 270:1 scale. The smallest are the minuscule spokes on a bicycle, leaning against the old library. (Where was that? Push a button on the display, and you’ll see it was on the corner of Post Road and Main Street, in the building that now houses Starbucks.)

The diorama also includes 50 and 60-foot sloops, which docked where Parker Harding Plaza now stands. (You didn’t know that parking lot was landfill? Ah, the things you’ll learn!)

A 20-minute narration describes Westport’s maritime commerce, including our staple crop (onions) and manufactured goods (tinsel ribbon cord, fringes, candlewicks, shoes, valises and buttons).

In true Westport fashion, the narrator is Joanne Woodward.

Upstairs, there’s an even larger display: the miniature train holiday scene that — every Christmas for decades — entertained Main Street shoppers from Swezey Jewelers’ front window.

Model railroad specialist Hank Teller fine-tuned the 4-track display. It includes small replicas of the Saugatuck Congregational Church, Saugatuck firehouse — and of course Swezey’s itself.

The barn has its own history. Built by blacksmith Farmin Patchin during the late 1840s or ’50s, it was in disrepair when the WHS bought the property in 1980.

It took 10 years to restore the structure, under the supervision of Leo Cirino. Stones were painstakingly removed and catalogued, then returned to their original positions as the walls were rebuilt.

There’s plenty to see at the Historical Society. Including an odd but intriguing 7-sided barn that most of us pass by often, without really seeing.

(For more information on the Westport Historical Society, click here or call 203-222-1424.)

Hail To The National Champions (Update: Videos Added)

Staples High School — home to best-in-the-US science researchers, writing contest winners and others — has 4 new national champs.

The track team’s distance medley relay team left everyone else in the dust, at yesterday’s New Balance Indoor National Championship at the New York City Armory. In the process, they blazed to a Connecticut state record.

National champs (from left): Henry Wynne, Walker Marsh, Jack Scott and Peter Elkind.

National champs (from left): Henry Wynne, Walker Marsh, Jack Scott and Peter Elkind.

Peter Elkind led off, racing 1200 meters in 3:11.3. Jack Scott took the baton, and blasted through 400 meters in 52.4. Both are juniors.

Senior Walker Marsh covered his 800 meter leg in a swift 1:56.4. Then University of Virginia-bound Henry Wynne — who earlier this year ran the fastest 1000 in the country — roared through 1600 meters in 4:06.9.

The relay team’s state-record 10:07.01 was a full 2.58 seconds faster than the runners-up, a squad from Quebec.

Congratulations to all the Staples foursome, and coaches Laddie Lawrence and Malcolm Watson.

Of course, this would not be a complete “06880” story without a fun factoid. So: lead runner Peter Elkind is the grandson of 2 Westporters who made their marks in an area far removed from the track. Perhaps you’ve heard of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward?

Click here for official race video (with narration)
Click here for official post-race interview
Click here for full race story
Click here for 2nd interview

(If  your browser does not load the YouTube video, click here)

Stephen Sondheim: 62 Years In Westport

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that the Westport Country Playhouse 2012 season opens tomorrow (Tuesday, May 1) with Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.”

What you may not know is that the composer/lyricist’s connection to the Playhouse goes back more than 60 years. In fact, Sondheim may have longer ties to the Playhouse than just about anyone else on earth.

In the summer of 1950 — just after graduation from Williams College — a young Sondheim was one of a dozen Playhouse apprentices.

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).

According to a 2006  New York Times story,

He was 20 but not totally untested: he had written two shows in college, one of which was staged. He had won a composition prize that would help finance his further studies. And Oscar Hammerstein II, a neighbor from previous summers in Bucks County, Pa., had been giving him assignments in musical theater writing, critiquing the results without condescension.

Still, he had not moved many sets or called lighting cues from a booth and didn’t yet have the practical knowledge of stagecraft that would eventually inform his scores, helping to create the seamless style of works like “Company” and “Sweeney Todd” decades later. And if there’s one thing a summer theater apprenticeship can deliver on, among the many things it necessarily cannot, it’s the promise of plenty of time spent living the less glamorous life backstage.

An undated photo of the Westport Country Playhouse -- before the most recent renovation.

He applied to the Playhouse because it was near his father and stepmother’s home in Stamford. Perhaps more importantly, he said, “in those days (it was) the most prestigious summer theater in the country.”

One of the great things about his apprenticeship, he added, was that

you got to be an assistant stage manager on at least one show during the summer. I got to do it on a show called “My Fiddle’s Got Three Strings,” directed by no less than Lee Strasberg and starring Maureen Stapleton. It was my first taste of the Actors Studio. When the actors started reading, I couldn’t hear one word. You want to talk about mumbling.

Back then, Sondheim told the Times, there was a different show each week. Apprentices learned everything — from getting props and parking cars to selling Cokes and cleaning latrines.

Nothing was beneath anyone. “We were kids in the theater,” he said.

Stephen Sondheim today.

The occasion of that Times piece was a tribute to Sondheim. The Playhouse benefit was hosted by Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

We think — rightly — of that wonderful couple as two of the Westport Country Playhouse’s most devoted benefactors.

But Stephen Sondheim was there nearly a decade before they moved to town.

Starting tomorrow, he’ll be there — in the form of “Into the Woods” — once again.

That’s a lot more than a little night music.