Tag Archives: Justin Paul

Roundup: Justin Paul, MoCA, STAR Award, More


Justin Paul already won a Tony Award for “Dear Evan Hansen.”

Now the 2003 Staples High School graduate has an Olivier too.

On Sunday, the show — which opened in London last November — earned 2 prestigious Laurence Olivier Awards. They’re the British equivalent of Tonys, for plays performed there.

Paul and his writing partner Benj Pasek were honored for “Best Original Score.” “Dear Evan Hansen” was also named Best New Musical.

The ceremony was originally scheduled for April, in Royal Albert Hall. After COVID, it was postponed to Sunday. Most of the ceremony was pre-taped, at the London Palladium. Click here for full details.

Justin Paul (Photo/Dan Woog)


Stress levels are high leading to Election Day. Even after voting, many residents will no doubt feel anxious.

So how about feeding your soul with some art? “World Peace” — the current exhibit at MoCA Westport, a multi-media show including photography, sculpture, video works and art that address the culture of American politics will be free, and open to the public, on Election Day (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.).

Just show your “I Voted” sticker (or mention you voted by absentee ballot). Click here for more about the exhibit.

MoCA is also hosting an Election Day workshop for children and teenagers, featuring voting-related projects related to the show. There are 2 sessions: 10 a.m. to noon, and 2-4 p.m. Click here for details.


For nearly 70 years, STAR Lighting the Way has provided services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and their families.

Services include education, after-school and summer camp programs, behavioral interventions, advocacy, job training, residential support, and much, much more.

STAR is a shining light in Fairfield County. I am honored, through “06880,” to spotlight so many good things the organization does.

So I was especially proud to receive this year’s “Media Partner of the Year” award from STAR. The handsome glass award sits on my desk, a reminder of what a wonderful community we are all part of.


Among Martha Aasen’s many passions, Martha Aasen was particularly loyal to the Westport Library.

To honor the longtime civic volunteer, who died last week at 90, the library as created a Martha Aasen Memorial Fund.

Contributions will help fund ongoing programs and projects. A plaque near the daily newspapers will honor her commitment to the community. Click here to contribute.

Martha Aasen and her husband Larry.


Brittany Berlin graduated from Staples High School in 2012, and Georgetown University 4 years later.

She began a corporate career, then began a blog to share her passion for wholesome recipes accessible to people with food allergies and specific dietary concerns. The Banana Diaries features goodies with a healthy twist.

Simon & Schuster just published her first book. Baked with Love includes over 100 allergy-friendly vegan desserts — all developed and tested by Brittany. She took all the photos too.

Click here for details and ordering information. (Hat tip: Nathalie Fonteyne)


Sure, it’s another in what seems like a series of endless gray days.

But the sun shone (briefly) the other day. And Lori Lustig snapped this gorgeous reminder of why nothing — anywhere! — compares to autumn in New England:

(Photo/Lori Lustig)

And finally … in honor of Justin Paul’s Olivier Award:

 

Roundup: Hybrid Schools, Hugh Jackman, Irrigation Ban, More


The current hybrid model — 2 days in person, 3 out for middle and high schoolers; morning and afternoon sessions for elementary-age youngsters — will continue at least through December.

Superintendent of schools Tom Scarice announced that decision last night, at a Board of Education meeting. It was driven by an uptick in coronavirus cases — a trend expected to rise this fall.

Public sentiment is divided. But Scarice called this “the prudent” and “correct” approach, based on current infection numbers, future models, the ability of educators to adapt to both in-person and distance learning, and input on how the hybrid model has worked so far.


Sure, it rained earlier this week. But Aquarion has announced a mandatory irrigation ban in southwest Fairfield County. The area — including Westport — has hit its 3rd “drought trigger” this fall.

Effective immediately, the ban includes automatic irrigation systems and hose end sprinklers. (Hand-held watering, soaker hose and drip irrigation continue to be permitted for new plantings.)

The ban will help ensure “an adequate water supply for everyday needs, and give reservoirs time to recover for the spring,” the water company says.

Click here for water conservation tips.

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 Last Friday, Hugh Jackman stopped by the Remarkable Theater.

Okay, the Australian actor was not actually at the Imperial Avenue parking lot.

But he did send a special message, introducing a screening of “The Greatest Showman” (and it had nothing to do with the music, by Staples High School graduate Justin Paul).

A video message from the movie’s creator and screenwriter Jenny Bicks also greeted the audience. The screening was in support of Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities.

Next up: “Playhouse at the Drive-in,” this Saturday night.


The Milken Institute Global Conference is in the midst of 8 days of inspiring talks and panels. This year’s topics are (of course) the global pandemic, and social injustice.

And (of course) it’s virtual. Over 4,000 of the world’s leading thinkers have tuned in.

There’s a solid Westport presence at the prestigious, 22nd annual event.

RTM member Kristin Schneeman is a director at FasterCures, part of the Milken Institute. Théo Feldman is an associate director, innovative finance there.

Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio was featured in a conversation, while the hedge fund’s CEO David McCormick spoke on a panel called “Leadership: Moving Beyond Conventional Thinking.

Feldman adds: “During last year’s Global Conference in Beverly Hills, I met a fellow Westporter: Russell Sherman. We realized his sister — Suzanne Sherman Propp — taught my daughter at Greens Farms Elementary School. And his niece did a play with my other daughter.”


As the weather turns cool, a pair of local religious institutions are sponsoring a coat drive for Person to Person.

Clothing should be bagged, and sorted by gender and age (adult or youth). Donations can be dropped off in a blue bin labeled “Coat Donations” on the side elevator entrance at Saugatuck Church, or The Conservative Synagogue.

Donation pick-ups are available too. Email alexandrawalsh9@gmail.com for arrangements.


Speaking of help: last week’s Longshore Ladies 9 Hole Golf Association annual fundraiser brought in plenty of groceries for the Westport Woman’s Club food closet. The event also raised over $1,170, which will go to gift cards for food insecure Westporters.

Donations for the Longshore golf food drive.


And finally … in honor of Hugh Jackman’s Westport “appearance” (and Justin Paul’s music):

 

Roundup: P&Z; Ospreys; Justin Paul; Bridge Lights; More


This Thursday (July 21, 5 p.m., Zoom session), the Planning & Zoning Commission considers 3 COVID-related items.

Two are text amendments aimed at striking a balance between promoting economic vitality and protecting nearby residents.

One would extend the current temporary outdoor dining regulations through March 31, 2021. The other would allow fitness businesses to use certain outdoor spaces, enabling them to serve clients in a socially distanced way.

In addition, Pierrepont School is seeking to use additional space at 220 Post Road West — across the street from its current home at 1 Sylvan Road North — to provide more social distancing space for its approximately 48 students in grades 7-12, and staff.

The meeting will be livestreamed on www.westportct.gov, and shown on Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020. Public comments may be sent by noon on Thursday to PandZ@westportct.gov, and during the meeting as well (PandZcomments@westportct.gov. For full details, click here.

Outdoor dining has been successful on Railroad Place.


Yesterday’s Roundup featured a photo of the Fresh Market osprey fledglings.

A bird-watching friend writes about other osprey platforms in town. They include:

Two on the exit road from Longshore. One is along Gray’s Creek at the back of the out-of-town parking lot for the marina. The other is along the exit road just past Gloria’s mooring, opposite the 12th green.

Two are at Sherwood Island. One is north of the Nature Center in the salt marsh between the island and Beachside Commons; the second is on the west side of the island, in the marsh alongside Sherwood Mill Pond, north from the end of the second bridge at the tidal gates,

One more is off Beachside Avenue, east of Burying Hill Beach and Harvey Weinstein’s former home.

All 5 are occupied, and have 2 or 3 hatchlings each. They’re practicing flying and fishing prior to their late summer migration to South America for the winter.

A local osprey nest (Photo/Jen Greely)


Staples High School 2003 graduate Justin Paul has gone on to fame (and many honors) for his off-the-charts songwriting (“Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman”).

But he has not forgotten his home town. He recently volunteered as a judge for the Norwalk-to-Bridgeport Project Census Throwdown contest, encouraging high school students to write creatively and educationally about the 2020 Census.

Justin was very impressed with the winning rap submission, from Elijah Atkins of Bridgeport’s Bridge Academy. He encouraged Elijah to further explore his gift for lyrical structure and creativity.

Congratulations, Elijah — and thanks, Justin!

Justin Paul


A few spots remain for the Earthplace Summer Teen Volunteer Club. Daily activities include animal care, special event preparation, and maintaining the Earthplace private preserve.

Sessions run July 17-August 7, and August 10-21. For information, click here.


The Westport Downtown Merchants Association has decorated the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge downtown with summer-color lights: blue, green and white.

Pretty lit!


And finally … Happy 72nd birthday, Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam). There are so many songs to pay him tribute. Here are 3. What’s your pick? Click “Comments” below.

For Stand-Up Comedy Show, Sit Down at Home

Sure, stand-comedy works well in clubs. It’s fun laughing along with dozens of others.

But stand-up stands alone too. It’s fn to watch YouTube comedians and listen to Sirius comedy channels in your home and car.

Next Saturday (June 20, 8 p.m.), the annual “Stand Up for Homes with Hope” fundraiser becomes “Stand Up at Home.”

Of course, you don’t have to stand up to enjoy the stand-up of 4 top comedians. You can sit on your favorite sofa, surrounded by family and friends.

Together, you’ll laugh as hard as ever.

Cristela Alonzo

Cristela Alonzo — star of the ABC comedy that bears her name — headlines the show. She’s an inspired choice for an event benefiting Westport’s supportive housing agency: Until she was 8, she and her family were homeless. (Click here for her inspiring back story.)

Alonzo is joined by Roy Wood Jr., the host of Comedy Central’s storytelling series “This is Not Happening”; Hari Kondabolu, whose comedy album “Mainstream American Comic” debuted at #1 on iTunes, and Mark Normand, whom Jerry Seinfeld called “the best young up-and-coming comic” in 2019.

There are special appearances too by Staples High School graduate/”Dear Evan Hansen,” “The Greatest Showman” and “La La Land” composer/lyricist Justin Paul; Westport resident/former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

Viewers will also see a compelling video. Westport filmmaker Livio Sanchez interviewed Homes with Hope residents. They tell remarkable stories.

Viewers have already registered from as far away as Hawaii, Japan and Switzerland. And — unlike a regular comedy night — there is no limit on the size of the crowd.

Though the evening is virtual, it has all the flavor of a live show. Homes with Hope director Helen McAlinden will be on stage with an auctioneer.

In other words, “Stand Up at Home” will be just like the organization’s other fundraisers — with one exception. The suggested donation is just $25. For that price, you can fill your living room.

And that’s no joke.

(For tickets and more information about the June 20 event, click here.)

COVID Roundup: Racism; Thespians; Oystercatchers; More


Jaclyn Jeffrey writes:

People often talk about a moment in time that marks their life… the before and after.

We have 3 children, all adopted from China. We have lived in this area all of their lives, and have experienced nothing but total acceptance. On Sunday I took 2 of my children to Sherwood Island. We love it there.

It was not very crowded. We sat down a bit more than 6 feet away from a woman with her husband and daughter. As we put the blanket down she started screaming that we needed to be 15 feet from her. Not wanting to deal with her, we moved farther away.

Once we sat down, I Googled. She was correct: That is the current rule for shoreline state parks.

An hour later a couple sat down near her, 6 feet away. She said nothing.

As we were leaving she turned to my children and yelled, “Why don’t you go back to China?” The hatred in her words was palpable. My heart stopped.

Like many around the world I am horrified by the treatment of minorities in this country. The events of the past few weeks are beyond comprehension. I am enraged and heartbroken at what our country has become.

For just a brief moment yesterday at Sherwood Island I was witness to pure, raw, hatred for another because they are not white. As a white woman, I know I am very privileged. This was the first time seeing this up close and personal. I see it on TV, read it in the paper, watch the stories on my various news feeds, but to be in the presence of this evil was something entirely different.

Yesterday, was my before and after.

A good day, spoiled. (Photo/Amy Schneider)


Staples graduate/Grammy, Tony and Oscar-winning songwriter Justin Paul (Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land, The Greatest Showmani) joins his musical partner Benj Pasek — and Tina Fey, Dolly Parton and more –at the first-ever Virtual International Thespian Festival

Set for June 22-26, the online event — originally scheduled to be performed in person — features college and scholarship auditions, the International Thespian Excellence Awards Showcase (“the Thespys”), performances, workshops and master classes.

Pasek and Paul will be interviewed by moderated by their James and the Giant Peach book writer Timothy Allen McDonald. There’s also a keynote address from The Lion King’s Alton Fitzgerald White, and a performance fromRuPaul’s Drag Race star Peppermint.

To register for the festival, click here(Hat tip: David Meth)

Justin Paul (Photo/Dan Woog)


Yesterday, “06880” reported on the hatching of an oystercatcher chick at Compo Beach.

Now there are 2.

Tina Green notes: “Westporters should still give the oystercatchers a wide berth while in the area. The adults and chicks will remain in the area until the young birds are old enough to fly.

“Piping plovers, a federally protected species, are also on their nest. They too should not be disturbed, to insure a positive outcome.”

(Photo/Tina Green)


The pandemic has not been easy for many independent contractors — including photographers.

Yet David Dellinger — a longtime contributor to “06880” — is thinking of others. During this tough time, in an effort to support Black Lives Matter — and encouraging others to contribute too — he’s donating 50% of proceeds from all June photos sessions to the @mnfreedomfund.

In addition, he’s giving 100% from all print sales to other verified organizations that support #blacklivesmatter. Contact info@davedellingerphoto.com.

In 2018, David Dellinger photographed this Cockenoe Island wedding proposal.


And finally … in 1968, Phil Ochs was in the middle of a concert at Coleytown Junior High School. It was a fundraiser for the school’s Peace Corps project.

Someone handed him a note. He told the crowd that Lyndon Johnson just the nation he would not run for another term as president.

As 2020 looks increasingly like 1968, the underappreciated folksinger’s words are more meaningful than ever.

COVID Roundup: Grocery Delivery; Justin Paul; Little Barn; NUTmeg Run; More


Weeks ago, in another world where kids and teenagers actually had to be driven somewhere, VanGo was gold.

The cleverly named app was an uber-Uber. It eased parents’ worries about sketchy drivers, because VanGo’s drivers were nannies, teachers, babysitters — and most of all, mothers.

In the COVID crisis, that market dried up. People still need to market, of course. But they can’t always get out. Or they don’t want to.

So VanGo pivoted. It’s now a grocery shopping and delivery service. Once again, those moms come in handy.

While many grocery service providers are staffed by a bunch of randoms, VanGo’s shoppers “shop like you would,” says founder Marta Jamrozik. And they guarantee next day delivery for orders placed before 3 p.m..

Shoppers text families if an item is out of stock. Drivers wear masks and gloves while shopping, and when dropping off groceries.

VanGo Grocery is available in Westport and across Fairfield County. To log on and order, click here.


Arts organizations everywhere have been hammered by the coronavirus. Plays, concerts, ballets — all are on hold, as theater companies, symphonies and other institutions struggle to survive.

A tiny silver lining has been the realization that the arts are helping us get through this time. Drama, shows, music — they help sustain and nurture us.

Justin Paul understands that. The Staples High School graduate and award-winning composer/lyricist (“Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman”) articulates it wonderfully. And he does so in a great, insightful online interview with Music Theatre of Connecticut’s co-founder and executive artistic director Kevin Connors.

The 2 sat down yesterday (in their respective homes) for an MTC Live! webcast. You can watch it below.

I guess that’s one more slim silver lining: The pandemic has led to all sorts of intriguing online discussions like this. Click here for more on MTC.


Little Barn is back! They’ve reopened, and now provide contact-less take out 7 days a week (4 to 8 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays until 9). Order online through our website www.littlebarnct.com or 203-557-8501; then call again when you arrive.


Four decades ago, Westporter Peter Gambaccini ran from Thompson (in the northeast corner of the state) to Greenwich. A writer as well as a runner, he took less than a week to cover the 155 miles, then wrote about it for Connecticut magazine.

The 40th anniversary of the run is being celebrated with a NUTmeg Challenge. Running “nuts” of Connecticut — and anywhere else — can duplicate the former Staples High School track star’s run. There’s also the opportunity to raise money for local charities that desperately need help: Mercy Learning Center, Bridgeport Rescue Mission and the Connecticut Food Bank.

The virtual online challenge — because, of course, we’re still mindful of COVID-19, so you just run in your neighborhood, wherever in the world it is — takes places between Memorial Day (May 25) and Bastille Day (July 14).

There are 3 “routes”:

  • The Gambaccini Gambol (original route across the state; 155 miles, average a little over 3 miles a day)
  • The Shoreline Scamper (Greenwich to Stonington along the coast, 253 miles, a little under 5 miles a day)
  • The Border Boundaround (along the New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island borders, 328 miles, 6 1/2 miles a day).

T-shirts and medals will be mailed at the conclusion of the Challenge. (Everyone registering by June 1 is guaranteed a medal.) For more information and to register, click here. (Hat tip: MaryAnn Meyer)


Every day, it seems, someone sends me a photo of a rock. All across town, people are discovering them. They (the rocks) make them (the people) feel special.

Doris Ghitelman sums up the feeling well (and gathered them all in a nice collage):

“I’ve come across these rocks on my walks around the library, Compo and Grace Salmon Park. I’m not sure who’s leaving them. My guess is, different artists 😉

“Whoever it is or they are, I would like to thank them. Whenever I see one, I stop and smile. Sometimes they make me think. Some are in plain sight, others hidden.

“It reminds me that if we take the time to look, really look around us, we might just be rewarded with something good. This space in time is giving us the opportunity to do just that. Let’s enjoy it!”


When the Shubert Theatre planned Monday’s “Next Stop: New Haven at Home!” virtual celebration (Monday, May 18, 7:30 p.m.), it did not have to look far for one star.

Westport native and Staples High School grad Adam Kaplan will take center stage. He’s a Broadway veteran (“Newsies,” “A Bronx Tale”), was part of the New York Philharmonic’s “Show Boat,” and toured the US and Japan in “Kinky Boots.”

A $75 Next Stop: New Haven ticket includes a box of goodies (serving up to 2 people) from several of Shubert’s restaurant partners, and the 75-minute live program with musical entertainment, a cocktail-making class (supplies included), cheeseboard-making class, Broadway trivia, and a peek at the Shubert’s 2020-2021 Broadway Series,

The ticket supports the Shubert Theatre, its restaurant partners, and Frontline Foods New Haven, which feeds teams at Yale New Haven and the VA Hospitals.

Tickets are available through 5 p.m. today. For more information and to purchase, click here.

Adam Kaplan


And finally … one of my favorite movies of all time is “Stand By Me.” One of my favorite songs of all time is “Stand By Me.” These 3 minutes say it all:

Curtain Call For “A Christmas Story”

“A Christmas Story: The Musical” plays at Curtain Call in Stamford, now through December 14.

But many ties to Westport make this a true hometown show.

The story starts with the Kweskin Theater, Curtain Call’s home. Al Pia was its founding artistic director — and for many years, the highly esteemed director of Staples Players as well.

One of Pia’s high school actors was Ben Frimmer. He’s now the director of “A Christmas Story” — and director of Coleytown Company, the well-regarded middle school troupe.

Justin Paul (Photo/Dan Woog)

A couple of decades ago, Justin Paul acted for Frimmer at Coleytown. After graduating from Staples in 2003, and then the University of Michigan, Paul and his songwriting partner, Benj Pasek, rocketed to stardom. They’ve won Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards for works like “Dear Evan Hansen” and “La La Land.”

Another work — “A Christmas Story: The Musical” — enjoyed a Broadway run. With great music and splashy production numbers, it quickly became a holiday classic.

And, in Stamford, a Westport holiday classic. Frimmer has cast several current and former students in the production: Matthew Bukzin, Cooper Gusick, Gavin Jamali, Julie Lloyd, Imogen Medoff, Sarah Peterson and Ari Sklar.

Westport youngsters in “A Christmas Story: The musical.” Front row (from left): Gavin Jamali, Cooper Gusick Ari Sklar. Rear: Matthew Bukzin, Imogen Medoff,.Jamali.

Frimmer’s own son Ari plays Ralphie Parker.

Ari Frimmer, as Ralphie.

Even Curtain Call executive director and producer for “A Christmas Story” has a local connection. Lou Ursone was mentored by Pia.

Plenty of Westporters will be heading to Stamford to see this production. But they’ll feel as if they never left home.

(“A Christmas Story: The Musical” is performed Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday afternoons at 2. In addition, there are Thursday evening performances on December 5 and 12, and Saturday matinees on December 7 and 14. For tickets and more information, click here or call 203-461-6358, ext. 36.)

Justin Paul: It’s Showtime!

You’ve enjoyed Justin Paul’s music in Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land and The Greatest Showman.

Soon, you may see and hear it on Showtime.

The cable network just signed the 2002 Staples High School graduate and his songwriting partner, Benj Pasek, to contribute music to an as-yet-untitled musical drama.

This is no fingers-crossed concept. Executive producers include Alicia Keys, Marc Platt, Kyle Jarrow (The SpongeBob Musical), R.J. Cutler (Nashville) and Adam Siegel (Grease: Live).

Justin Paul, enjoying life. (Photo/Dan Woog)

The drama tell an emotionally complex family story, weaving between modern-day and 1959 Detroit. The plot involves a mystery uncovered by a young musician who moves back to her childhood home.

“We have always been intrigued by the prospect of doing a Showtime musical series, but only if the songs could add to the depth and complexity of a great character drama. Nobody does that better than Pasek and Paul and Marc Platt, ” says Showtime Entertainment president Gary Levine.

Pasek and Paul have already won Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards. Is an Emmy next?

Stay tuned.

(Click here for the full Hollywood Reporter story.)

This “Just In”: Miller, Paul Combine For Musical Gold

Back in 2001, 1/4 of a Staples High School music octet was named Justin.

Justin Miller — a senior — went on to a storied career as a music director. He led the Westminster Chorus of Los Angeles to the 2009 “Choir of the World” Pavarotti Trophy, and Barbershop Harmony Society International Chorus gold medals in 2007, ’10 and ’15.

A few days ago he did it again. Westminster recaptured the world title, in Salt Lake City.

Miller’s chorus did it decisively, setting a new record for the highest score ever: 97.9%.

But there’s more to the story.

The 100-man chorus paired the tender ballad “I’ll Be Here” from Broadway’s “The Wild Party” with “From Now On.”

That’s the tune from “The Greatest Showman,” written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

The same Justin Paul who, as a junior in 2001, sang in that famed octet with Justin Miller.

The director is proud of his friend’s work. He wanted to showcase it on his choir’s biggest stage.

So now — in addition to Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards — Justin Paul can say he’s “won” a Barbershop Harmony Society International Chorus gold medal too.

(For the full story on the competition, click here.)

Justin Paul Joins “American Housewife”

“American Housewife” — the ABC comedy in which Katy Mixon raises her “flawed” family as the supposedly 2nd fattest housewife in Westport — has been renewed for a 4th season.

That’s the semi-good news.

The really good news is that the season 3 finale — at 8 p.m. on May 21, mark it down! — will include an original song by Justin Paul.

The Staples High School Class of 2002 graduate has already won a Grammy, Oscar and Tony, for his work with writing partner Benj Pasek on “Dear Evan Hansen” and “La La Land.”

Executive producer Kenny Schwartz — another Staples grad — occasionally slips Westport references into “Housewife.” (The Black Duck was called, I think, the White Mallard.)

No word on whether Justin will do the same, for his season-finale song.

(Hat tip: Jeff Mitchell)

Justin Paul, perhaps watching “American Housewife.” (Photo/Dan Woog)