Tag Archives: Music Theatre of Connecticut

Jean Louisa Kelly: “Anything Can Happen”

“Anything can happen,” Jean Louisa Kelly says.

And in her life, just about anything has.

Soloing in her 2nd grade Christmas play in a Worcester suburb ignited an interest in performing. She took ballet, tap, jazz dance and voice lessons. A teacher encouraged her to audition for “Annie,” at Rhode Island’s Theater by the Sea.

At 11 years old, she landed the role.

The next summer, she was Annie at the Candlewood Playhouse. Regional theater followed; then came a New York talent competition, an agent, and a role in the original 1987 Broadway production of “Into the Woods.” Her movie debut followed 2 years later, as Tia in “Uncle Buck.”

Jean Louisa Kelly, in “Annie” …

After Columbia University, Kelly’s career continued to flourish, with “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”

… and as Rowena Morgan in “Mr. Holland’s Opus” …

She met Jimmy Pitaro right after college. They married; she was booked for a new NBC series, “Cold Feet,” to be filmed in Vancouver.

They sold their New York apartment. Pitaro quit his law firm. They moved to Canada, where she filmed 8 episodes. Four were shown; suddenly, it was canceled.

Kelly and Pitaro drove south, and settled in Los Angeles. He got a job with a start-up; she got a job with CBS. For 6 years, she played Kim on “Yes, Dear.”

… and Kim Warner in “Yes, Dear.”

After their first child was born, Kelly pulled back a bit from acting. Pitaro’s career — he was now at Disney — took off.

In March of 2018, Pitaro was named chairman of ESPN. She wrapped up shooting for “Top Gun: Maverick.” Then the family — including their kids Sean and Josy — moved east.

They’d been intrigued by Westport for years, ever since visiting a college friend of Kelly’s here. The location — midway between ESPN’s Bristol, Connecticut headquarters and its New York City office — made it a perfect choice.

They’ve loved Westport. After a bit of adjustment, their children thrived. Sean makes music, boxes with Rich Dean and works out with Lynroy Henry; Josy performs with Staples Players, and works with Cynthia Gibb’s Triple Threat Academy.

Kelly — who learned to audition from home during COVID, and landed roles in “Call of the Wild” and “Malignant” — began thinking of returning to the stage.

“I was living in the same town as Kelli O’Hara!” she laughs. “So it was time to go back to class.”

Jean Louisa Kelly

She studied in New York with Richard Sabellico — the man who had directed her in “Annie” at 11 years old. He encouraged her to create her own show.

She did. And on Saturday, July 9 she’ll debut “Anything Can Happen” — the title comes from that quote about her life — at Norwalk’s Music Theater of Connecticut. It’s a musical look at her life, and it promises to be great.

Encouraged by her screenwriter friend Gigi New, and with tweaks after a small March performance, Kelly has crafted an intriguing and inspirational look at her theatrical life.

Her musical director and pianist is Weston’s Emmy and Grammy-winning Paul Bogaev. His film credits include “Chicago,” “Nine,” “Dreamgirls,” “Across the Universe,” “Mulan” and “The Lion King”; he’s worked on Broadway shows like “Aida,” “Tarzan,” Sunset Boulevard” and “Les Miserables,” and TV productions of “Cinderella,” “South Pacific” — and “Annie.”

Kelly is no slouch as a musician herself. She’s released 2 EPs of original songs, one of standards, and a children’s album.

Anything can happen. For Jean Louisa Kelly, on July 9 everything will.

(Click here for tickets to the 8 p.m. performance on July 9 of “Anything Can Happen.”)

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Roundup: Lacrosse, Blood Drive, Dog Licenses …

Tyler Clark’s dramatic goal 3:45 into overtime gave Staples’ boys lacrosse team a 9-8 victory over Ridgefield in last night’s state tournament semifinal.

The victory vaults the Wreckers — ranked #2 in the state L (large schools) division — into the final. They’ll face perennial powerhouse Darien, ranked 1st and 16-9 victors over Fairfield Prep in the other semi.

Coach Will Koshansky’s Staples squad is shooting for their first-ever state crown. The game is set for 3 p.m. this Sunday (June 12), at Sacred Heart University.

Tyler Clark’s winning goal for Staples, in yesterday’s state tournament semifinal. (Photo/Chris Greer, courtesy of The Ruden Report).

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The next Joseph J. Clinton VFW Post 399 Red Cross Blood Drive is Tuesday (June 14, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.). It’s sponsored by the Charley With A Y Foundation, in memory of Marine lance corporal Charles M. Rochlin USMC.

Click here for an appointment, or call 800-733-2767, Use this sponsor code: VFWWestport.

LCPL Charley Rochlin

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Allison Russell is the latest performer signed to the Levitt Pavilion’s “Stars on Tours” series.

The Grammy-nominate artist/activist/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/founding member of Our Native Daughters and Birds of Chicago Allison Russell will appear on Sunday, August 21.

Allison made history at the 2022 Juno Awards as the first Black artist to win for Contemporary Roots Album of the Year.

The record was named the #2 Best Album of the Year by the New York Times after its release in 2021, and Allison’s song “Nightflyer” made Barack Obama’s annual list of favorites.

The member pre-sale is live now. The public sale begins tomorrow (June 10) at noon.

Allison Russell

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Congratulations to Music Theatre of Connecticut.

They’ve been nominated for 11 Connecticut Critics Circle awards. Four are for the musical “Falsettoland” — and 2 have a Westport connection. The father-son team of Dan and Ari Sklar are up for “Outstanding actor, musical” and “Outstanding debut.” Both live here.

Though based in Norwalk, MTC has strong Westport roots. Broadway actors Mia Gentile and Jacob Heimer, plus noted songwriter Justin Paul, all performed there often.

Dan Sklar

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Speaking of theater: Summer is almost here. Which means the Westport Country Playhouse annual gala is not far away.

The event returns live — after a 2-year COVID hiatus — on September 17. The guest artist is Renée Elise Goldsberry: the original Tony Award-winning Angelica Schuyler from “Hamilton.” She’ll perform a high energy concert of Broadway, pop and soul.

Ticket details will be announced soon. t’s sure to sell out quickly.

Renee Elise Goldsberry

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June is dog license month.

Licenses good from July 1 to June 30, 2023, may be obtained online from the Town Clerk’s department, starting now. All dogs over 6 months old must be licensed.

Click here to license your dog online (desktop only; no mobile devices allowed). Have your spay/neuter and rabies certificates available to upload as a PDF. If these are not available, contact your veterinary office to obtain digital copies.

Paper applications accompanied by a check payment are also accepted. Mail or the drop box at the rear of Town Hall are preferred methods of delivery. Dog licenses can be processed in the Town Clerk’s offfice for those who need in person assistance.

Mail the application, payment, and required certificates (all certificates will be returned with license), and a self-addressed stamped return envelope to: Westport Town Clerk, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06881. Click here to download the application. Visit Westportct.gov/dogs for all information related to dog licenses in Westport.

For more information, call 203-341-1110 or visit Westportct.gov/dogs.

“Before we play: Send in my license, please!” (Photo/Amy Schneider)

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“Senior Night” at the Remarkable Theater has been moved to has been moved to June 22 (8 p.m.). It’s a special showing of a 70-minute video, highlighting the Class of 2022’s unique 4 years at Staples High School.

Click here for tickets.

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Speaking of animals: The Gorham Island swan has not abandoned her nest. She was spotted sitting pretty yesterday morning, enjoying the sunshine and her motherly duties.

(Photo/Mary Stewart)

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Today there are 2 of these “Westport … Naturally” rabbits.

Tomorrow there will be many more. Naturally.

(Photo/Mark Mathias)

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And finally … did you know that the inspiration for songwriter Paul Vance’s classic “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” came from his 2-year-old daughter?

Neither did I, until I read his obituary. He died May 30 in Florida, at 92.

I also did not know that singer Brian Hyland — who recorded the #1 song — was just 16 at the time. Go figure

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Father-Son “Falsettoland”

In 1994, Staples Players staged an entirely student-run production of “Falsettos.”

Directed by senior Ari Edelson, the Tony Award-winning musical — dealing with hot-button issues like AIDS, homosexuality and religion — was a smash. Audience members were in tears; cast members called it “life-changing.”

But the show was not produced at the high school. Administrators — unnerved by the themes — forced the show off campus. The Westport Country Playhouse welcomed it to their historic stage.

Shirah Lipson Sklar remembers it well. She was a Staples student then; her friends acted in the show, and played in the pit. The 4 sold-out performances were momentous events.

Now the senior rabbi at Temple Shalom in Norwalk, she’ll revisit it again next month. “Falsettoland” — the 2nd act of “Falsettos” — runs weekends at the Music Theatre of Connecticut.

It will be especially poignant for Shirah. Her son Ari plays Jason, who is preparing for his bar mitzvah.

Dan Sklar — Shirah’s husband, and Ari’s father — is in the cast too. He’s Marvin, Jason’s father. In the show he suffers from a mysterious, undefined illness. The audience knows it is AIDS.

Ari Sklar

Acting and singing come naturally to Ari, a Coleytown Middle School 7th grader. Shirah sang beautifully as a Staples Orphenian under director Alice Lipson — her own mother. Dan was an actor more than 20 years ago, but stopped performing when he entered rabbinic school.

Still, Ari was surprised when he learned that his stage father would be his real father. Dan is proud that Ari has long been an advocate for social justice. And he realized that as Ari prepares for his own, actual bar mitzvah, sharing the stage in a show like this was too good to pass up.

Ari did not know that Dan auditioned with director Kevin Connors. A 12-year-old boy may not be thrilled about being in a musical with his father, Dan admits. But now that they’re rehearsing — sharing the process of putting together a very important play — Ari is enjoying their new on- and off-stage roles.

Dan calls the show “an old friend.” He knew “Falsettos” well in his performing days. Many actor friends were gay; he helped raise money through work with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Dan Sklar

“There are so many layers to this play,” he notes. “As we go through dark, tough times, with another disease, it’s important to have ‘up’ moments like these.”

As rehearsals continue, Dan sees his son through new eyes. “He’s an amazing kid — well, not really a kid anymore,” he says. “We’re proud he’s growing up in a town that celebrates people for who they are. Every day he teaches us about acceptance, affirmation, and the changing world.

“I might be completely overwhelmed at the end, at the bar mitzvah scene. I just hope I can say my lines to him.”

After this, the proud father says, Ari’s real bar mitzvah in June will be a breeze.

(“Falsettoland” will be performed November 5-21: Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., at Music Theatre of Connecticut, 509 Westport Avenue, Norwalk. Click here for tickets and more information.) 

COVID Roundup: Winged Monkey; Thermometers; Playhouse; MTC’s Voice; More


New York’s WABC-TV sent an Eyewitness News team to Westport yesterday, to preview today’s retail reopening.

The report showed empty downtown streets, but offered an upbeat message from Winged Monkey’s Jenny Vogel.

“We’re very excited excited to see our customers,” she said. “Don’t know how it’s going to go. Customers that we talk to all the time, they’re really looking forward to getting out of the house, shopping, going into stores again.

“We do a huge prom, graduation, so obviously we lost a lot of that. Hopefully, even though summer is usually our slowest time, this year maybe it will be a little busier since people haven’t been shopping the last couple of months.”

Jenny was excited to be on the tri-state news. As for Channel 7: They’re not yet back to pre-COVID mode.

They called 1st Selectman Jim Marpe our “mayor.” And they misspelled “Winged Monkey” in the chyron (below). Click here for the full report.


First came toilet paper. Then masks.

The next hot item: infrared thermometers.

Small businesses (between 2 and 100 employees), non-profits and places of worship can request 1 thermometer per physical address. The state will deliver them to Westport; town officials will let recipients know when and where they can be picked up. The deadline for submission is “early afternoon” tomorrow (Thursday, May 21).

To request an infrared thermometer: Small businesses should click here. Non-profits, click here. (Social services and direct care nonprofits should click on this memo). Places of worship should click here.


This distribution will continue while supplies last.

The Westport Country Playhouse doors are closed this summer. But their online presence is as robust as ever. And anyone, anywhere, can join in.

In an effort to “share experiences, exchange ideas, entertain each other, and engage our hearts, minds and souls from our own homes,” they offer “Coffee Breaks” on Thursdays at 4 p.m. Th0se 30-minute conversations begin tomorrow (May 21) with Paola Hernandez of “Man of La Mancha.” Next Thursday (May 28): Rodolfo Soto from “In the Heights.” Click here for details.

There are “Post-Watch Dialogues” too — panels with artists, scholars and community members discussing films that can be streamed at home. This Saturday (May 23, 7 p.m.), Mina Hartong hosts a panel exploring “A Secret Love.” Click here for details.


Music Theatre of Connecticut’s kids’ Voice competition is tomorrow (Thursday, May 21, 7 p.m.). It’s a fundraiser for their scholarship and programming efforts — but they give 10% of each contestant’s proceeds to a charity of their choice.

Bedford Middle School 7th grader Ryan Ryan has selected RoomToRead. An avid reader, she credits books with propelling her into theater. She wants girls around the world to experience the joy of stories, and believes that education can propel them to success.

A dancer who has performed in several Westport Country Playhouse “Nutcracker”s, with the Westport Community Theatre and at Art About Town and the Westport Library rededication, she has studied voice and acting at MTC since 2017.

To sponsor Ryan — and vote for her in the Voice competition tomorrow – click here.

Ryan Ryan


And finally … who doesn’t love a little Melissa Ehteridge?!

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:

Tyler Paul: From God To Children’s Theatre

Once you’ve been God, there’s not much else to do.

That might be why Tyler Paul — who played that coveted role in Staples Players‘ production of “Children of Eden” — has retired from the stage.

These days, the 2007 Staples grad is on the other side of the footlights. Armed with a theater management degree from Marymount Manhattan College, and with work experience at the world’s largest licensing agency, he’s co-founded an innovative children’s theater company.

His aim is to introduce the magic of acting to new generations of kids. Some may be inspired to a life in the theater; others may simply open their eyes and imaginations.

Whatever happens, Tyler wants youngsters to have fun.

Tyler Paul (right) and Morgan Weitz, co-founders of the Northeast Children’s Theatre Company.

The native Westporter got his own start at Music Theatre of Connecticut. He spent 2 years each at Coleytown and Bedford Middle Schools, where he was influenced by Ben Frimmer and Karen McCormick.

At Staples, David Roth’s theater program provided a great home for Tyler. In addition to acting, he directed shows and worked on music.

Tyler also worked for MTC as vocal director and camp director. That brought him full circle — and planted the seed for his current involvement in arts education.

Gradually, his interest morphed into the business, producing and management side of theater. While still in college, he founded the Northeast Children’s Theatre Company.

“Fairfield County is an incredible area for the arts, but no organization does what we do: professional theater for young audiences, with year-round programming,” Tyler says.

A scene from NCTC’s first show, “The Tortoise and the Hare.”

NCTC also provides arts education and outreach. Last month, the organization launched 2 programs in  Bridgeport. Another follows in January in South Norwalk.

Because of the arts education he received in Westport, Tyler says, “I’m passionate about it. Kids who are exposed to theater and the arts have been shown to do well in school.”

Despite Fairfield County’s well-earned reputation for supporting the arts, Tyler says, it’s tough finding affordable, age-appropriate entertainment for kindergartners through 8th graders.

“Nickelodeon and Disney are great,” he notes. “But kids need live performances.”

Tyler is moving forward, fast. Last month, NCTC announced a partnership with the Fairfield Theatre Company. A fundraising program is underway. New shows are in the works.

That’s a lot for any man to handle. But Tyler Paul — now that he’s no longer God — seems up for the task.

Love Letters

Like many dual-career couples, Scott Bryce and Jodi Stevens lead hectic lives.  Their professions — both are actors — complicate things further.  They usually work different schedules, in different theaters.  When one is rehearsing, the other may be in mid-production.  When one is opening a show, the other is closing one down.

But for the next 3 weeks, they’ll work together.  And they’ll do it right here in Westport.

The show is “Love Letters” — A.R. Gurney’s evocative, touching yet humorous play about a 50-year love affair carried on primarily through letters.

It debuts at MTC MainStage in Colonial Green this Friday (Feb. 4), and runs weekends through Feb. 20.

Scott Bryce and Jodi Stevens

Working together — on a play about love, right in their back yard — was serendipitous, says Bryce, a Staples Players (Class of 1975) alum who earned 2 Emmy nominations for “As the World Turns.”

The couple had been onstage only in “On Golden Pond” (Bryce’s mother Dorothy, a noted actress, was in the show too).  But when Stevens’ most recent show — she played the female lead in “Dietrich and Chevalier:  The Musical” — was closing, they talked casually about the possibility.

A couple of days later, at a Christmas party, Music Theatre of Connecticut MainStage co-founder Kevin Connors mentioned “Love Letters.”

The show is appealing on many levels — including its setting in this area.  There are references to local institutions, like I-95 and Silver Hill.

Bryce also welcomes the chance to perform in the small MTC theater.  “It’s such an intimate space,” he says.  “There’s not a bad seat in the house.  It’s really sweet.”

“It’s a beautiful script,” Bryce adds.  “What better way to spend Valentine’s month than on stage with my wife?”

And, as Jodi says:  “There’s no commute!”

(“Love Letters will be performed Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees Saturdays at 4 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m., at MTC MainStage Theatre on the lower level of Colonial Green.  For tickets, click here or call 203-454-3883.  Each performance is followed by a wine and cheese receptions, where the audience can meet the actors and production team.)