Tag Archives: Netflix

Christmas Comes (Finally) To Washington Avenue

The anticipation is not quite like a little kid waiting for Santa.

But for 18 months, residents of Washington Avenue have looked ahead to the release of Netflix’s new Christmas movie “The Noel Diary.”

The film — starring Justin Hartley (“This is Us”) and Bonnie Bedelia (“Die Hard,” “Parenthood”) — is about a man who returns home on Christmas to settle his estranged mother’s estate, then discovers “a diary that may hold secrets to his own past and of a beautiful young woman on a mysterious journey of her own.”

Not exactly “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

But hey: It was filmed in Westport.

In the spring of 2021, a film company took over Washington Avenue — a tight-knit street connecting Main Street and Evergreen Avenue near downtown.

They’d negotiated deals with 6 homeowners. Their old New England-y, decidedly non-McMansion-type houses became a Hollywood set.

Screenshot from “The Noel Diary.”

It was “Christmas in June” — cinematically, and perhaps for the checks those families received too.

It was also at times a pain in the butt.

On June 28, 2021 I wrote about the Washington Avenue adventure. You can read that story below.

But before you do, click on the trailer:

Then click here to watch the entire film.

It’s the Westport way to “Netflix and chill.” Even if it was not exactly chilly way back in June 2021, on suddenly wintry Washington Avenue. (Hat tip: Carol Anne Ances)

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Here is the “06880” story from June 28, 2021: “Behind The Scenes Of ‘Noel Diary”:

The guys from the film company were up front.

“We’ll take over your house for a couple of weeks,” they told Brett Adams. “It will be crazy.”

They offered a contract. It specified exactly what they’d rent — the porch on his handsome Washington Avenue home, that sort of thing — and what they were responsible for. It spelled out the COVID restrictions, and other contingencies.

Brett signed. A couple of weeks later, the production crew arrived: all 50 to 75 of them.

“We probably didn’t fully understand that,” Brett says. “Or what it would mean for the entire street.”

Welcome to life, when your quiet Westport home becomes a bustling Hollywood movie set. Along with 5 others, next door and across the street.

A few of the many trucks, at the load-in on Washington Avenue.

The Adams’ house will be seen on screen a year and a half from now. December 2022 is the anticipated release of “The Noel Diary,” the Netflix film starring Justin Hartley (“This is Us”) and Bonnie Bedelia (“Die Hard,” “Parenthood”).

Yes, Christmastime. “The Noel Diary” is (duh) a holiday film.

And yes, it was filmed in Westport, on the hottest days in June. That’s the way the movie industry rolls.

Like anyone else in the business, Adams and his family learned to roll with the punches.

The saga began in March. Working at home, Adams saw people taking photos of his house.

Working with representatives from the state’s Office of Film, TV and Digital Media, they were scouting for 2 porches. They’d come to the right place: Adams’ — and the facades of other nearby houses, on the end of the usually quiet road just off Main Street — are historic and gorgeous. There’s not a McMansion in sight.

Filming began in other Fairfield County towns. The first sign of Westport’s star turn came when several enormous trucks massed in the Playhouse parking lot. That was the staging area.

Adams’ first sign that the crew was ready to take over — and do it their own, practiced way — was when they installed a massive generator on the side of the house. Then came tents in the back.

And huge cranes, for lighting. Plus cutting down a tree, for a better shot of another house across the way.

The Adams’ house. No, there is not usually a blue postal box in front.

The original contract included rental of the porch, a bit of the first floor interior, and basement (as a break room for the crew). Quickly, the producers asked to rent the driveway and garage too. Those riders were added.

Adams, his wife and son Will were both fascinated and blasé about the production. They watched in wonder as actors sweated through take after take in 90-degree heat (someone’s specific job was helping them take off their heavy coats).

Bedelia asked Brett if she could come inside between takes. Sure, he said. Will — a Staples High School junior — came downstairs during a study break, greeted the Emmy-nominated actress with a casual “hi!”, then went about his business.

Just like in the movies: The star gets her own chair.

The shaded porch became a favorite hangout for hair and makeup crews. Brett would take breaks from his own work, and ask them about their work. “I have my job, and they have theirs,” he says. “I learned a lot about what they do.”

One surprising lesson: how long it takes to shoot one scene. Each involves multiple angles, and many takes.

Once, a boy rode a bike up and down the street, over and over again. Another time, a dog chased a car — over and over and over again.

Brett was also astonished at the number of people involved, in every aspect, from the production manager to the guy watering the street.

The final night, the crew created a snowfall. Brett was impressed. “They really can create magic,” he says.

Winter in June. The snowman is a nice touch.

Nearly everyone who tromped onto Brett’s porch, and into his basement, had kind words for how nice and accommodating everyone in Westport had been. Apparently, that’s not always the case.

He returns the compliments. Negotiations were not stressful, he says. “They’re very practiced at this. They know antagonism will never get them anywhere.”

When a recycling bin went missing. someone hustled over to Westport Hardware and bought a new one.

The actors were great too, Brett says. Hartley took photos with everyone. Director Charles Shyer (“Father of the Bride,” “Private Benjamin,” “Alfie”) — “classic Hollywood, 79 years old in sneakers and a t-shirt” — was often available for interesting conversations.

“He never yelled ‘action,'” Brett observes. “There was someone else around to do that.”

“I don’t know where a Netflix film fits in with the whole art scene. But for a couple of weeks, even though it could be a nuisance, it was pretty cool.”

Besides, there was this: While work colleagues apologized for dog or toddler interruptions, Brett had another excuse.

“Sorry, guys,” he’d say. “They’re filming a movie at my house.”

Some scenes were filmed at night. These days, Washington Avenue is back to normal. (Photos/Brett Adams)

(Ho ho ho! Please consider a holiday gift to support “06880.” Click here — and thank you!)

“13” + 2

“13” opened on Broadway in 2008. That makes the musical — about a New York boy whose upcoming bar mitzvah is upended by his parents’ divorce, and his move with his mother to Indiana — 14 years old.

But it lives on. “13” — the movie, starring Debra Messing and Rhea Perlman — debuted on Netflix earlier this month. The cast includes a host of young teenagers. dancing and singing about becoming a man, middle school, crushes and first kisses.

Of course, you can’t get 40 kids to actually sing and dance in a movie. So Jason Robert Brown — who adapted the film from his own original music and lyrics — recruited 8 actual 13- and 14-year-old to provide vocals for the big number.

And — this being musical theater-crazy Westport — 2 of those teenagers are from right here.

Andrew Maskoff and Ari Sklar met at Coleytown Middle School. Andrew wrote the script for a short film, for the 2021 Coleytown Company Revue. He and Ari spent hours editing it in the piano room at Ari’s house.

During breaks, they tore through every Broadway score on the shelf, Dan says. (He’s an actor, along with a rabbi and cantor; his wife Shirah is a rabbi/cantor too.)

From left: Dan Sklar and Ari Sklar. They performed together last fall in Music Theater of Connecticut’s “Falsettolands.”

“It was amazing to watch these kindred spirits make music together,” Dan notes. “They’re 2 years apart in school, so Ari can’t wait to meet up with him at Staples next fall.” (Andrew — a member of Staples Players — will be a sophomore this fall. Ari is a rising 8th grader.)

Neither knew that the other had sent an audition tape to Brown’s request for backup vocalists.

Ari and Dan were the first people to arrive at the New York studio last summer. The next singer was Andrew. The boys stared at each other in disbelief.

When Brown showed up, he had an impish grin. He knew they would know each other. He had wanted their meeting to be a surprise.

Ari Sklar and Andrew Maskoff, during a break from recording “13.”

The boys were “pros in the studio,” Sklar says. “It was a power session of over 8 hours.

“Jason and Georgia Stitt (his wife, and a noted composer and music director) couldn’t have been kinder to the kids. Jason is a mensch of the first order. He even gave a shout-out to them all in a blog post (click here). 

Backup vocalists for “13” include Ari Sklar (5th from left) and Andrew Maskoff (far right).

“13” had special relevance for Ari. While singing backup vocals for the movie, he was preparing for his own bar mitzvah, held this summer in Israel.

Mazel tov to both him and Andrew!

(Click below for a clip from “13.” Actor Eli Golden is lip synching; vocals for all the others was recorded by Andrew Maskoff, Ari Sklar and 6 others.)

(“06880” provides news of arts, entertainment, culture, kids — and much more — thanks to reader support. Please click here to help.)

Cutting Cable: The Decision Tree

Last week’s post on Optimum drew plenty of comments.

Some “06880” readers recounted their own experiences. Others offered alternatives.

But none went into as much depth as this one, who requested anonymity (to avoid being barraged by questions). He writes:

We are probably one of the last in Westport. But we finally converted from Optimum Cable to streaming. We will save about $150+ per month.

We now use Hulu to get all live national and local channels. We still use Optimum internet and home phone service. We also subscribe to a range of streaming services, but this is a separate decision.

Here is why we made the change:.  

  1. The $320+ monthly bill
  2. The complicated need for multiple controllers for regular TV, cable, and streaming programs. Only one controller per television is required for Hulu.
  3. After comparing other internet services, we chose to keep the Optimum 300 mps service, which right now is by far the best in the area. Optimum also offers a 400 mps or 500 mps service for an additional charge. You must have a good, strong internet signal to use this streaming option (and other streaming services).
  4. We also have Eero Pro 6 network mesh installed to improve internet signals throughout our 3-story home. You can buy Eero at Best Buy. The system is easy to install; modules plug into regular electric wall outlets on each floor. We have 3 modules, and it does improve reception.
  5. Using consumer and certain technical reports, etc., we evaluated various streaming services (YouTube, Sling, etc.). We chose Hulu as the best with the live national and local networks, the common cable CNN, MSNBC, Fox, CNBC, local) channels, and other stations in place.
  6. In addition, the Hulu service has all the record, playback capabilities, and back episodes of television like Dateline, American Greed, CNN specials, unique programming, etc.
  7. The streaming services you choose are a separate decision. Most people will be okay with Amazon and Netflix. We have a lot of interest in others: HBOMax, Apple, Disney+, etc.

Here’s our decision process:

  1. I called Optimum. They sent me to the group responsible for those people that want to cut off cable service.
  2. Within a few minutes I was given an offer to reduce my BASEB $285 per month to $185 for one year. During my second call, they offered another $30 reduction in price. Discounts were all for just one year?  Some people may just want to stop here, and not go through with the total conversion. The decision to switch to digital here does not save you that much money. But what happens after one year? And we would still have 3 cable boxes and 2 controllers per television.
  3.  We asked about just retaining the 300 mps Optimum internet and landline only (my wife wants a landline), and received a $99 per month offer. In this case, we wanted to shut off the cable and return the 3 cable boxes ($11 each per month). An internet connection is needed to run the streaming services. After doing my research I discovered that Optimum is by far the best Internet service in our area. Yes, you would get to retain your Optimum e-mail.
  4. I changed over to Hulu, and worked with Hulu to make sure I understood exactly how to operate the Hulu service. It is very easy to use for live services, and offers many great streaming features including original programming.
  5. I left both Optimum and Hulu in place for 2 weeks while we tested the new Hulu service, and made sure we could operate all 3 TVs.  Hulu customer service is outstanding (and 24/7).
  6. We now need only 1 controller per TV. Digital operation is easy.
  7. I returned all cable boxes and controllers to the Norwalk store.

The financial decision is basically a wash; each service costs about the same.  But we decided to change because of the digital ease of use, one controller, removal of the cable boxes for every television, and Hulu’s much greater versatility in terms of live and streaming services and unique content…..

Other considerations: If you have televisions over 5 years old, you will have to add the Roku or Apple TV accessory to your set to adopt Hulu streaming. We bought a new digital Samsung 50-inch 8000 series television for $464 on Amazon. We put the Apple TV accessory on our older 50-inch Samsung. This Apple accessory also improves image quality.

The selection of streaming options like Amazon, Netflix, Disney+, HBOMax, AppleTV, etc. does not change this decision analysis. The selection of streaming services is a different part of your own financial decision.

(Here’s a decision that’s not hard: Support “06880.” We rely completely on reader donations. Please click here to help.)

Roundup: Techno Claus, Tree Lights, Trailer Park …

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Santa Claus comes once a year.

Techno Claus too.

The “CBS Sunday Morning” staple — aka David Pogue (don’t tell the kids!) made an earlier-than-usual appearance in 2021. He told “06880” he wanted to make sure there were no supply chain issues with any suggestions.

As usual, much of the segment was filmed in David’s Westport home. Both Santa and Techno Claus know it well.

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David Meth likes the Wakeman Town Farm Christmas tree lights. A lot.

He does not like the lights on the Town Hall tree.

(Photos/David Meth)

David says: “The lack of warmth lighting up the Christmas tree at Town Hall is its usual, typical, surgical, antiseptic white—an embarrassment to the town. Yet it goes on year after year without change or care by the administration, who seem to lack an understanding of how color positively affects people.

“The town is very clear as it  expresses an attitude that announces: ‘Get it done to say it’s been done.’ The warmth exuded from the tree at Wakeman Farm is what we should expect—welcoming, full of life and color for all.”

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Rod Serling has not lived in Westport for 60 years. And he’s been dead for 45.

But visitors to Sherwood Island have recently experienced a “Twilight Zone” moment. There — in the middle of our beautiful, wooded beachside state park — sits a decrepit trailer park.

(Photo/Werner Lipeolt)

Has it sat there — unnoticed — for years? But wait — why is there a trailer park in a state park?

Because it’s a movie set, silly!

As “06880” has reported several times, Netflix is filming “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” there. The Stephen King thriller stars Donald Sutherland and Jaeden Martell, and will be released next year. 

When, presumably, the Black Bear Trailer Park is just a long-ago memory.

PS: How about some kind of Oscar for that set designer?!

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Youn Su Chao has resigned from the Board of Education.

Her replacement must be a registered Democrat. Letters of application should be submitted by email (lgoldstein@westportps.org) or to Westport Board of Education, Town Hall Room 307, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880. The deadline is next Monday (December 13).

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The Greens Farms Garden Club does wonderful work. And not just in the 06838 zip code.

The other day, members beautified the Gillespie Center men’s shelter downtown. They weeded, trimmed, raked, pulled vines and planted daffodils all around the property across behind Barnes & Noble (and around the corner from Tiffany).

The area was so overgrown, it was hard to find the stone wall or bench in the area.  Now it looks great.

Early next spring, Garden Club members will trim back larger shrubs, and add more plantings.

Greens Farms Garden Club members take a brief break at the Gillespie Center.

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Tonight (Tuesday) at 7 p.m., the state Department of Transportation hosts a virtual public information meeting about the replacement of the Greens Farms Road Sasco Brook bridge.

The presentation will be recorded. Click here for instructions on how to access the meeting, and how to provide comments or ask questions.

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Joel Robert Hallas (W1ZR) died peacefully at home in Westport on Thanksgiving morning, with his family by his side, after a hard 3 -year fight against pancreatic cancer. He was 79.

Joel was an electrical engineer, sailboat owner and expert in telecommunications and amateur radio. He wrote 7 books about ham radio and antennas.

A 1960 graduate of Greenwich High School, he served in the Army from 1962-65. Stationed in Frankfurt, Germany, he earned the rank of E5 in the Signal Corps. He then graduated with a bachelor of science in electrical engineering from the University of Connecticut.

While working at Raytheon, Joel earned a master of science in electrical engineering from Northeastern University. He also worked for Norden Systems, GTE, IBM, Seagram’s and AT&T, on radar and telecommunications projects. He taught telecommunications at the Rochester Institute of Technology from 1993-1997.

In Westport he was known for sailing his sloop Windfall on Long Island Sound, with family, friends, co-workers, Y’s Men and his golden retrievers. He twice served as commodore of the Minuteman Yacht Club. He was appointed to the Parks & Recreation Commission, where he headed the committee that was instrumental in improving Compo Beach’s Ned Dimes Marina, including the concrete flotation docks that increased capacity and convenience.

At the end of his career Joel joined the staff of the National Association of Amateur Radio as technical editor of their journal QST. He wrote a popular monthly column and did a podcast called “The Doctor is In,” answering technical questions from hams.

Among the books Joel wrote are Basic Radio; Basic Antennas; The ARRL Guide to Antenna Tuners; Hamspeak; The Care and Feeding of Transmission Lines; Understanding Your Antenna Analyzer, and The Radio Amateur’s Workshop.

Joel is survived by his wife of 58 years, Nancy Gatrall Hallas; daughter Katie J. (Mike) Phillis, and son Dr. Stephen J. (Dr. Sabrina Noel) Hallas.

Burial will be private. A memorial service will be held this spring.

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Our “Westport … Naturally” feature includes many wild animals.

Today we feature man’s best friend. James Melino and Nellie work together in James’ home office. What a team!

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And finally … today in 1842, the New York Philharmonic presented its first concert ever. Happy 179th birthday!

Christmas In June: Behind The Scenes Of “Noel Diary”

The guys from the film company were up front.

“We’ll take over your house for a couple of weeks,” they told Brett Adams. “It will be crazy.”

They offered a contract. It specified exactly what they’d rent — the porch on his handsome Washington Avenue home, that sort of thing — and what they were responsible for. It spelled out the COVID restrictions, and other contingencies.

Brett signed. A couple of weeks later, the production crew arrived: all 50 to 75 of them.

“We probably didn’t fully understand that,” Brett says. “Or what it would mean for the entire street.”

Welcome to life, when your quiet Westport home becomes a bustling Hollywood movie set. Along with 5 others, next door and across the street.

A few of the many trucks, at the load-in on Washington Avenue.

The Adams’ house will be seen on screen a year and a half from now. December 2022 is the anticipated release of “The Noel Diary,” the Netflix film starring Justin Hartley (“This is Us”) and Bonnie Bedelia (“Die Hard,” “Parenthood”).

Yes, Christmastime. “The Noel Diary” is (duh) a holiday film.

And yes, it was filmed in Westport, on the hottest days in June. That’s the way the movie industry rolls.

Like anyone else in the business, Adams and his family learned to roll with the punches.

The saga began in March. Working at home, Adams saw people taking photos of his house.

Working with representatives from the state’s Office of Film, TV and Digital Media, they were scouting for 2 porches. They’d come to the right place: Adams’ — and the facades of other nearby houses, on the end of the usually quiet road just off Main Street — are historic and gorgeous. There’s not a McMansion in sight.

Filming began in other Fairfield County towns. The first sign of Westport’s star turn came when several enormous trucks massed in the Playhouse parking lot. That was the staging area.

Adams’ first sign that the crew was ready to take over — and do it their own, practiced way — was when they installed a massive generator on the side of the house. Then came tents in the back.

And huge cranes, for lighting. Plus cutting down a tree, for a better shot of another house across the way.

The Adams’ house. No, there is not usually a blue postal box in front.

The original contract included rental of the porch, a bit of the first floor interior, and basement (as a break room for the crew). Quickly, the producers asked to rent the driveway and garage too. Those riders were added.

Adams, his wife and son Will were both fascinated and blasé about the production. They watched in wonder as actors sweated through take after take in 90-degree heat (someone’s specific job was helping them take off their heavy coats).

Bedelia asked Brett if she could come inside between takes. Sure, he said. Will — a Staples High School junior — came downstairs during a study break, greeted the Emmy-nominated actress with a casual “hi!”, then went about his business.

Just like in the movies: The star gets her own chair.

The shaded porch became a favorite hangout for hair and makeup crews. Brett would take breaks from his own work, and ask them about their work. “I have my job, and they have theirs,” he says. “I learned a lot about what they do.”

One surprising lesson: how long it takes to shoot one scene. Each involves multiple angles, and many takes.

Once, a boy rode a bike up and down the street, over and over again. Another time, a dog chased a car — over and over and over again.

Brett was also astonished at the number of people involved, in every aspect, from the production manager to the guy watering the street.

The final night, the crew created a snowfall. Brett was impressed. “They really can create magic,” he says.

Winter in June. The snowman is a nice touch.

Nearly everyone who tromped onto Brett’s porch, and into his basement, had kind words for how nice and accommodating everyone in Westport had been. Apparently, that’s not always the case.

He returns the compliments. Negotiations were not stressful, he says. “They’re very practiced at this. They know antagonism will never get them anywhere.”

When a recycling bin went missing. someone hustled over to Westport Hardware and bought a new one.

The actors were great too, Brett says. Hartley took photos with everyone. Director Charles Shyer (“Father of the Bride,” “Private Benjamin,” “Alfie”) — “classic Hollywood, 79 years old in sneakers and a t-shirt” — was often available for interesting conversations.

“He never yelled ‘action,'” Brett observes. “There was someone else around to do that.”

“I don’t know where a Netflix film fits in with the whole art scene. But for a couple of weeks, even though it could be a nuisance, it was pretty cool.”

Besides, there was this: While work colleagues apologized for dog or toddler interruptions, Brett had another excuse.

“Sorry, guys,” he’d say. “They’re filming a movie at my house.”

Some scenes were filmed at night. These days, Washington Avenue is back to normal. (Photos/Brett Adams)

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.)

 

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.

He-Man Returns; Westporter Helps

“He-Man” is coming back to life.

And one of “the men” responsible is a Staples High School graduate.

Rob David is executive producer of Netflix’s new anime series. Called “Masters of the Universe: Revelation,” it will take place in a Mattel-inspired world, and focus on unresolved story lines from the classic 1980s show. It picks up on “what may be the final battle between He-Man and Skeletor,” says executive producer Kevin Smith.

Rob David (left) and Kevin Smith.

David — a 1992 Staples alum, where he was active in Players and co-president of Model UN — is well suited to the task. He’s vice president of Mattel TV, and author of He-Man: The Eternity War. 

After graduating from Columbia University, he wrote for several New York-based animated series, including “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” He now lives in California, with his wife and twins. (She is in charge of online content for Sesame Workshop, and has helped develop their highly regarded autism, LGBT and military family inclusion material.)

Staples classmate Evan Stein says, “Having read Rob’s reboot stories of He-Man and She-Ra that he wrote when he moved to LA, and the fanboy favorite crossover of He-Man and the ThunderCats, I’m sure this will be a runaway success.”

The original He-Man animated series ran from 1983-85. Set on the mythical planet of Eternia, it featured Prince Adam — transformed into He-Man — as the most powerful man in the universe.

He-Man

Leslye Headland’s “Russian Doll”

Since debuting on February 1, “Russian Doll” — the Netflix comedy series about a woman who keeps dying in a time glitch — has snagged praise from critics, and plenty of viewers.

Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 100% approval rating. The Gothamist said it’s “the first must-see new TV show of the year.” New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik called it “lean and snappily paced; it even managed the rare feat, in the era of streaming-TV bloat, of making me wish for a bit more.”

Leslye Headland, with a montage from “Russian Dolls.” (Image courtesy of The Ringer)

The show’s co-creator, director and writer — Leslye Headland — is a 1999 Staples High School graduate. She’s earned kudos as a playwright, screenwriter and director, with hits like the play and film “Bachelorette” and the movie “Sleeping With Other People.”

Leslye’s been on a media tour following “Russian Doll”‘s debut. She was interviewed today on WNYC (click here to listen), and has appeared in plenty of print and online media too. Click here for one of the most in-depth pieces.

Intrigued? Click below for the trailer:

Westport: A Town Of “Darkness And Pain”

Last week, I posted a story about “Land of Steady Habits.”

The movie — based on 2001 Staples High School graduate Ted Thompson’s debut novel about a Westporter seeking something beyond his soul-crushing marriage and job — has just been released by Netflix.

The New York Times‘ A.O. Scott gave it a strong review yesterday, calling it “unpredictable and fresh.”

He begins:

The American suburb is zoned for ambivalence. Neither city nor country, suburbia — at least in the imagination of too many novelists, filmmakers and songwriters to count — yokes affluence to alienation. Beyond the well-kept lawns and hedges are seething hives of adultery, anomie and addiction. These pathologies may not actually be more common along the commuter rail lines than anywhere else, but there is an imposing body of literature that insists otherwise.

He adds of director Nicole Holofcener: “The darkness and pain haunting Westport are more pronounced …than the melancholy and quiet rage that figure in Ms. Holofcener’s other movies.”

Fortunately, that “darkness and pain” refers to the film, not life in our actual town.

I think.

(For the full New York Times review, click here. Hat tips: John Karrel and Fran White)