Tag Archives: Peter Duchan

Coleytown Company Stages Silver Anniversary Celebration

The list of names associated with Westport’s local theater company is impressive:

  • Rock star songwriter Justin Paul (“Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman”)
  • Playwright/screenwriter (“Braking Upwards,” “Dogfight”) Peter Duchan
  • Broadway veterans Mia Gentile and Jacob Heimer
  • Composer/performer/teacher/choir director Chris Coogan
  • Former Broadway performer Amiee Turner
  • Professional set designer Jordan Janota
  • Wesleyan University theater professor Robin Mazzola
  • Former off-Broadway and film actor Ben Frimmer
  • New York Theatre Company’s “New, Emerging, Outstanding Composer” Clay Zambo
  • Professional actress Haley Bond,

What is even more impressive is that the local theater company is Coleytown Company.

All those talented, experienced men and women have worked on — or are currently involved with — the middle school’s theater program.

As Coleytown Company celebrates its 25th anniversary, it’s time to shine the spotlight on this impressive institution in our midst.

As with any theatrical project, Coleytown Company has had its ups and downs.

In the 1990s, then-principal Jim Welsch asked 5th grade teacher Frimmer to reimagine the middle school theater program. Up to that point, it was a club with a parent helping out once a year.

Staging shows ranging from “Fiddler on the Roof” to “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” Frimmer created an environment in which young actors, singers, dancers, artists and tech kids can learn and grow.

Drew Andrade dances, accompanied by (from left) Eliza Walmark, Rima Ferrer, Emma Schorr. Cece Dioyka, Drew Andrade, Ava Chun, Kathryn Asiel, Keelagh Breslin in the 2019 production of “42nd Street.”

Recently, Coleytown Company has weathered a tough few years. Mold shut the school in 2017. CMS students headed to Bedford Middle School, losing their auditorium. Shows continued, but with a lessened sense of community.

Then came COVID. Like theaters everywhere, the middle schools’ stages went dark.

Last October, Coleytown Company returned with “All Together Now!,” a 15-song musical revue.

Now it’s all the way back. “The SpongeBob Musical” — the Company’s first full-scale musical in 3 years — debuts Friday, April 8 (7 p.m.). Shows continued Saturday, April 9 (7 p.m.) and Sunday, April 9 (1 p.m.).

The community’s help has been impressive. Middle school art teacher Linda Kangro, for example, leads a tech crew whose students actually design and build sets themselves.

Janota — the professional scenic designer working on an upcoming Netflix feature film — and her 18 students have used recycled materials donated by the community to create a coral proscenium, and platforms to build a “volcano.”

Remy Laifer and Jacob Leaf in the 2013 production of “Peter Pan.” The set was typically professional.

Coogan has spent over a decade directing the Coleytown Company pit orchestra. He loves this age group, because “they’re just discovering their voices, capabilities, bodies and acting abilities.”

This is Turner’s 4th show with Frimmer. Her focus is on getting students comfortable with their bodies after lockdown, and “helping them get used to being brave, loud and big with their physical movement.”

Zambo serves as vocal coach, when he is not writing or directing shows and ballets. Because “SpongeBob” was written for adults, he has done “some judicious editing.” But, he says, he works with middle schoolers the same as with professionals: “Keep it light and fun, take the work seriously, and try to bring out the best in everyone.”

Coleytown Company’s “Addams Family” brought out the best in everyone. The 2015 cast includesd (clockwise from left): Anella Lefebvre (Morticia), Georgia Wright (Gomez), Maggie Foley (Wednesday) and Oscar Hechter (Pugsley).

Wesleyan professor Mazzola — a costume-maker for 25 years, who met Frimmer 4 years ago — describes the upcoming show’s costumes as embodying “friendship, individuality and joy.”

That joy has been a hallmark of the experiences of former Coleytown Company actors, many of whom went on to success with Staples Players in high school, then beyond.

Duchan was in Frimmer’s first production: “Peter Pan.” He calls Frimmer’s accomplishments “extraordinary.”

Ben Frimmer (left) directs Emily Desser, Imogen Medoff, Shanti Wimmer and Nina Driscoll in the 2018 production of “James and the Giant Peach.” (Photo/Colleen Coffey)

Over the years, Paul, Gentile and Heimer have all returned from the Broadway stage to help Frimmer and their alma mater. In 2018, Company staged Paul’s “James and the Giant Peach.”

Bond calls CMS “a breeding ground for budding creatives. As a professional in the entertainment industry, I constantly cross paths with my middle schoolmates. They’ve grown up to be writers, actors, directors, filmmakers, technical engineers and designers.”

Current student performers echo the praise.

Haley Forman — Sandy in “SpongeBob” — says, “the theme of the play is working together. The students and staff are bringing that to life.”

Eli Abrams, who plays Perch Perkins, agrees: “I really like that you get to meet all these new people that are doing the same thing as you. If you need help with something, you can always just call them.”

Haley and Eli may or may not follow fellow CMS actors Justin Paul, Peter Duchan, Mia Gentile and Jacob Heimer to Broadway.

But they’re sure in good Company.

(For tickets to “The SpongeBob Musical” and more information, click here. Hat tip: Jordan Razza)

Peter Duchan’s “Illusionist” Is No Mirage

“The show must go on.”

It’s an old adage — and true. Every theatrical production faces unexpected obstacles.

But Peter Duchan’s “The Illusionist” hit so many roadblocks, you could write a book.

Or at least — as Duchan did — a New York Times story.

Peter Duchan

Online today — and in this coming Sunday’s Arts & Leisure section — the 2001 Staples High School graduate describes the roundabout, almost Sisyphean route he took to bring a musical adaptation of the 2006 film to the stage.

Duchan has had plenty of theatrical success (including collaborating with 2003 Staples grad Justin Paul on “Dogfight”).

But like many other artists, the pandemic put the brakes on most of his work. Two of his regional productions were canceled.

He was heartened that plans for the late 2020 Tokyo premiere of “The Illusionist” — a show he’d co-written in 2016 — were proceeding, with COVID precautions of course.

In July though, he learned that the star had hanged himself. In today’s Times, Duchan writes:

In the past, I’d been suspicious of “the show must go on” — it seemed designed to coerce workers into tolerating unacceptable labor practices — but now I heard an earnest yearning in the phrase. Theater is, by nature, communal. Surely it would be more healing for all involved to gather and perform the show. What would be gained by giving up?

Yes, yes to all of it, yes to anything. We just had to do the show.

The next obstacle came when the director was hospitalized in London with bowel cancer.

Peter Duchan, en route to Tokyo. (Photo from New York Times via Peter Duchan)

In Tokyo, Duchan went to work. Rules were strict.

Upon arriving each day, participants zipped their personal belongings into assigned garment bags, including the face masks worn during their commutes. The production provided a new mask each day, to be worn throughout rehearsal. No eating was permitted in the room. No sharing phone chargers. The schedule included regular “airing breaks.”

Despite the precautions, 7 people — 5 cast members, 2 in the crew — were diagnosed with coronavirus.

To limit the number of people in the theater as much as possible, Duchan returned to New York. He would watch rehearsals remotely — from the other side of the world. With the time difference, he was up most nights until 3 a.m.

The process felt distant, but the thrills were the sort well known to anyone who works in musical theater: hearing the score animated by a full orchestra after years of it played on one piano; seeing Ayako Maeda’s sumptuous, intricate costumes soak up the stage light and sharpen the actors’ characterizations; watching the talented and brooding Kaiho sink his teeth into the role of Eisenheim.

Duchan watched the January 27 opening performance via live feed.

Peter Duchan watched the “Illusionist” Tokyo premiere from New York. (Photo from New York Times via Peter Duchan)

He writes:

During curtain call, the cast wept with joy and relief. Afterward a producer walked her phone to each dressing room so those of us celebrating remotely could shower the cast with congratulations.

Filtered through screens, I could still feel the merry, frenetic backstage energy. Nearly 7,000 miles away, I was able experience the elation of opening night. I was making theater again. We were doing the show.

Two days later, after playing its five scheduled performances, “The Illusionist”closed. Now we wait.

Click here for the full New York Times story.

(Hat tip: Susan Terry)

Honoring Our Arts

The Westport calendar is filled with little events that should be big ones.

They’re the ones you vaguely hear about before they happen.  Afterward, someone tells you how great it was to be there.  You vow you’ll go next year — but don’t.

The Westport Arts Awards is one of those you-really-shouldn’t-miss events.  This year’s 19th annual ceremony is Sunday, October 21 (2 p.m., Town Hall).  If you want to see all that’s right with this town — its long-time residents, its young people, its support of creativity and achievement — save the date right now.

The event honors artists in 6 disciplines — art, music, film/new media, visual arts/photography, theater and literature — as well as 3 young people, 2 Westporters who work quietly in the background, and 10 artists with local ties who died this year.

Tyler Hicks

The biggest name is Tyler Hicks. The 1988 Staples grad — a staff photographer for the New York Times — has covered conflict in Kosovo, Chechnya, Congo, Ethiopia, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan, and been captured by the Libyan government. When Times correspondent Anthony Shahid died in Syria, Tyler carried his body across the border to Turkey.

In 2009 Tyler, fellow Times photographer (and Staples ’99 grad) Lynsey Addario, and the Times staff shared the Pulitzer Prize for “masterful, groundbreaking coverage” of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He’s the youngest recipient ever of a Westport Arts Award Lifetime Achievement Honor. He lives in Istanbul, so his mother will accept it for him.

Other Lifetime Achievements go to author, screenwriter and essayist Mary-Lou Weisman; Anne Keefe, artistic advisor at the Westport Country Playhouse; filmmakers Frank Jacoby and Doris Storm; English horn player Doris Goltzer, and artist, painter and printmaker Jak Kovatch.

Horizon Awards — presented to artists under the age of 32 who have already demonstrated excellence — are some of the most intriguing honors at the ceremony. This Sunday, there are 3.

Peter Duchan

Peter Duchan co-wrote the screenplay, and was associate producer for the South by Southwest film “Breaking Upwards.” He also wrote the book for the recent Off-Broadway musical “Dogfight” (scored by previous Westport Arts Award honoree Justin Paul).

Playwright, screenwriter and director Leslye Headland‘s credits include “Bachelorette,” “Assistance” and the rest of the “Seven Deadly Plays” series. She recently wrote a remake of “About Last Night” for Screen Gems. Like Peter, she is a Staples grad.

Nicholas Britell is a composer, pianist and producer. He scored the film “Gimme the Loot, ” which won the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW last March. His music was featured in “New York, I Love You” and elsewhere. Nick is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard.

Longtime Westporter John Franklin will be honored as a Champion of the Arts. Former head of the Westport Arts Center, and a consistent and generous supporter of music, dance and the arts, he’s one of those real good guys who does so much for so many, so quietly.

Joan Miller

So does Joan Miller For her decades of  work on the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection — a pet project of Mollie Donovan — as well as many other volunteer efforts, Joan is an apt recipient of the Mollie Award, for tireless service.

Ten names will be added to the Heritage Honor Roll.  J.D. Salinger, Hilton Kramer, David Levine, Natalie Maynard, Arlene Skutch, Albert Goltzer, Paul Rand, Marianne Liberatore, Burry Fredrik and Jerome Kilty were all connected to Westport. All died in within the past year, or were not honored while alive.

If you think the Westport Arts Awards are a dull, stand-up-and-give-a-speech affair:  think again.

These are creative people.  There are short videos, along with brief presentations.

And, of course, a reception afterward.

The Westport Arts Awards are Westport at its best.

Its artistic, photographic, musical, theatrical, literary — and very, very talented — best.

Paul And Pasek: “The Youngest Old Souls On Broadway”

With Dogfight — their off-Broadway musical debut — getting largely positive reviews*, Staples grad Justin Paul and his songwriting partner Benj Pasek are already looking ahead.

And with A Christmas Story, The Musical! headed for Broadway in 3 months, they’re generating plenty of buzz themselves.

Yesterday, the New York Observer took note. In a long story headlined “The Youngest Old Souls on Broadway: Dogfight Songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul Hit the Big Time,” Harry Huan introduced the still-just-27 duo as Perhaps The Next Big Thing.

Benj Pasek, Peter Duchan and Justin Paul (at Justin’s wedding).

Among the highlights:

Whether Pasek & Paul become this millennium’s Lerner & Loewe remains to be seen, but they are on the right track and coming at a respectable speed out of the University of Michigan’s theater department, old school ties flapping in the wind.

“We developed an appreciation for all those classic musicals and began to really analyze them and try to figure out what made them so great,” Mr. Paul explained. “Not that we write in their style necessarily, but we understand their craft.”

Two-time Tony winning director Joe Montello said, “It has been so exciting to collaborate with three people (Staples grad Peter Duchan wrote the book) who are at the very beginning of their careers. Their enthusiasm, their optimism—infectious!”

Godspell‘s Lindsay Mendez added, “It’s unbelievable to be able to debut a score of this caliber. Every song is so unique and special and fits the moment so perfectly. It’s a dream to get to sing their stuff.”

As for A Christmas Story, actor John Bolton praises, “I genuinely believe this score that they’ve written is not just a serviceable score for a contemporary holiday show, but I believe it to be a classic American score.”

Dogfight ends its run at Second Stage Theater August 19. A Christmas Story opens November 19 at the Lunt-Fontanne.

There’s still time to get tickets for both.

*(Except for some idiot from the New York Post.)

(To read the entire New York Observer piece, click here.)

Justin Paul, Peter Duchan — And Joe Mantello

Joe Mantello is a huge name on Broadway. Justin Paul and Peter Duchan soon will be.

Mantello — a very hot director, with 2 Tony Awards among his many credits — has just been announced as director of the world premiere of “Dogfight.” The musical is set for Second Stage Theatre in June.

Justin Paul

“Dogfight”‘s book is by Peter Duchan. The music and lyrics are by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.  Peter and Justin are Staples grads; Benj is very familiar locally, as a longtime collaborator with Justin.

Set in 1960s San Francisco, “Dogfight” follows Eddie Birdlace, a Marine about to ship out to Vietnam.  He and his friends hold a cruel competition — a “dogfight” – during which each man brings the ugliest date he can find to a party.

According to Playbill.com, “Eddie finds Rose, a diner waitress whose idealism and compassion challenge him on his last evening before he ships out. When he returns, a broken man, to a changed America, he may finally be ready for the redemptive kindness Rose offers.”

“Dogfight” won the 2011 Richards Rodgers Award for Musical Theatre.

Benj and Justin’s current projects include “A Christmas Story” (national tour 2011) and “James and the Giant Peach” (Goodspeed 2010).

Peter Duchan

Peter co-wrote the screenplay for “Breaking Upwards,” released by IFC Films last year. He also co-wrote a short, “Unlocked,” an Official Selection of the Tribeca Film Festival, among others.

As for Joe — the only person with non-Westport connections in this story — he is currently represented on Broadway by “Wicked” and “Other Desert Cities.” He has also directed “Pal Joey,” “9 to 5 the Musical,” “The Odd Couple,” “Glengarry Ross, “Take Me Out, “The Vagina Monologues,” “Love! Valour! Compassion” and “The Santaland Diaries” — among many others.

Now he’s got one more accomplishment: Working with Justin Paul and Peter Duchan.

Richard Rodgers Honors Peter Duchan And Justin Paul

While Americans were going ga-ga over a woman in an egg, the theater world shined a spotlight on a pair of Westporters.

Justin Paul

Last weekend “Dogfight” received a Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theater.  The studio production’s book is by Peter Duchan (book).  Music and lyrics are by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.  Peter and Justin are Staples grads; Benj is very familiar locally, as a longtime collaborator with Justin. 

Rodgers Awards nurture talented composers and playwrights by subsidizing productions of their musicals in New York.  This year’s jury was chaired by Stephen Sondheim.

Set in 1960s San Francisco, “Dogfight” follows Eddie Birdlace, a Marine about to ship out to Vietnam.  He and his friends hold a cruel competition — a “dogfight” — during which each man brings the ugliest date he can find to a party.

Peter Duchan

According to Playbill.com, “Eddie finds Rose, a diner waitress whose idealism and compassion challenge him on his last evening before he ships out. When he returns, a broken man, to a changed America, he may finally be ready for the redemptive kindness Rose offers.”

Peter and Justin’s latest award is of interest to Westporters for another reason, beyond their hometown roots:   Richard Rodgers lived for many years on Hulls Highway, just over the Fairfield line.

And After The Show, They Went In And Cleaned The Restrooms

Westporters attending this afternoon’s premiere of “Breaking Upwards” at Fairfield’s Community Theatre might have been surprised to see Daryl Wein, Zoe Lister-Jones and Peter Duchan (above, from left) manning the ticket booth.

It was all in a day’s work for the trio, who wrote, acted in, produced, directed, played music for, edited, and God-knows-what-elsed the 85-minute indie film.  Daryl and Peter are long-time Westporters, and Staples graduates.

A sold-out crowd loved the movie, and the Q-and-A session that followed.

Which was held by — of course — Daryl, Zoe and Peter.

From “06880” To The New York Times

On Tuesday “06880” previewed “Breaking Upwards,” Westport writer/director/actor/producer Daryl Wein’s new movie that will be shown tomorrow (Sunday, March 28, 2 p.m.) at Fairfield’s Community Theatre.

This weekend, the New York Times joins the buzz.

We’re not talking a mini-review, all agate type and buried at the bottom of a Saturday page no one reads.

Not hardly.  Daryl; his girlfriend/co-writer/co-producer Zoe Lister-Jones; his Staples classmate/co-writer/associate producer Peter Duchan, and the entire cast and crew that helped make this indie film for the astonishingly low cost of $15,000, have scored a full-page feature story in tomorrow’s Sunday Times arts section.

A hugely laudatory story.

With 6 photos.

Including one plastered across the entire top of the page, showing Daryl and Zoe in exactly the type of scene that will be remembered years from now, when they’re accepting Oscars for lifetime achievements.

Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones, looking very movie-like. (Photo by Alex Bergman/Courtesy of the New York Times)

Writer Larry Rohter calls “Breaking Upwards” “almost a tutorial in how a do-it-yourself ethos can overcome the tough economics of the movie business.”

He describes the recruitment of the cast through Craigslist.  The clever use of inheritances and insurance to fund the film.  Daryl’s living room editing on a flat-screen TV.  Guerrilla marketing tactics like chalking the movie title on Manhattan walls and sidewalks.

And the importance of big names like actors Olivia Thirlby, Julie White, Peter Friedman and Andrea Martin to the success of the project.

Rohter likens “Breaking Upwards” to “Paranormal Activity.”  That indie film — also made for the price of a Hyundai Elantra — has grossed more than $100 million so far.  Coincidentally, “Paranormal” stars another Staples graduate:  Micah Sloat.

“06880” is glad the New York Times recognizes Daryl’s talents — and shares them with the rest of the weekend Arts section crowd.  We just hope that — on his way to super-stardom — Daryl doesn’t forget the little people.

Breaking Upwards With Daryl Wein

“An uncensored look at young love, lust, and the pangs of co-dependency.”

What more could you want in a film?

That’s the thrust of Daryl Wein’s latest production, “Breaking Upwards.” Theatrical distribution and video on demand start April 2 — but Westporters get a sneak peek at what the Staples graduate has created this Sunday (March 28, 2 p.m.) at Fairfield’s Community Theatre.

Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones. It's a scene from their movie, in which art imitates life.

Following the film, Daryl; his co-writer, association producer and Staples classmate Peter Duchan; Westport actor Toby Burns, and co-writer, co-producer Zoe Lister-Jones — who is also Daryl’s girlfriend and fellow co-dependent — will lead a Q-and-A discussion.

Anyone who knows Daryl — from his Staples Players days, to his groundbreaking “Sex Positive” film about the now-forgotten birth of the safe sex movement — understands that “Breaking Upwards” is quintessentially him.

The film loosely interprets a year in Daryl and Zoe’s lives as they explore alternatives to monogamy, the madness that ensues, and the answer to the eternal question:  “Is it ever possible to grow apart together?”

“Breaking Upwards” — which Daryl directed, co-wrote, acted in, played music for, produced and edited — won the Grand Jury Prize at the Brooklyn International Film Festival, and earned acclaim at SXSW.

It’s been called “an effortlessly hip and funny new indie flick that easily ranks among the best films about relationships.”

The wisdom and insights Daryl gained in Westport underpin the New York sensibility he brings to his work.  Calling him the Woody Allen of his 20-something generation might be a stretch.

But his career is on the rise.  He bears watching.

And Westporters can start watching on Sunday, next door in Fairfield.

(Not sure you want to see the film?  Check out the trailer — it’s very cool.  PS:  The original soundtrack is available on iTunes.)