Tag Archives: Staples Orphenians

Roundup: Original Pancakes, Orphenians …

Tuesday night’s Staples High School boys basketball game was filled with drama.

The Wreckers won a 68-67 overtime nail-biter over New Canaan.

But that wasn’t the half of it.

Halftime included a chance for a young player named Trey got a chance to hit a 3-point shot. The prize: a free session at the new Academy basketball camp.

How did the aptly named Trey do? Click here!
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News 12 Connecticut is working on a story about the 1989 Joan Wertkin cold case murder.

They want to speak with anyone who knew Joan, the family, or has information on the case. Even a small piece of information might help produce a clearer understanding of the events leading up to the killing.

Contact Emmy-winning investigative reporter Shosh Bedrosian: shoshana.bedrosian@news12.com; 475-283-5188.

Joan Wertkin

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The Original Pancake House has — finally — opened in the Main Street space where Acqua used to be.

Nina Sankovitch reports: “The first restaurant I ever went to was one of these.  The German apple pancake is as good as ever!”

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In preparation for their June trip to Hawaii, Staples’ Orphenians are hosting an “Aloha Cabaret.” The January 22 event (6:30 p.m., Westport Library) features Tony Award winner (and Westporter) Kelli O’Hara; the Orphenians (of course),, and as emcee, the incomparable David Pogue.

There are also Hawaiian-themed light bites, and an exciting silent auction. Fundraising will ensure that all 42 members can make the trip.

Orphenians — the elite singing group — have traveled across the US, and internationally, since shortly after their founding in 1958. This will be the third trip for conductor Luke Rosenberg.

Georgia Wrighth traveled with Orphenians to Australia in July 2018.

“It was one of the best experiences, with some of my best friends,” she recalls. “Some others I didn’t know too well. But we became so close on that trip.

“We were making music, and meeting people from all over the world who shared our passion. We sang for 8 hours a day, and learned so much working with a master composer.”

Georgia went on to earn a BFA in musical theater from the Boston Conservatory.

Three years earlier, Jack Baylis joined Orphenians on a trip to San Francisco. They worked with the famed Chanticleer choral group,

“It was one of my first exposures to high-level professionals,” Jack recalls. “They were so intense, but they showed us attainable goals.”

Jack appreciates the opportunities Orphenians had — and have now, again — to experience such a trip.

“Whether you pursue the arts as a career or not, this is a chance to impact your life,” Jack says. “In hindsight, I realize how important that is.”

Jack will perform with Kelli O’Hara at the Aloha Cabaret.

Tickets are $150 per person for general admission and $225 per person for VIP. For tickets and more information, click here.

Staples Orphenians

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Last night, MoCA Westport’s opening reception introduced their winter exhibition. “Paul Camacho: Rhythm and Unity” features selected works primarily drawn from the Westport Public Art Collections. The exhibition is on view through February 26.

Simultaneously, the annual high school exhibition — Who Are You When You Are Dreaming — includes nearly 200 student works from across the region.
Docented gallery tours are available on Thursdays at 1 p.m. An associated Cocktails and Conversation series will be held on Thursday evenings, including a talk about Camacho, a curator talk, and a panel featuring local designers and entrepreneurs on fashion, art and design.
Click here for more information.

MoCA executive director Ruth Mannes and Westport Public Schools pre-K-12 music and visual arts coordinator Steve Zimmerman. (Photo/Leslie MaSala)

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It doesn’t get more “Westport … Naturally” than this: Compo Beach, with Cockenoe Island in the distance.

(Photo/Richard Stein)

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And finally … Happy Friday the 13th!

(It’s good luck to donate to “06880” on Friday the 13th — or any other day. Please click here to help. Thank you!)

Roundup: Holiday Movies, Holiday Animals …

Two of the Top 10 most streamed movies last weekend were holiday films.

And both have strong Westport connections.

“Spirited” (Apple TV+) ranked 7th overall for the weekend. The musical comedy retelling of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” starring Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds (also shown in theaters) was written in part by 2003 Staples High School graduate Justin Paul, and his songwriting partner Benj Pasek (“Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman”). Justin also served as an executive producer.

Right behind “Spirited,” in 8th place, was “Something From Tiffany’s” (Amazon Prime Video). The rom-com is directed by 2002 Staples grad Daryl Wein (and produced by Reese Witherspoon).

Justin and Daryl were good friends at Staples. They were in Orphenians and Staples Players together — and 20 years ago this weekend, shared the stage for the annual Candlelight Concert. (Hat tip: Kerry Long)

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The Greens Farms train station COVID testing site — run since last January by Progressive Diagnostics — closed on Thursday. The move was made to accommodate normal station operations and concessions.

Progressive’s same-day COVID, flu and RSV tests remain available at their Norwalk and Wilton sites. Clients can schedule appointments online, or walk in.

Progressive Diagnostics’ Covid PCR tests detect the presence of viruses even before symptoms begin. Results are delivered the same day. The company also offers  telehealth, connecting patients with professionals who can discuss symptoms and provide orders for flu and/or RSV tests.

PS: As Bob Weingarten notes, free COVID tests are available online from the US government. Click here for details.

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The ever-changing Winslow Park Animal Hospital front lawn has gone whole hog for the holidays.

Their decorations are a welcome treat for anyone — and by that, I mean “everyone” who waits at the Post Road light between the Westport Country Playhouse and Playhouse Square.

(Photo/Molly Alger)

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Meanwhile, Jolantha — Weston’s favorite pig — is ready for Christmas too.

She enjoys everything about the holiday.

Except the traditional ham dinner.

(Photo/Hans Wilhelm)

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Speaking of animals … Mary Hoffman writes from the Compo Beach neighborhood:

This morning we woke up to a very clean, meatless deer leg …

 

… and a very large wolf looking at us. It is bigger than a typical German shepherd.  Dog owners beware!”

The wolf, with deer bone in its mouth. (Photo and screenshot/Mary Hoffman)

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Longtime Westporter Dick Rauh is 97 years old.

But you’re never too old to have a Westport Library exhibit.

His botanical paintings are featured in the Sheffer Gallery, from now through February 28. An artist talk and reception, with Rauh and Miggs Burroughs, is set for January 29 (2 p.m.).

“06880” reader Larry Bartimer urges everyone to see the exhibit.

“What an amazing man!” Larry says. “He is the most alert and intelligent 97-year-0ld man I have ever met. He should be celebrated. He kept us captivated at his Library show.”

Dick Rauh (Photo/Larry Bartimer)

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Hundreds of singers, and orchestra and band members, were the stars of this weekend’s Candlelight Concert at Staples High School.

In a supporting — but very important — role: dozens of red and white poinsettias.

The holiday plants enriched an already wonderful show. Lynn Untermeyer Miller captured a small part of the array, for our “Westport … Naturally” feature.

(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

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And finally … Dino Danelli — one of the greatest drummers in rock history — died Thursday in New York. He was 78, and had been in ill health for several years.

Inspired by Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, he helped make the Rascals one of the first American bands to capitalize on the success of the British Invasion.

The New York Times says Danelli “merged percussive virtuosity with a rock sensibility. Like Ringo Starr of the Beatles, he set the template for the rock drummer archetype: disciplined and precise, but with a flair that drew the crowd’s eye.”

When the Rascals were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, Steven Van Zandt — who played with Danelli — called him  “the greatest rock drummer of all time.” Click here for a full obituary.

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Roundup: Saugatuck Caroling, Westport Lifestyle, Jersey Boys …

A wonderful tradition returned to Saugatuck yesterday evening.

The Saugatuck Caroling Crawl came back, after a 2-year COVID-induced absence.

Six Staples Orphenians moved from one restaurant to the next, singing holiday songs and making spirits bright. They hit 14 spots in all.

(Photo/Matthew Mandell)

Carolers began their rounds at the Boathouse. They headed to Parker Mansion, Kawa Ni, The Whelk, Tutti’s and the Black Duck, before making their way to Railroad Place to sing at Tarantino, Harvest, Romanacci and Allium.

They finished by entertaining diners at Match Lobster Burger, Rizzuto’s, Viva Zapata and Dunville’s.

Grateful thanks to Orphs Sophia Betit, Zoe Schwartz, James Dobin-Smith, Alyssa Lee, Deneil Betfarhad and Ethan Tober — and the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the event.

Missed it? Click below for a “taste” at Match Burger Lobster.

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Christian Siriano’s new store, The Collective West, was the site of Thursday’s Westport Lifestyle party. The magazine honored all 2022 Readers’ Choice winners.

With catering by Marcia Selden and The Home Cook, music by Drew Angus and decorations from Blossom + Stem — plus Santa Claus — it was a great way to show off the noted designer’s recently opened place.

Enjoying Westport Lifestyle’s party: Sholeh Janati (abstract artist) and 
Courtney Davis Schlesinger (comedian). (Photo./John Videler for Videler Photography)

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The curtain rose yesterday on “Jersey Boys” at the White Plains Performing Arts Center next month.

Staples High School Class of 2015 graduate Jack Baylis is part of the cast. He’s not a 4 Season — but he does sing a great number in French.

The show runs through January 8. Click here for tickets, and more information.

Jack Baylis, at the White Plains Performing Arts Center. (Photo/Cara Baylis)

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Yesterday’s Roundup piece about the local connections on “In With the Old” — the Discovery+ series highlighting transformations of abandoned structures — mentioned Westonites Brian and Megan Austin Philpott, and former Westport Planning and Zoning Commission member Al Gratrix.

But there’s much more detail

Brian Philpott is a project manager for The O’Dell Group. The local construction firm put together a team of 20 people to frame that addition in one day.

He’s just one of 4 project managers with Staples ties. Owner Chris O’Dell, Lukas Van Zanten and Chuck Hilman graduated from high school — and so did Philpott’s wife.

PS: The celebration at the end of that day was catered by Matt Storch — another Staples High grad, and the owner of Match Burger Lobster and Match restaurants.

From left: Chris O’Dell, Lukas Van Zanten, Brian Philpott, Chuck Hilman.

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Congratulations to Barry Kresch.

The Westport resident and EV Club of Connecticut president will be honored by the Connecticut Southwestern Area Clean Cities Coalition as EV Evangelist of the Year.

He has spoken on several panels, for example discussing a financial analysis he did for the Westport Police about electric vehicles. Click here for a blog post he wrote on the department’s Tesla.

The celebration is Tuesday (December 13, 11 a.m., Fodor Farmhouse, Norwalk).

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Winter arrives on December 21.

This guy — the subject of today’s “Westport … Naturally” feature — is getting ready. He’s no fool.

(Photo/Marisa Lambert)

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And finally … in honor of Jack Baylis’s “Jersey Boys” show (story above):

(‘Tis the season to support “06880.” Please click here to help — and thank you!)

 

 

 

Emma’s Opening Act

Westporters know her as Emma Ruchefsky. The world may soon know her as Emma Charles.

The daughter of Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston — hence the stage name — thrilled audiences at Staples High School with Players productions of “Avenue Q,” “Hello, Dolly!’ and “Sweeney Todd,” and as an Orphenians singer. She’s also performed at the Levitt Pavilion and Fine Arts Festival.

Now — having finished her performance and songwriting studies early at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music — her professional career is taking off. She’s in the midst of a 12-city tour, opening for Tyler Hilton and Howie Day.

This Saturday (March 15, 7:45 p.m.) Emma returns to the area. A show with Howie is set for the Fairfield Theater Company.

She’s also just released a beautiful new song, “Comfort in the Chaos.”

Emma’s base is Los Angeles. She’s working there on original music — heard only by a few people so far. She’s excited to play it for her hometown fans.

“Finding my voice as an opener is tough,” Emma notes. “But it’s the best way to start touring in as many places as possible.”

In LA, she says, she’s coming into her own sound. It’s similar to Kacey Musgraves and Maggie Rogers — but definitely her own.

Emma Charles

When she takes the FTC stage, Emma will not be far from her Westport heart — geographically, and emotionally.

She is grateful for the opportunities Staples provided, through Luke Rosenberg’s choral program and David Roth’s Players.

Emma Ruchefsky may have changed her name. But Emma Charles is still the same warm, wonderful — and very talented — performer they (and the rest of Westport) knew and loved.

(Click here for tickets and more information on Saturday’s Fairfield Theater Company show.)

Cabaret!

Broadway was dark last night. That’s a Monday tradition.

But a capacity crowd at Christ & Holy Trinity Church’s Branson Hall enjoyed an evening of entertainment as show-stopping as anything you’ll see in New York.

Tony Award-winning Kelli O’Hara and “A Bronx Tale” lead Adam Kaplan headlined an all-star cabaret. It was a fundraiser for Staples Orphenians, who travel to Australia this summer for performances and workshops.

Kelli O’Hara, at last night’s cabaret. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

O’Hara — a Westport resident — wowed the crowd with her operatic voice. She was full of praise for Staples’ stellar a cappella group, who she first heard perform last spring, at the Levitt Pavilion.

Standing in the church hall loft, the Orphenians — led by choral director Luke Rosenberg, down below — accompanied O’Hara on 2 compelling numbers.

Kaplan — a 2008 Staples graduate — recalled his days in the music and drama programs. At Elon University, he said, he talked so much about his high school that his friends joked there were 3 levels of performance: “Elon, Broadway, and at the top, Staples.”

Adam Kaplan (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The cabaret also featured Staples grads Clay Singer and Caroline Didelot, and solos by 9 Orphenians.

(Click here for the Orphenians’ GoFundMe page.)

Orphenians Down Under

From the 1960s through the ’90s, Staples’ Orphenians sang in the Virgin Islands, Austria, Italy, Poland, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Romania, the UK and the Czech Republic.

Nearly 2 decades ago — after his freshman year of high school — Luke Rosenberg’s chorus traveled from Michigan to Europe. The month-long trip made an indelible impression — and sparked a desire to become a choral music teacher.

Today, Rosenberg directs Staples High School’s choral program. So when the Orphenians were invited to Australia, he seized the chance to take the elite a cappella group on its greatest adventure yet.

The 2018 Staples Orphenians

This summer, his singers will spend 4 days in Sydney. They’ll join ensembles from around the world — of all ages — rehearsing with Grammy winner Craig Hella Johnson, conductor of the famous Conspirare ensemble.

The capstone is a performance under Johnson at the Sydney Opera House. Orphenians will sing an eclectic assortment of choral music — including the world premiere of a piece by Jake Runestad.

The group then travels to Cairns. They’ll visit the Great Barrier Reef, a wildlife park and rain forest before returning to Westport.

“We get invitations regularly,” Rosenberg says of his ensemble. “But this one stands out. Craig Hella Johnson is one of the most highly respected and passionate choral composers, arrangers and conductors in the world. People say singing with him is a spiritual experience.”

Providing that experience — and all the others involved in a trip like this — is Rosenberg’s goal. He does not expect every student to have the same reaction he did, years ago in Europe — “they won’t all become music teachers,” he jokes — but he does hope they’ll learn a bit more about the world, and themselves, through music.

Choral director Luke Rosenberg. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Of course, taking a group of teenagers to Australia is not cheap. Orphenians are sponsoring a cabaret with Broadway star/Westporter Kelli O’Hara, and Broadway star/Staples alum Adam Kaplan. It’s already sold out.

There’s also a GoFundMe page (click here).

“06880” is “where Westport meets the world.” This summer, Orphenians are where Staples meets the Sydney Opera House.

Nick Massoud’s Spizzwinks Circle The Globe — And Find Westport

There are nearly 20 a cappella groups at Yale University.

With his strong musical background at Staples High School, Nick Massoud could have auditioned for any. But he was drawn to the Spizzwinks.

The group offered something unique: During each member’s 3 years, they tour all 6 inhabited continents. And they perform in each member’s hometown.

Nick Massoud

Music was always part of Massoud’s life. He played in Betsy Tucker’s Long Lots steel band. He sang in musicals at Bedford Middle School, and with Staples Players.

Orphenians — the high school’s elite singing group — became his family.

Two years ago, director Luke Rosenberg’s group was invited to San Francisco. They sang at Chanticleer’s National Choral Festival. As they drove around the city and out to the redwood forest, they kept singing.

Massoud — who was also involved in Wreckers InTune, the debate team and JSA, and served as president of Top Hat Tutors — realized he could not give up music in college.

Spizzwinks are no part-time commitment. Last year they performed 97 concerts, at schools, nursing homes, churches and clubs. The non-profit choir is entirely student run. Members plan international tours, raise money, and handle logistics.

The Spizzwinks sing for Joe Biden and John Kerry. Nick Massoud is in the center — wearing a blue Yale tie.

“I saw an opportunity to use a lot of the skills I picked up running Top Hat, in a musical setting to facilitate 2 things I love: traveling, and singing with friends,” Massoud says.

Now, as a junior majoring in global affairs — with a concentration in international development — he is the group’s business manager.

He’s performed with them in China, Europe, New Zealand, Indonesia, Iowa, Hawaii and Alaska. They’ve sung for Joe Biden, John Kerry, the Italian prime minister, China’s vice premier, Lady Gaga and Melania Trump.

The Spizzwinks and Lady Gaga snap a selfie.

This year they’re scheduled for Morocco, Chile, Argentina and South Africa.

This month, he brings the Spizzwinks to Westport.

Sure, every member hosts the group at some point. But Massoud thinks the concerts in his home town are special.

“Having met so many people in college, I realize that growing up in a place that supports the arts so significantly is rare,” he says.

“Thinking back on it, it’s crazy that we could sell out the Staples auditorium 7 or 8 times for shows. It says a lot about our community. I’m excited to show my closest college friends the support Westport gives to the arts.”

The Westport schedule is packed. There’s an evening concert at Assumption Church (details in the poster above), a performance and master class at Bedford, and a session with the Staples choir.

That does not allow much time for Massoud to show off Westport. However, he will make sure to take the Spizzwinks to Sherwood Diner.

That’s where he and his fellow Players headed after every show — often in full makeup.

Massoud has traveled the globe with his group. However, he says, “bringing the Spizzwinks to my home, and showing them my community, feels like the most important thing I’ve done with them.

“I can’t wait to introduce them to some of my friends, and to the amazing, inspiring arts teachers in our schools.”

(Click here for the Spizzwinks’ new album, “Hometown.” Click below for their version of “Cry Me a River” — featuring Nick Massoud.)

 

Pops! Goes The Concert

After 1296 straight days of rain and cold, the sun finally came out today.

This evening, so did the crowds.

Over 1,500 people — proud parents, folks whose kids graduated from school back in the 20th century, little kids who were born in the 2010s — packed the Levitt Pavilion for the 2nd annual Westport Pops concert.

A bottle of wine, some Pops, and wow!

The Bedford Middle School jazz ensemble, and Long Lots’ steel drum band — is there another elementary school with one this side of the islands? — warmed up the crowd.

Orphenians sang the same stirring arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that they wowed crowds with at Yankee Stadium.

The Long Lots Elementary School steel band.

Then Staples’ 3 orchestras, Orphenians (again) and jazz band took over.

Staples High School’s brassy sax ensemble.

The program rolled from “West Side Story” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” to Dolly Parton and freedom songs. Madison Malin and Riley Thrush nailed solos.

Madison Malin solos, Luke Rosenberg conducts, and the Orphenians sing Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.”

And then — waving American flags handed out by the musicians — the enormous crowd clapped along to a rousing “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Stars and stripes on the Levitt lawn, during “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

A night like this was worth all 12,960 days of rain and cold.

“Live at Lincoln Center” producer Andrew Wilk guest conducts the symphonic and sophomore orchestras in “Stars and Stripes Forever.” (Photo/Valerie Smith-Malin)

Broadway actor, noted entertainer and Weston resident Jim Naughton emceed the pops concert with wit and grace.

The Westport Police Department Color Guard opened and closed the show.

BONUS FEATURE: Here’s what the Levitt looked like last night, from Brandon Malin’s quadcopter:

Luke Rosenberg: “I Get To Make Music With Young People Every Day”

Friday night’s choral concert at Staples High School was typical.

That is, typically spectacular.

Scores of teenagers — representing 6 different ensembles, including Orphenians — sang a wide variety of difficult, inspiring and beautiful pieces. The theme was “Arise”; the songs carried the audience from early morning to late night.

The entire concert — from concept to the selection of music — was designed by student officers.

But the best part came at the end.

Choral director Luke Rosenberg. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Choral director Luke Rosenberg stood to honor the 29 graduating seniors. They prepared to introduce themselves, and describe what’s next. (A who’s who of great colleges, with majors ranging from musical theater and stage management to biophysics and political science.)

First though, Rosenberg took the mic.

In an emotion-choked voice, he said:

“I get to make music with young people every day. I fall in love with these kids. Then they get old, and go away.

“I want them to grow up and do great things. But it’s bittersweet.”

Rosenberg then described why he loves what he does — and why it is important.

His goal is not to create 30 or 40 music majors. “Quite frankly,” he quipped, “there are not enough jobs.”

Rather, music is “something they can love, and be part of for the rest of their lives.”

Then — proving his point — when Rosenberg was done, and the 29 seniors had taken their bows, the Orphenians took center stage one more time.

With senior Jacob Leaf conducting, they sang a stunning version of “Ave Maria.”

They’d prepared it on their own — just for Luke Rosenberg.

Click below to see Luke Rosenberg’s full speech. It was filmed by Tom Malin — father of graduating senior Madison Malin — and edited by her brother Brandon.

A Minute With The Orphenians

Sure, you don’t have to go to Barnes & Noble for books or toys*.

But Amazon can’t deliver live, in-person music like we got yesterday, from the Staples Orphenians.

Here’s a brief sample: Mendelssohn’s “Weihnachten.”

Enjoy!

*Or even Starbucks.