Tag Archives: “Stars on Stage”

Roundup: COVID Testing, MLK Followup, Stars On Stage …

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Westport’s newest COVID test center is now open.

Progressive Diagnostics offers same-day PCR results at no cost at the Greens Farms train station. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday.

Appointments are required. To register online, click here.

Progressive Diagnostics’ testing center is inside the Greens Farms train station.

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Martin Luther King Day was Monday. CNBC’s Shepard Smith celebrated with a fascinating story about Martin Luther King’s summers in Connecticut.

As a 15-year-old freshman at Morehouse College, he spent the summer of 1944 working as a farmhand at the Cullman Brothers shade tobacco farm in Simsbury. It was part of a program to raise funds for tuition. He returned in 1947.

The summers were eye-opening. Foro the first time, King saw a world beyond the segregated South. He and his fellow students dined in restaurants with white patrons, and tasted freedoms they’d never experienced.

Smith’s report details those years — and the efforts by Simsbury High School students to delve deeply into King’s summers in their town. They helped lead a successful drive to preserve those 280 acres as a historic site.

What makes that event — and the CNBC story — even more compelling is the Westport connection. Cullman Brothers was a holding company owned by the uncles of current Westport residents Bob Jacobs and Joel Treisman. It was started by Bob’s grandfather, and Joel’s great-grandfather.

Click below for Shepard Smith’s must-see report:

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The last of 3 “Stars on Stage from Westport Country Playhouse” shows airs this Friday (January 21). It’s 9 p.m. on New York’s Channel 13; check local listings for other PBS stations. The New York Times put it on their “What to Watch This Week” list.

Dixon — whose credits include Harpo in “Color Me Purple,” Eubie Blake in “Shuffle Along,” Barry Gordon in “Motown: The Musical,” and of course Aaron Burr in “Hamilton” — taped 2 shows at the Playhouse in September, with a live audience.

The first 2 “Stars on Stage” shows — produced by Westporter Andrew Wilk — starred Gavin Creel and hoshana Bean

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There are few visitors to Burying Hill Beach this winter. Well, few human visitors, anyway. These guys are perfect for a mid-January “Westport … Naturally” feature.

(Photo/Peter J. Swift)

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And finally … Edgar Allan Poe was born on this day in 1809. He died just 40 years later, under circumstances that remain mysterious. Many of his works endure more than 2 centuries later. Phil Ochs — who also died young — adapted this beautiful poem, and made it his own.

 

Roundup: Jose Feliciano, Fred Cantor, Angelo Veno …

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There are lots of Christmas songs I get sick of.

“Feliz Navidad” is not one of them.

José Feliciano’s buoyant, jangly tune is 51 years old. Now — just in time for Navidad — a documentary about the life and music of the longtime Weston resident will be screened just a couple of miles away.

The Norwalk Film Festival will screen “Behind This Guitar” on Saturday, December 18 (7:30 p.m.) at the Wall Street Theatre. The movie follows Feliciano’s journey from growing up blind in Puerto Rico, to his 9 Grammy Awards and international acclaim. Click here for details and ticket information.

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Speaking of entertainment: Monday’s “06880” story about next month’s “Stars on Stage From Westport Country Playhouse” PBS series noted a major gift from Roz and Bud Siegel.

But several other Westporters were big contributors too. Hats off to Judy and Scott Phares, Eunice and David Bigelow, Kate and Bob Devlin, Joyce Hergenhan, Anna Czekaj-Farber, Mary Ellen and Jim Marpe, Christian J. and Eva Trefz, and Stacy and Howard Bass. 

The show will go on — thanks to some very generous neighbors!

(From left): Shoshana Bean, Brandon Victor Dixon, Gavin Creel: stars of “Stars on Stage.”

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Have you found “Finding Westport”?

That’s the online site for local-themed apparel and more.

Jillian Elder has just added a new Minute Man design. It’s available on tank tops, t-shirts, hoodies, tumblers, mugs and tote bags.

It’s a great way to show off your town pride (and a lot cheaper than that other Westport icon: a Range Rover). Click here for styles and orders.

“Finding Westport”‘s Minute Man hoodie.

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Yesterday’s “06880” story on fences reminded June Rose Whittaker of this one:

(Photo/June Rose Whittaker)

It’s one of Westport’s most visible: Riverside Avenue, at Treadwell.

The intricate, whimsical fence — designed by Andrew Hamilton Reise — was the subject of an “06880” Photo Challenge in July.

As many readers knew, the owners are Pietro and Janine Scotti. He’s the owner/chef of the former and still beloved Da Pietro’s restaurant, just down Riverside (and across the street) closer to town.

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A Conservation Department reminder:

If your property has or is adjacent to wetlands, a watercourse or a pond, all residents and contractors should “call before you dig.” If you’re unsure whether the property contains wetlands, call the Conservation Department: 203-341-1170.

The last year has seen an increase in violations. resulting in unpermitted building, cutting, clearing and filling of wetlands.

Violations cause owners having to cease work, appear at public meetings, pay fines and post bonds. Violations are also part of the public record.

Property owners and/or contractors should contact the Conservation Department before work starts, to determine what permits are required.

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Looking for a gift for a sports fan?

It helps if he or she loves the New York Knicks. But a fan of any team — or any sport — can appreciate the passion of Fred Cantor. The 1971 Staples High School graduate and longtime “06880” contributor recently wrote Fred From Fresh Meadows.

It’s a loving account of the ups and downs of fandom, sure. There’s another reason to buy it though: All proceeds go to the John Starks Foundation. The Stamford-based nonprofit helps high school students afford college.

Click here for more information. Click here for last night’s News12 story on Cantor and the book.

Screenshot from last night’s News12 interview with Fred Cantor.

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Angelo “Cookup” Veno — a true son of Saugatuck — died earlier this month, after a long and happy life.

Born in Saugatuck in 1928 to Louis and Mary Veno, he went through the Westport public school system. After school each day, Angelo manually set pins at the bowling alley downtown.

He was a 3-sport athlete at Staples High School, starring in football, basketball and baseball. After graduating in 1946 he played semi-pro football with the Westport Advertisers, and basketball with the Saugatuck Veterans, Westport YMCA and Clam Box 5.

Angelo also took up boxing, and had a 12-2 record as a pro. In 1986 he earned a Sportsman of Westport award.

In 1951 Angelo joined the Navy. He served for 4 years on the USS Howard D. Crow as an engineer. He joined the fleet’s boxing team, and lost only one fight.

Following his service he came back to Westport and helped coach the Westport PAL football team. He and his first wife, Judith Lissberger, had 2 children, Timothy and Belinda. Both remember their trips to New York Giants’ exhibition games in Pittsburgh, then straight to the Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy for dinner.

Angelo married Theresa Karutz in 1984, a former Miss Atlantic City winner. He enjoyed spending time with his stepsons Wallace and William Karutz.

Angelo had a long and successful career in the world of construction as president and CEO of his company, AJ Veno Construction. He started the business as a window replacement company, and grew it into a full-fledged construction company. He built corporate buildings and residential homes for many years.

Angelo made friends and made people everywhere, from the local pizza restaurant to nurses caring for him. He loved spending time at Compo Beach, with friends or alone feeding birds.

Angelo is survived by his brother Joe and sister Theresa (Richard Valentine). He was predeceased by his sister Ida Lockwood. He is also survived by his children, Timothy Veno (partner Gwen Purcell) and Belinda (Richard Benincasa); grandchildren Richard (Nora Benincasa), Ryan (Noelle Benincasa) and Morgan Benincasa; many cousins, nieces and nephews, and his recent great-grandchild, Ryan Casey Benincasa.

A funeral is set for Monday (December 13, 10 a.m., Assumption Church) for a Mass of Christian Burial. Interment with full military honors will follow in Assumption Cemetery on Greens Farms Road. The family will receive friends in the Harding Funeral Home on Sunday (December 12, 2 to 6 p.m.) Click here to leave online condolences.

Angelo Veno

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The family of Joel Hallas has announced 2 options for donations in his memory. Click here for the Connecticut Food Bank; click here for the American Radio Relay League, for ham radio operators.

Joel Hallas

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It’s already gone. But yesterday morning’s snow provided the perfect subject for today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo, from Bob and Karen Weingarten’s lawn:

(Photo/Karen Weingarten)

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And finally … Emily Dickinson was born today, in 1830. She may be the only 19th-century poet immortalized in the words of a 20th-century singers.

Westport Playhouse Takes National Stage

Andrew Wilk could have lived many places.

One reason he chose to move here in 2006 was the Westport Country Playhouse.

The beautiful theater — and the part it plays in our town’s artistic heritage — appealed to the arts and entertainment executive, who helped found the National Geographic Channel, then worked for Sony. (The great school system, and proximity to water, were other draws.)

The 90-year-old Westport Country Playhouse.

Wilk went on to earn 5 Emmys for his work as executive producer of PBS’ “Live at Lincoln Center.”

But the 4-hour-a-day commute got to be a bit much. When a man died on a Metro-North train near Wilk, he took it as an omen. He quit his Lincoln Center gig, while maintaining his ties with PBS (and his extensive Rolodex).

During morning coffee conversations with Westport friends, the Playhouse often came up. They noted how underutilized it was — and wondered how, besides dramas and musicals, its historic stage could be used for other forms of art.

Early in the pandemic, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe asked Wilk for entertainment ideas. Always thinking outside the box, Wilk wondered: Why not move Lincoln Center’s “Stars in Concert” here?

“Stars on Stage” was born.

Andrew Wilk and one of his Emmys, in his Lincoln Center office.

Playhouse managing director Michael Barker was on board. They donated the  theater itself, plus staff and crew support

But talent does not come cheap. Wilk worked his Rolodex to find available and willing entertainers — and generous donors.

He landed Gavin Creel (Tony Winner in “Hello, Dolly!”; “The Book of Mormon”), , Brandon Victor Dixon (Aaron Burr in “Hamilton,” Emmy nominee in “Jesus Christ Superstar”) and Shoanan Bean (Billboard artist; “Wicked,” “Waitress”).

Led by Bud and Roz Seigel, Westport donors came through too.

Wilk was determined to do this right. In early September, a control truck rolled into the Playhouse parking lot. A New York production crew with 8 cameras — including an 18-foot jib and a Steadicam — and first-class sound equipment went to work.

It was not easy. COVID made the daily rehearsal and production ritual with the stars, their bands and the entire technical and production staff arduous.

Everyone had to test 72 hours, then 48 hours and finally 24 hours before contact with anyone in the show could be made.

Wilk had to hire a COVID compliance officer to check everyone in, take everyone’s temperature, and send an online questionnaire every morning at 6. There was on-site testing too, if needed.

Performer had to rehearse in masks, up till the final performance. Everyone wore lanyards, showing where they were allowed to be (stage and wings only; audience and lobby only, etc.)

Those were the same procedures mandated for every television and movie set in the country, by theatrical unions.

Finally they filmed 2 shows a night, for 3 days. The intimate setting worked wonderfully. Creel, Bean and Dixon performed show-stoppers, classic and contemporary songs, and told stories.

Audience members were thrilled. For many, it was the first live, in-person entertainment since the pandemic began.

Yet Wilk’s work had just begun. He spent the last 3 months editing, and finalizing contracts with PBS.

Today, the network announces the shows. “Stars on Stage From Westport Country Playhouse” premieres on 3 consecutive Fridays — January 7, 14 and 21, 9 p.m.) on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS Video app.

PBS calls itself “America’s largest stage.” Now — thanks to a collaboration with a much smaller, but more historic — stage, audiences across the country can enjoy a theater we sometimes take too much for granted.