Tag Archives: Westport Country Playhouse

Roundup: High School Mock Election, Playhouse Video, More


Bipartisan politicians gathered in front of Staples High School yesterday. The mission: introducing a statewide initiative to educate Connecticut students about the voting process.

All week long, the state Department of Education is partnering with the lieutenant governor to hold a virtual mock election.

Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz headed the dignitaries. She noted that 20% of all 20-year-olds vote in elections — but 80% of 80-year-olds do.

First Selectman Jim Marpe noted that Westport has already received 9,500 requests for mail-in ballots for the presidential election. So far, 4,700 have been returned, via mail or the Town Hall drop box.

State Senator Tony Hwang said that his parents — who escaped from communist China — knew that the ability to vote was “foundational” to a democracy.

Will Haskell graduated from Staples in 2014. Four years later, he was elected to the State Senate. He said that young people are underrepresented in Hartford and Washington, but that “all voices are valued.”

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg — another Staples grad — added that “young people want to be engaged, in positive ways.”

From left: 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Staples High School principal Stafford Thomas, State Senator Tony Hwang, Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz, members of Staples’ Social Studies Honor Society, and State Representative Jonathan Steinberg. Also in attendance: State Senator Will Haskell, and Westport 6-12 social studies coordinator Lauren Francese. 


Saturday’s Remarkable Theater screening celebrating 90 years of the Westport Country Playhouse was a smash.

Response was so great — both at the Imperial Avenue drive-in and online — that it will remain available on demand through tonight (11:59 p.m.). Tickets are $25. (Ticket-holders from Saturday: Your unique link is also live through tonight.)

The Playhouse is just $20,000 of their goal for the event. Funds help make up for the loss of the gala this year. Click here for an on-demand ticket, and to make additional gifts.


The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is hosting a series of online discussions called “CCM CARES – Getting Comfortable With The Uncomfortable.”

CARES stands for “Communities Advancing Racial Equity Series,” On the panel today (Tuesday, October 19, 6:30 p.m.): Westport 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

To register, click here. You can watch without registering on Facebook Live(Hat tip: Peter Gold)

First Selectman Jim Marpe


And finally … on this date in 1973, Richard Nixon fired Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, after they refused to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. After what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre, Cox was finally fired by Robert Bork, the #3 man at the Justice Department.

 

Roundup: Alysin Camerota, Artists Collective, Subtle Racism, More


Former CNN anchor Dave Briggs interviews his former colleague — current anchor of CNN’s “New Day” — Alisyn Camerota on Instagram Live today (Saturday, October 3) at 5 p.m. The pair of Westporters will talk about their town, and the world. Just search on Instagram for @WestportMagazine.


The “Playhouse at the Drive-In” event just got more remarkable.

As noted yesterday, the Westport Country Playhouse celebrates its 90th season on Saturday, October 17 (5 p.m.) with a a benefit event and screening at the Remarkable Theater drive-in (the Imperial Avenue parking lot).

Yesterday, The Artists Collective of Westport got approval from the Playhouse to hold their Affordable Art Trunk Show that afternoon, at 3.

Over 25 artists will be masked, in (socially distanced) cars — and as much “affordable art” as they can display on easels and tables.

The volume and flow of pedestrian traffic looking at the art will be carefully monitored by Collective volunteers.

The Playhouse and Artists Collective enjoy a great partnership, including meeting and exhibition at the WCP’s Sheffer Barn.


This Monday (October 5, 8:30 a.m.), the Coalition for Westport sponsors a Zoom talk on “subtle racism in Westport.” TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey is the guest.

To register, email kbernhar@optonline.net.

 


Lindsey Baldwin is a Staples High School senior. She’s an EMT. And she just received kudos from State Senator Will Haskell, for another type of community service.

Last year Lindsey set up donation bins at various pharmacies and dental practices. She collected 2,000 toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes and floss cartridges. She also created a fundraiser on Facebook, and collected $1,430.

In February, Lindsey traveled to Honduras with CapeCARES. The on-profit sends volunteers to remote areas. They provide free medical and dental care.

She brought those 2,000 dental products with her. Many villagers had never had access to toothbrushes. It was an important moment for them — and for Lindsey, who returned to Westport grateful for all she has, and the opportunity to serve.

Lindsey Baldwin, in Honduras.


And finally … of course:

 

Westport Playhouse Stage Meets Remarkable Theater Screen

The Westport Country Playhouse has a historic stage. The Remarkable Theater has a big screen.

Stage and screen meet on Saturday, October 17. “Playhouse at the Drive-in” celebrates the WCP’s 90-season history with a benefit event, and a screening of special filmed performances and a documentary.

It’s also available to view online, at home.

The Westport Country Playhouse honors its history … (Photo/Wells Studio)

The short-form documentary salutes the Playhouse’s history, and many of the artists who have appeared onstage. It was created specially for this event, by Playhouse artistic director Mark Lamos and Westport filmmaker Douglas Tirola. He’s the brains behind the Remarkable Theater. In his teens, he worked as a Playhouse “beautifier.”

The evening includes filmed performances by Playhouse alumni Kate Baldwin, Britney Coleman, Tina Fabrique, the Naughton family (James, Greg, Keira and Kelli O’Hara), Brenda Pressley, Amanda Robles, with a special performance by André De Shields.

Also appearing on film: Jane Alexander, Lissy Newman, Christopher Plummer, Stephen Sondheim, Richard Thomas, and more.

“Playhouse at the Drive-In” takes the place of the annual fall gala fundraiser. On-site benefit tickets start at $500 per car (maximum 5 people). Online film screening from home is just $25.

Gates open at the Remarkable Theater (Imperial Avenue parkin lot) at 5 p.m., for a cocktail hour and picnic dinner. The live and online screening begins at 6:30.

… at an old-fashioned drive-in.

Roundup: Halloween, VFW, WCP, More


No one knows what Halloween will look like this year. Besides, we’re still a week away from Labor Day.

But — as regularly as Starbucks rolls out pumpkin spice latte — a Halloween store has popped up in Westport.

This was is in Compo Shopping Center. It replaces Olympia Sports.

Although I’m sure on November 1, it too will be gone.


Two Westport non-profits have received Connecticut Neighborhood Assistance Act tax credit grants.

The Joseph J. Clinton Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 399 grant will pay for roof improvements and energy conservation. The Westport Country Playhouse grant will go toward driveway and parking lot paving, and HVAC hardware replacement. have received grants provided under the Connecticut’s Neighborhood Assistance Act tax credit program.

Both organizations received help from the town of Westport, in their applications to the state Department of Revenue Services.

VFW on Riverside Avenue


And finally … happy 75th birthday, Itzhak Perlman!

Roundup: Walking Trails, Young Performers, More


Aspetuck Land Trust reports:

“There are no downed wires on our 150 open spaces, including our 43 trailed nature preserves. But there are a lot of downed trees!

“We’ve already cleared many of our trails, including nearly 20 miles in Trout Brook Valley. A special thanks to our volunteer trail stewards for pinpointing downed trees and helping with cleanup efforts.

“For information on the status of particular trails or preserves, click here. As we get back to normal (or whatever passes for normal these days), please consider making an additional donation to the Aspetuck Land Trust to help with storm cleanup.

“Also consider replanting your own lost trees and shrubs with natives from our Fall Plant Sale. Up to 50% of your purchase will be tax deductible. We will add many new natives trees and shrubs for pickup at Gilbertie’s Farm in Easton next month. Details and availability will be on our website August 25.”


Did you miss “Friday Night THRIVE Live!,” the virtual showcase hosted by Westport’s Broadway star Kelli O’Hara, featuring teenage talent from throughout the area (including our town)?

No problem! The event — named for the Teens Having Resilience In a Virtual Environment program, created by Westport Country Playhouse, and Shubert and Long Wharf Theatres — lives on. Click below to enjoy:


And finally … 43 years ago today, Elvis Presley died at his Graceland estate in Memphis. He was 42 years old — meaning he’s now been dead longer than he was alive. Here’s his 1956 appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” which energized teenagers and scandalized their parents:

Want more of those swiveling hips?

Roundup: Olivia de Havilland; Patagonia; More


Olivia de Havilland — who died Saturday at 104 — is best known for her many film roles (including “Gone With the Wind”).

But in 1946 — 5 years before her Broadway debut in “Romeo and Juliet” — the already legendary actress appeared in the Westport Country Playhouse production of “What Every Woman Knows.”

As noted on “06880” last year, on the same day she was set to open the show, she married novelist and journalist Marcus Goodrich. The 12:30 p.m. wedding ceremony took place at the Weston home of Armina and Lawrence Langner, Playhouse founders.

For some reason, the poster that week clarified that the star of the show would appear “in person.” (Hat tip: Joey Kaempfer)


Every year, the state chapter of the American Institute of Architects runs a “Connecticut Treasures” contest. Each county is represented by one building; the public votes on its favorite.

This year’s theme is banks — either still functioning or repurposed.

The Fairfield County representative is the former Westport Bank & Trust, smack (and handsome) in the middle of downtown. Today we know it as Patagonia.

The flatiron-type Charles Cutler building dates to 1924. In 2005 it was restored as mixed-use retail space. David Adam Realty saved and refurbished the original exterior, terrazzo flooring, murals, and 4 of the 5 bank vaults.

To see this and the other 7 county entrants (and vote for your favorite), click here(Hat tip: Jack Franzen)

Patagonia — formerly Westport Bank & Trust.


And finally … we missed Mick Jagger’s 77th birthday yesterday. So here’s belated best wishes. Fun fact: Olivia de Havilland was old enough to be his mother.

Roundup: Longshore Sailing; Anti-Racism; Arts Programs; Jewish Food; More


Longshore Sailing School provides this update:

“The facility has been serviced by ServPro as a response to our positive COVID case. Vessels have been postponed until today, as the weather prevented proper sanitizing.

“Though we are technically able to stay open, we are choosing to remain closed through the end of the day on Friday. We will reopen on Saturday. We will provide a refund for the missed class days of our students. Rentals and sdult programs will resume on Saturday, July 11 at 9:30 a.m. Junior programs will resume on Monday, July 13.”


Everyone’s talking about racism. But how can we talk about it appropriately and effectively, with kids?

That’s the focus of an important virtual panel discussion. “Towards Becoming an Anti-Racist Society: Talking with Young Children About Race and Racism” — sponsored by TEAM Westport, Greens Farms Academy, The Westport Library and United Way of Coastal Fairfield County — is set for Wednesday, July 22 (7 to 8:30 p.m.).

Panelists include Bank Street educator Takiema Bunche Smith, early childhood director Linda Santoro and TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey Jr. Moderator Shanelle Henry is director of equity and inclusion at GFA.

It should be an engaging (and free!) discussion. Click here to register.


MoCA Westport reopened this week with — executive director Ruth Mannes says — “a renewed sense of perspective, purpose, and hope.” Guests are welcomed to the Helmut Lang exhibition “in a very safe setting. Physically distanced visits will feel like private tours.”

Summer hours are Wednesdays through Fridays, 12 to 4 p.m.; Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, click here.


The Westport Country Playhouse, Shubert Theatre and Long Wharf Theatre have teamed up to present a free, virtual program for high school students in Fairfield County and New Haven County.

THRIVE (Teens Having Resilience in a Virtual Environment) includes interactive workshops and discussions on themes like spoken word, creative writing, arts, performance, wellness, job training, cooking and more, led by specialists in each field.

The program runs from Monday, July 20 through Saturday, August 8. It ends with a virtual showcase hosted by Tony-winning Broadway star (and Westport’s own) Kelli O’Hara.

The deadline to apply is (uh oh) tomorrow (Friday, July 10). Click here for more information.


Who knew that Michael Wolfe’s blog post “My Definitive And Absolutely Correct Ranking of 40 Jewish Foods” would go viral (over 220,000 views so far)? Oy!

Tonight (Thursday, July 9, 7 p.m.), the Westporter will speak online about it all. Everyone is welcome. Click here to join. Don’t forget your bagel!


Singing is supposed to be cathartic. These days, it’s also a very effective way to spread the coronavirus.

But not if the vocals are virtual.

Westport music educator Danielle Merlis has enlisted Backtrack Vocals — the New York a cappella ensemble with Broadway appearances in “Kinky Boots,” and here at Toquet Hall — to be artists in (online) residence at her Camp A Cappella.

Beginning tomorrow (Friday, July 10) Backtrack Vocals members will lead virtual for young singers entering grades 4-12. Students will learn an  arrangement of a pop song, which they’ll perform in a final video alongside the professional ensemble.

The workshop includes lessons in beatboxing, choreography and ensemble skills; each student receives individual instruction.

No prior vocal training or ensemble singing is required. Students can sign up any time before July 23rd, and watch the classes on demand! Email campacappellact@gmail.com for more information.

Danielle Merlis


Norwalk author Jerry Craft made history when “New Kid” became the first graphic novel to win the prestigious Newbery Medal. He is also only the 5th Black writer to earn the prize.

He’s the second speaker in the Westport Library’s new Camp Explore summer program, for youngsters entering grades 4 to 8. Each week there’s a new guest — a global expert in his or her field.

Craft will appear (virtually) Monday (July 13) at 4 p.m. To register, click here.


Tomorrow at noon, 4  Westport girls will be honored for their social impact ventures.

The quartet — Staples High School’s Hannah Cohen and Lina Singh, and Bedford Middle School’s Samantha Henske and Yanira Rios — participated in Girls With Impact‘s online entrepreneurship academy. The program’s goal is to increase the number of diverse women leaders and innovators in the workforce.

Tomorrow’s online event includes nearly 1,000 teenagers, from 40 states.


And finally … 65 years ago today — July 9, 1955 — “Rock Around the Clock” hit #1 on the Billboard chart. It’s called “the first rock ‘n’ roll” record. I have no idea how you define such a thing. But I do know: Neither Bill Haley nor his Comets look anything like what we call a “rock star.”

Roundup: Kids’ Mural; Harvey Brooks’ Book; Playhouse Video; More


Ever since youngsters in Homes with Hope’s after-school program turned Hal and Betsy Kravitz’s 77-foot-long South Compo wall into a “hopeful” mural, it’s earned honks and thumbs-ups from passing drivers, bicyclists and walkers.

It also caught the eye of a producer for WABC-TV news.

Which is why — barring breaking news — they’ll run a story on it tomorrow (Sunday, July 5) on the 11 p.m. news.

Channel 7 may include some footage from the video below. Stay tuned!


Harvey Brooks has played with and for Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Richie Havens, Stephen Stills, John Sebastian, Seals & Crofts, Boz Scaggs, Judy Collins, Loudon Wainright III, Phoebe Snow, Phil Ochs, the Fabulous Rhinestones and Fontella Bass.

The bassist laid down some of the most famous lines in music history, including “Like a Rolling Stone” and the hook on the Doors’ “Touch Me.” He’s featured on Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew,” the best-selling jazz album of all time.

And for many years Harvey Brooks lived on North Compo Road, right here in Westport.

A few years ago he and his wife Bonnie Behar moved to Israel. But a good story is universal.

Today — which is also his birthday  — his memoir, “View From the Bottom: 50 Years of Bass Playing with Bob Dylan, the Doors, Miles Davis and Everybody Else,” was published. There are tons of musical anecdotes — and lots about his life in Westport too. To order, click here.

Congratulations, Harvey. And Happy Birthday too!


This summer would have marked the Westport Country Playhouse’s 90th season.

The coronavirus brought down the curtain on this year. But the theater — one of the country’s most historic — is not letting the anniversary go unnoticed.

They posed one question to WCP aficionados: “What does the Playhouse mean to you?”

Click below, for some very heartfelt responses.


Happy Birthday, America!

And huge props to the Westport Downtown Merchants Association. They made sure our Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge is decorated appropriately — with, red, white and blue lights.

The photo below does not do it justice. Go see for yourself (after dark!).

 


Hugh Downs died Wednesday. He was 99.

The Westport connection? Scott Williams says that decades ago, the longtime TV newsmagazine and entertainment show host rented 121 Sturges Highway house Scott later grew up in.

Hugh Downs, on the “Today” set in 1966. (Photo/Jack Kanthal for Associated Press)


You’ve heard it everywhere. Don’t have a cow. Just wear your mask!

(Photo/Les Dinkin)


And finally … to celebrate America’s birthday, here’s the song that’s been called “our other national anthem.” It’s easier to sing — and the words sure are powerful.

Westport Playhouse: A Look Back At 90 Seasons

Today should have been a red-letter day in Westport Country Playhouse history.

The former cow barn opened its doors — and ushered in a golden era of summer theater — on June 29, 1931. Ever since last year, the Playhouse had prepared for a landmark 90th season.

COVID canceled those plans. But “06880” — the blog and the town — can still celebrate.

The building is actually twice as old as the theater. It was built in 1835 by R&H Haight, as a tannery for hatters’ leathers. Apple trees grew nearby.

In 1860 Charles H. Kemper purchased the plant from Henry Haight’s widow.

Kemper tannery, 1860.

Twenty years later, he installed a steam-powered cider mill.

By the winter of 1930, the property — assessed at $14,000 — had been unused for several years. It was bought by Weston residents Lawrence Langner and his wife Armina Marshall Langner, co-founders of the Theatre Guild, a powerful producer of Broadway and touring productions.

The 1930 barn.

The Langners wanted a place to experiment with new plays, and reinterpret old ones. Westport was already home to actors, producers and directors.

On June 29, 1931, the Westport Country Playhouse opened. The very first play — The Streets of New York — starred Dorothy Gish. Its stage was built to Broadway specifications. Remarkably, that first show made it all the way there.

Westport Country Playhouse interior, 1933.

Bert Lahr, Eva LaGallienne, Paul Robeson, Helen Hayes, Ethel Barrymore, Henry Fonda, Tallulah Bankhead and Julie Harris were some of the many big names who appeared on the Playhouse stage.

The early days (Photo/Wells Studio)

The theater went dark for 4 years during World War II, due to gas rationing.

Thornton Wilder received his Equity card in 1946, so he could play the stage manager in his own hit, Our Town.

In the 1940s, the Playhouse began an apprentice program. The legendary list includes Stephen Sondheim, Frank Perry and Sally Jesse Raphael. The educational apprenticeship programs are still running.

An early shot of the Westport Country Playhouse.

Though Oklahoma! has never been performed at the theater, it played a key role in the legendary show’s history. In 1940, Richard Rodgers came from his Fairfield home for Green Grow the Lilacs. Three years later, he produced Oklahoma!, based on what he’d seen.

Roders also saw Gene Kelly that night at Lilacs, and a few months later gave him his big break: the lead in Pal Joey.

In 1959 the Langners turned operation of the Playhouse over to Jim McKenzie. Later named executive producer, he retired in 2000 after 41 years. His tenure was notable for many things — including his efforts in 1985 to purchase the theater and its property, thwarting a takeover by a shopping center complex.

Gloria Swanson arrives, 1961.

Appearing on stage during McKenzie’s time were stars like Alan Alda, Cicely Tyson, Richard Thomas, Jane Powell, Sandy Dennis, and Stiller and Meara.

A teenager earned her Equity card, and earned a standing ovation on opening night in The Fantasticks. Her name was Liza Minnelli.

Prior to renovation, the cramped lobby was filled with posters from past shows.

In 2000, artistic director Joanne Woodward joined an illustrious team including Anne Keefe, Alison Harris and Elisabeth Morten. They brought Gene Wilder, Richard Dreyfuss, Jill Clayburgh and Jane Curtin to the stage.

Woodward’s husband — Paul Newman — also starred at the Playhouse, in the same role Thornton Wilder played 56 years earlier: stage manager, in Our Town. 

Like so many other Playhouse shows, it (with Newman) soon transferred to Broadway.

But the building — still basically a 170-year-old barn — was in physical disrepair.Woodward and company also renovated the Playhouse physically, and revitalized it artistically.

An 18-month, $30.6 million renovation project in 2003 and ’04 brought the Playhouse into the modern era. It closed in 2003 with a revival of its first show, The Streets of New York.

It reopened in 2005 — its 75th season. At Woodward’s suggestion, a piece of the original stage is still there. The Playhouse moved forward, while paying homage to its storied past.

Westport Country Playhouse, after renovation.

The next year saw the world premiere of Thurgood. Since then — under artistic directors Tazewell Thompson and now Mark Lamos — the Westport Country Playhouse has expanded both its scope and its season.

From a tryout and summer stock house focusing mostly on light, entertaining comedies, to its current April-through-November staging of powerful dramas, musicals and exploratory plays, the Westport Country Playhouse has played a key role in American theater.

Several years ago, Lamos noted, “What had a been a leaky, vermin-infested, un-weatherized — albeit beloved — converted barn became a state-of-the-art theater as fine as any in America.”

Like Broadway, the Westport Country Playhouse is closed during this, its 90th season.

But — as its long history shows — the old barn has weathered many ups, and  a few downs. The curtain will rise again next year.

The show must go on!

(Hat tip: Pat Blaufuss)

(Photo/Robert Benson)

Photo Challenge #285

The Westport Country Playhouse stage is dark this season.

But it remains bright and vivid in our minds. Last week’s Photo Challenge — showing an old-fashioned light above a closed window on the side of a red-painted wood structure — was easily recognized by many as the concession stand kiosk nestled in the courtyard outside one of America’s oldest and most famed summer theaters. (Click here to see.)

Wendy Schaefer, Rich Stein, Elaine Marino, Seth Schachter, Fred Cantor, Joyce Barnhart, Dan Vener, Wendy Cusick, Patricia Blaufuss, Nancy Wilson, Stephanie Ehrman, Jonathan McClure, Shirlee Gordon, Tom Risch, Elizabeth Marks, Seth Goltzer and Kathleen Lewton all knew exactly what the image showed.

All will hopefully be back next year, for the beloved Playhouse’s belated 90th season.

This week’s Photo Challenge picks up — sort of — where last week’s left off. We remember our neighbor Paul Newman for many things, including his role as the stage manager in the 2001 Playhouse production of “Our Town.” (His wife, Joanne Woodward, was the show’s sole producer when it moved to Broadway the next year. She played a major role in the Playhouse’s renovation, a couple of years later.)

We were used to seeing Paul Newman all around town. Everyone’s got a story. But where can we see this banner of him today? If you know where in Westport it is, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Sabra Gallo)