Music to my ears
As I settled into my seat in the center orchestra section amid a nearly packed house at the Westport Country Playhouse, I was suddenly struck with a profound realization and sense of wonderment. I looked at the stage before me and thought, Paul Newman performed right here. My eyes scanned the rest of the scene to take it all in, and I said to myself, Paul Newman helped build this place.
Indeed, the legend left an indelible mark in, at and on the Playhouse. Perhaps he continues to watch over this invaluable community asset through his beautiful mosaic-like portrait in the upstairs lobby, I imagined as I rested my feet on a nearby bench, which was first sat on in 1949. Paul Newman probably sat here, I thought to myself.
But this piece is not about Paul. It is, though, in a way connected to another one of his lasting legacies, another one of the ways in which he made us all better -- it is about lending a hand to those less fortunate than us. It is about helping humanity.
And the community did just that simply by attending Thursday's concert, HeArt and Soul, a fundraiser organized by the Westport Downtown Merchants Association, Band Together and the Westport Young Woman's League.
During the opening moments of the show, guests were offered a sober reminder of just how important their support is -- via a prerecorded video of Westport resident Melissa Joan Hart, who spoke of the indescribable destruction that Haiti has and will continue to endure since the massive earthquake in January. In an instant, thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed and millions were left without food and shelter. In the aftermath, more than 220,000 people died.
The loss of life and property would have undoubtedly been worse had it not been for the heroic efforts of the citizens of the world and several organizations, including one that calls Westport home -- Save the Children.
Though thousands of miles away, tragedies of this magnitude have a way of hitting home, of reminding us how fortunate we are, and how much we often take it for granted. Fortunate are we, too, that we can help Haiti rebuild by attending a concert featuring a line-up of acclaimed musicians.
As the sun began to dip behind the trees and cast a warm glow on the Playhouse, community members started to roll in for an unforgettable evening. Some enjoyed wine and cocktails on the porch that looks out onto Winslow Park, others mingled inside and chatted about their day at work or plans for the weekend. But the real buzz was occurring down a narrow hallway, where an impressive selection of artwork was on display. One hundred percent of the money from the sale of the artwork was donated directly to Save the Children -- talk about a win-win.
Guests could also lend their support by making a monetary donation to the organization, or purchasing a T-shirt or CD.
All of a sudden the lights flickered -- for a moment I wondered if the town had once again lost power, as it had just a few weeks prior during a severe wind and rain storm -- but it was just to signal that the concert was about to start. Everyone slowly filtered into the stage area and took their seats. But this was short-lived because from the first slap of the bass to the final crash of the symbols, the musicians had hands clappin', fingers snappin' and feet tappin' to the soul-filled selection of songs.
At one point, the entire front row was dancing in unison, as choreographed by the soulful Gisele Jackson, whose career highlights includes a stint with the Raelettes, the female vocalists who performed with Ray Charles. Her renditions of the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary (Rollin' on the River)" were rightfully met with thunderous applause and standing ovations.
Christine Olhman's commanding stage presence, as well as her eye-catching hair style and flashy outfit, also made her a stand-out of the soul-filled performances. The headliner, Ronnie Spector, was also impressive as she performed several hits from a career that earned her a place in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.
Throughout the evening, the talented instrumentalists and vocalists of Band Together had people groovin' -- in their seats and on their feet. Performing before a color-changing backdrop, the band of more than 10 members is dedicated to helping charities in the best way they know how -- playing music.
Band Together CT was founded by Rob Fried and Jerry Vigorito with the goal of uniting a community of local musicians with people and organizations interested in raising funds for families in need of a helping hand.
The meaningfulness of these performances to their lives, according to the organization's Web site, articulates four goals: 1) to make and enjoy music; 2) to use their talent and influence to help people in need; 3) to develop a network of supporters for concerts and programs; and 4) to get one step closer to heaven.
I don't know about you, but to me this sounds quite Newman-esque.
For more information about how you can help Save the Children, visit the organization's Web site, www.savethechildren.org; to learn more about Band Together, including upcoming concerts, check out www.bandtogetherct.org; for more on the Westport Downtown Merchants Association, visit www.westportdma.com; and to see what's next at the Westport Country Playhouse, log on to www.westportplayhouse.org.