Monday, March 30, 2009

Big Easy Award Winners

"Assassins" supporting actor winner Jimmy Murphy congratulates "Coyote on a Fence" supporting actress winner Angie Joachim.

Well, I am back from the 21st annual Big Easy Theatre Awards and I couldn't be more pleased with the way the show came off. One little hiccup, though. Sean Patterson, the host slated to fly down from New York's flight was cancelled due to weather-related delays and so he never did make it down for the awards show. To his credit he was on the phone yucking it up with co-host Gary Rucker, the very erudite and refined bad boy of FourFront Productions. Rucker decided to invite members of the audience to an open audition to be Sean Patterson. It was an inspired bit of comedic genius among much last night. Throughout the night the attendees, who wore the swankiest of formal gowns and garb were treated to performances from many of those nominated in the musical fields. So who were the big winners? Well, everyone really. The theatre community in New Orleans is one of the most cohesive and talented groups across the nation. I would stack many of our actors, singers and dancers up against those in the better-known entertainment capitals of the world including New York, Las Vegas and Hollywood. For best drama the runaway winner was InSideOut Productions' "Coyote on a Fence," which garnered top awards for best actor (Michael Aaron Santos), best supporting actor (Jason Kirkpatrick), best supporting actress (Angie Joachim), and best drama. Santos's wife and co-producer Ashley Ricord did not win for best director (she lost out to Actor's Theatre of New Orleans's Rene J. Piazza), but she did manage to pick up a best actress in a drama nod for her riveting performance in "Side Man" in which she starred opposite her husband. That was a co-production with the NOLA Project, which was the other big winner of the night for Stephen Sondheim's "Assassins." Jimmy Murphy picked up the best supporting actor in a musical for his portrayal of John Wilkes Booth, while Lisa Piccone, a recovering breast cancer victim, was positively radiant and robust as she won best supporting actress in a musical for her quirky Sara Jane Moore. The NOLA Project's own very young and very talented A. J. Allegra won the best director of a musical award for "Assassins" beating out Butch Caire for his "Miss Saigon" and Sonny Borey and Derek Franklin, late of Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, for their "Rent" and "Cabaret." Borey and Franklin didn't go away empty handed. They did pick up the best musical of the year for "Cabaret" and were given credit for best choreography (Leo Jones, Wanda Rouzan and Beverly Trask) as well as best costume design (the potty-mouthed Roy Haylock). A surprising pick for best musical director was Jim Walpole for his inspired work in "Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story," a co-production of Marigny Theatre and To Do Productions. Walpole credited Marigny Theatre's own Donnie Jay, who is in the hospital fighting for his life with a brain tumor at this moment. Walpole recalled how he lost his father during this production and credited Jay with keeping him grounded during that turbulent time in his life. Cecile Casey Covert, the very talented costume designer, was not nominated this year, but it was also announced that she was also infirm at present and everyone was asked to keep her in their prayers throughout the coming days. Two actors, Sean Knapp for "Speech and Debate" (best supporting actor in a comedy) and Christopher Woods for "Rent" (best actor in a musical) were unable to pick up their awards due to the fact that they could not enter the building. Harrah's has strict controls in place to prevent underage gamblers from access to their casino. The rest of the winners were scattered among several different production companies with notable nods to Southern Repertory for their comedies "Speech and Debate" (best director Aimee Hayes) and "The Seafarer" (best actor in a comedy Mark Maclaughlin). Although he did not win for his best supporting actor in a comedy nominated role in "The Seafarer," where he played the devil, Jim Fitzmorris did win a best original work for theatre Big Easy Award for his campy "What, Has This Thing Appeared Again Tonight?," a co-production with the NOLA Project and Tulane's Shakespeare Festival. Speaking of universities, David Hoover picked up a best university production honor for his direction of "Metamorphoses," performed at the University of New Orleans and featuring a full swimming pool on stage. Jeff Becker won his first set design award for "Flight," a co-production of ArtSpot Productions and Mondo Bizarro, while Scott Sauber and Nancy Macko competed against themselves and two other lighting designers, winning for Le Petit's "Rent." A surprise win for best actress in a musical was registered by Meredith Long for her powerful voice in "Ruthless! The Musical." She beat out previous winners Liz Argus and Jessie Terrebonne and brilliant newcomer Idella Johnson whose work in "Pal Joey," "Cabaret," and "Rent," respectively, were all spectacular. Dorian Rush, who has been nominated for a Big Easy Award since her work in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," finally picked up a best supporting actress in a comedy and she was practically giddy about it. I am proud to say that Amy Alvarez won for her scintillating work with Jefferson Turner in "He Loves and She Loves: The Gershwin We Love," the first Big Easy Award in the new cabaret category. Special awards to the New Orleans Fringe Fest, who are preparing their sophomoric presentations later this year, and to Bryan Batt, star of stage and screen and currently seen in AMC's "Mad Men" were also made in addition to a well-deserved tribute to Al Shea, who has been on local TV screens and involved in theatre as a reviewer for decades. All in all, it was a very nice night for New Orleans theatre and one that producer Gloria Powers and Margo and Clancy Dubos from Gambit Weekly can be justly proud.

The Big Easy Theatre Awards

Tonight marks the annual Big Easy Entertainment Awards and the third time that the theatre presentations (formerly coupled with the music presentations) is being held on its own. The event held at Harrah's Casino is a tour-de-force of presenters and talented ensembles performing several scenes or songs from several of last year's nominated productions. It is one of the swankiest and most fun events because the theatre community is really so much fun to be around. Oh, yes, they do cut up and oftentimes the humor is adult in nature, but so be it. Harrah's won't let anyone younger than 21 years-old to begin with, so unless there are an inordinate number of prudes lurking about, it's fine. They're playing to their own crowd, so to speak, and they are a most receptive audience. My own favorites that I hope will garner awards are Le Petit Theatre's production of "Cabaret" featuring home-grown talents Jessie Terrebonne and Roy Haylock and New York transplant Rich Arnold in addition to InSideOut Production's incredible "Coyote on a Fence." I also was very partial to the NOLA Project's "Assassins" and Southern Repertory's "The Seafarer." The breadth of all of these productions were worthy of note and all deserve to win Big Easy Awards. So, it's off to Harrah's for me. I'll return when the envelopes are all opened and the winners known full well.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Who do the Voodoo like we do when you say "I do"?

Consider it a tempest in a teapot or a major maelstrom, but the Voodoo Music Experience (better known as "Voodoo Fest" to locals) is in danger of being sunk by four couples who have had the temerity to book weddings at City Park on the same Halloween weekend. In fairness to the four couples involved, Rehage Productions, the Voodoo Fest producers, decided to change their dates from the third weekend in October to the final weekend to take advantage of what they considered a better date. This year even more attendees are expected with headliners KISS expected to take the stage that weekend. The only problem was they forgot to mention this to the kindly folks at City Park where the event has been held very year since its inception with the exception of the year of Hurricane Katrina when a scaled-down version was held in Audubon Park. Rehage Productions has sponsored 50 events through the years at City Park and while that in itself shouldn't necessarily guarantee them more consideration, there is a lot at stake here. Meanwhile, the four couples booked their weddings at several venues inside the park and assuredly didn't expect to contend with high noise levels, excessive crowds, no parking and possible security breaches from outsiders wanting in on a good time (check out "Wedding Crashers" in case you don't know what I mean). City Park and the city generate many millions of dollars in revenue from the festival and it is considered every teenager and college-aged rocker's dream weekend of music and social consciousness. In its own way it is a rite of passage for young men and women similar on a smaller scale to what Woodstock was to my generation...only it happens every year. So, what to do? Some have suggested that Rehage Productions offers to pay for the costs of shifting the venues to another location, but I'm not so sure that all of the couples will agree to those conditions. It is still early enough, though, that they could change their wedding dates and venues, but there is always the possiblity they may lose deposits for bands to play their receptions or might have to be looking for replacements in case of double bookings. Also, what about purchasing plane tickets for guests? If someone already has a ticket in hand, they may have to rebook at $100 a crack. That's definitely not the best of options. Additionally, hotels may not have a block of rooms assigned to a wedding party on the weekend of Voodoo Fest. That's another problem. With so much money on the line, though, someone needs to start working out the details and try to mitigate the damage as much as possible. The City Park Board met Tuesday to consider the sticky problem, but no agreement is in sight. City Park chief operating officer Robert Becker feels it is not right to ignore signed contracts. I agree. It's not fair to ruin the wedding plans for these brides, but it's also impractical to think that four weddings could be the funeral for the Voodoo Fest.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Are we losing our character?

A recent poll by DoctorNDTV was conducted to check to see how many people seeing an accident victim on the side of the road would respond with an offer of help. Seems like a no-brainer to me. Unless something was dangerous or untoward, I would gladly offer my assistance, especially if women or children were involved. Nonetheless, it would seem I am in the minority. Aside from offering direct assistance like calling 911, respondents to the poll were also given choices with less involvement like taking a picture from a cell phone or camera or texting friends about the accident. Incredibly, some 61% of those polled said they would either pass by the accident scene without stopping, decide not to call 911, take a picture of the accident, text or Twitter someone about it. Is this an indictment of our sense of character or what? In the Boy Scout troops with which I am associated, we constantly strive to instill in each Scout a sense of duty to help others at all times. It is this concept that has become almost a caricature of itself as when a Scout offers to help a little old lady cross the street. It is a selfless act that is predicated upon a supposition of service and readiness to help one another. In my own case I believe it is just my normal character to want to help others and correct the wrongs inflicted upon others as best I can. But I must ask where are we as a nation if over three-fifths of the public believes we should do nothing to help our fellow man at worst or should instead attempt in some way to take advantage of his plight? What does that say for our souls or our collective strength of character? Have we lost the notion that founded this nation that united we stand and divided we fall? At the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it was Benjamin Franklin who quipped, "we must all hang together or assuredly we will all hang separately." He understood that with one broad stroke of the pen, each man was signing his own death warrant. Yet, it was for a greater purpose that those men met to found our nation. Abraham Lincoln understood this concept full well when considering how to deal with the recalcitrant Confederate States and that was to think of them as family members in a squabble. They could no more leave the union of their own accord than one could divorce himself from his parents. His poetic imagery was perhaps best expressed when he said, "a house divided against itself cannot stand." We need to be involved with one another to support one another in time of need and to revel with one another in time of joy and celebration. One of my favorite quotes is by John Donne who had the good sense in just a few words to encapsulate this feeling to the extreme: "No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." This thought succinctly brings to the fore two concepts: one, that we are all interconnected and dependent upon one another and two, that we are all mortal and in imminent threat of death from the moment of our births. Hemingway was so impressed with this quotation that he named his glorious novel set during the Spanish Civil War after it. Perhaps, if more Americans would consider this in their daily outlook more and Twitter or Facebook a bit less, we might make more progress in our economic recovery and improve our souls in the process.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The upside down world of Israeli politics

While many of us have been relieved that the American presidential experience of 2006-2008 was decided at the ballot box last November, a very colorful electoral process is ongoing in Israel as a result of the fractious party system that runs governments there. Although the Kadima Party of Tzipi Livni garnered more votes in the general election for the Knesset, it is the Likud Party's Benjamin Netanyahu who will become the next prime minister due to the supposition of President Shimon Peres that the right wing votes were greater in the last election than the left wing. With Peres's invitation to "Bibi" Netanyahu, a coalition government with the Labor Party can now be formed with him at its head. The party of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert will now take a back seat to Netanyahu as the voices of peace will continue to be heard in that troubled area, but with a slightly more hawkish approach to a two-state solution. In fact, a coaltion between Likud and Kadima could not be managed due to Netanyahu's reluctance to specifically state he will support a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine categorically. Thus, Netanyahu, a former prime minister, will again ascend that august chair and guide Israel into the next phase of talks with the Palestinians. Imagine an American election in which the Republicans would join with the Libertarians and form a government squeezing out the Democrats from the executive branch entirely. That's similar to what is going on in Israel. But don't stop there. Consider the even more splintered 30 other political parties, each vying for as many seats in the Knesset as possible to have a say in the coaltion government being formed. Most of them will be discounted, but others like the extreme right wing party of Avigdor Lieberman, Yisrael Beitenu, cast a pall over the future of Israel's path to peace. Yisrael Beitenu is now the third largest political power in Israel and a definite backlash to the peace proposals of the past. It is Lieberman who has muddied the political waters in Israel by questioning the allegiance of the country's Arab population. Arabs have enjoyed incredible rights in the Jewish state since its inception, but the recent action in Gaza and the high death toll of civilians have some Arab-Israelis questioning how much Israel desires to continue down the road to peace. Netanyahu is keeping his options open in case it becomes politically expedient to turn his back on a two-state solution in the future. He promised that he would continue to move down the path of peace, engaging with the Palestinian Authority in open peace talks. However, there is no assurance that he will be looking at a two-state solution and, given the large numbers of Israelis who voted against a more liberal approach, it would seem that there is no mandate for him to do so either. So, its politics as unusual in Israel, a place that makes America look almost humdrum.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A "Scandalous" musical

"Scandalous!" composer-lyricist Glyn Bailey, second from left, framed by fellow book writers Theasa Tuohy and Keith Thomas. Director Stephen Duckham is at center right.

Almost every week that I have time to do so, I am usually in a theatre viewing one or more of the local productions that are presented at various venues about town. As a member of the Big Easy Theatre Committee, it is my duty to watch upwards of 100 productions a year. For someone who loves theatre it is both blessing and a curse. The New Orleans theatre community bounced back from Hurricane Katrina much more quickly than other segments of the city did. Now, three years after the storm did away with the Saenger Theatre, the only professional venue for touring shows in the city, many of the smaller theatres are up and running with very well-done presentations. Throughout the year there are a number of shows that are done with great care, but because of a lack of resources or limitations in the casts and technical crews, they come off with less-than-stellar productions. Typically, a small coterie of very talented actors and producing companies seem to take the lead in presenting the best shows each year. These include Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, Southern Repertory Theatre, Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre, Rivertown Repertory, Actor's Theatre of New Orleans, Anthony Bean Community Theatre as well as producing companies like FourFront Theatre, Running With Scissors, All Kinds of Theatre, NOLA Project and InsideOut Productions. One of the consistently powerful producing companies is the Jefferson Performing Arts Society led by Artistic Director and maestro Dennis Assaf. Under Assaf's leadership, JPAS has consistently produced winners in theatre, opera and more popular presentations. Now, their latest production, "Scandalous!", a musical based on the life of British authro D. H. Lawrence, is enjoying its United States premiere and it is among the very best musicals I have ever seen. Glyn Bailey, the composer and lyricist wrote the show some nine years ago and presented it a few times in England before moving to Covington, Louisiana with his wife. He and Assaf go together and the two elected to mount this production for just four shows. Bailey convinced fellow book writers Theasa Tuohy and Keith Thomas and director Stephen Duckham to come to New Orleans for the shows. New York veteran actor Bart Shatto ("Les Miserables," "The Civil War," and "Dracula") and West End actress Lindsay Hamilton led the cast and chorus filled with local talents. In short the show is a smash. Assaf, who led the orchestra with precision, played Bailey's enchanting and compelling music with panache and I count "Scandalous!" as one of the finest presentations I have ever seen. I am only sad that the auditorium was only half filled at the matinee yesterday and that just two performances remain on Friday or Saturday nights. For more information, check out the web site for "Scandalous!"

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Reflections on 42 years

The reality of being an "old fart" (in Yiddish the colloquialism would be alte kocker) is definitely setting in following the wake of the 50th anniversary (on March 14) of WTUL, the college radio station that was only a little over a decade old when I initially entered its doors. That was just a week past the opulent wedding of my niece, who had served as one of my flower girls almost a quarter of a century ago. She will celebrate her 30th birthday in just a few more days, but before that occurs, there is yet another big event that must be recalled. Today is the 42nd anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah. There's not a lot to be said about that other than it seems unfathomable that four decades have elapsed in the interim and that so many of my friends seem so very much older than they should be. For some reason the good Lord has chosen to keep me here in good health and with all of my faculties and limbs intact. So far, so good. Yet, 42 years is a long time to trod upon this earth and not have problems. More than one of my friends and relatives now use hearing aids and some younger than I use canes to facilitate their mobility. Many are grandparents several times over and in a few instances great-grandparents. I feel blessed to still have pretty good eyesight and no cataract surgery planned in my future. Yet many of my contemporaries and relatives have endured such operations with splendid results. It would seem that medical science has made the transition of these past 42 years much more tolerable. Still, like money lost at the racetrack or at a casino, I can't help but pine for those past four decades and change. The finite time set for our lives by our Creator tends to loom more in focus with each successive year. How we live our lives and treat our fellow human beings counts for a lot as we become more and more dependent on others for our care. Perhaps, if we knew how fragile our existence would become at life's end, we might take better care of our bodies and treat relatives and friends with more kindness. But when one becomes a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, he or she feel invincible and indomitable. Nothing can keep a 13-year-old down for long, especially as the world, a sea of endless possibilities, is concerned. Were that kind of boundless energy able to be contained, bottled and sold, the lines would be winding around the blocks of convenience stores as alte kockers like me would be anxiously awaiting our purchases. Yesterday being St. Patrick's Day, I thought about Irish playwright and author George Bernard Shaw. It was Shaw who once remarked "Youth is such a wonderful thing. It's a shame to waste it on children." We may laugh at such an outlandish proposition, but it rings so true. These last 42 years have given me great pleasure (e.g., a marriage, a son, etc.) as well as great sorrow (e.g. the loss of my father, wife and grandparents among others). Through it all, I have strived to live with purpose and love. In some cases I have succeeded, while in others I have not. The 42 years that have elapsed since I became a man in the eyes of my faith have prepared me for both the unexpected and the mundane. I believe that everyone should approach life with the same kind of wonder that we all held as a 13-year-old. Too often we forget that joie de vivre as we pursue education, careers and families. We have a tendency to think about tomorrow as a given and we need to think about it as a blessing instead. I recall another Shaw quotation in which he touched on some of the spunk of youth still inviolate in his breast at the twilight of his days: "The longer I live the more I see I am not wrong about anything, and that all the pains I have taken to verify my notions have only wasted my time." Shaw lived to be 94. If I am lucky enough to celebrate another four decades beyond my Bar Mitzvah, I hope that I have as much spirit as he obviously did.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Newspapers: another one bites the dust...

I seem to know just how to pick 'em. I'm talking about careers. As a high school student well before the lure associated with Woodward and Bernstein, I was particularly drawn to journalism. I didn't need the glory of a byline or an above-the-fold story. No, I took my inspiration from the love of writing in an incisive and informative style that would entertain and, perhaps, bring a smile to the face or a tear to the eye. I will admit that an occasional byline would be nice, though. I thought the newspaper was a formidable force and that it would always be an institution for the ages. Like Spider-Man or other classic superheroes, being a member of the fourth estate carried with it great responsibility in response to that great power of working to keep society informed. Yet, small as we were, reporters, columnists and journalists-at-large could challenge the most powerful figures and most daunting institutions in a way that was to be respected. The public's right to know took priority over anything else except, perhaps, for protecting one's sources. That might occasionally land someone in jail due to overzealous prosecution, but it was a necessary evil were the public to be served and sources to be kept safe. Anyone who saw "The Front Page," "His Girl Friday" or "All the President's Men," know roughly how a giant newspaper works. The editor screams at the reporter that he wants his big story or the reporter is fired. The pressure to produce the story by day's end is intense, but it's all about selling papers. And what is the engine behind determining the size of a newspaper? Why advertising, of course. Advertising is the engine that keeps the printed word on a page, but it has been shrinking as fewer and fewer readers opt to get their news from traditional newsprint outlets and instead opt for newer sources from the Internet and over cutting edge hand-held wonders like Blackberry devices. Newspapers are fighting for their lives as Craig's List and others have gobbled up classified advertising, once considered the bastion of the local newspaper. The downturn in the economy has also taken its toll. With revenue streams turning to tiny rivulets, cost-cutting measures involved offering early retirement packages or whole scale firings. Those who managed to keep their jobs were oftentimes doing more (like blogging) in an attempt to beef up a web presence for the newspapers' own Internet sites. A few weeks ago it was the Rocky Mountain News, which shuttered its doors after almost 150 years of continuous operation. The latest victim in this ongoing tragedy is the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which will publish its last newsprint version on Tuesday. After that, what staff remains will be strictly writing for the web. The Hearst Corporation made that announcement yesterday in reaction to its inability to sell the 146-year-old newspaper it has operated in a joint operating agreement (JOA) with its cross-town rival The Seattle Times. The idea of a JOA, similar to the one the Rocky Mountain News enjoyed with the Denver Post, is to keep competing newspapers viable in the marketplace and to share resources. The idea of getting a "scoop" over a competitor has diminished as necessities and practicalities of staying financially afloat have dictated how newspapers work in a market with a competitor. It is not unlike having a "pool" for reporters. Sharing resources allows two papers the greatest probability that each will survive as opposed to one titan slaying another. Most agree that a newspaper monopoly is not necessarily in the public interest. The announcement by Hearst yesterday means Seattle will become a one-paper town, although, technically, the P.I.'s product will shift to an all-digital format. It seems to me that it is only a matter of time before this model will be found across the nation and poor reporters and columnists will be forced to become headline writers and bloggers. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you. It seems writing for a newspaper today could be compared to being a blacksmith. It's a necessary trade enjoyed by a very few and certainly not of much importance to all those people out there driving their cars.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

WTUL Alumni Weekend

Smace's Oldies Show on the air again!

Hot on the heels of the wedding and my birthday was this past weekend's WTUL Marathon Alumni Weekend in celebration of the Tulane University radio station's 50th anniversary. I had no time or inclination to write about it because I was on a high precipitated by the thought of meeting friends I hadn't seen or talked to in nearly three decades. Like my niece's wedding and my own "double-nickle" birthday the previous weekend, the thought that I first ventured down to the University Center to begin my college broadcasting career some 36 years ago seems implausible today. After all, Mozart lived his entire life span in 36 years and left behind lasting legacies of his genius. I would not dare to suggest that any of my "oldies" shows on WTUL had that kind of lingering effect, but for many there still is a mystique about them. I know that many who were not Tulane students listened in and enjoyed those Saturday night broadcasts. For some a Saturday night was just not the same without the sounds of the Beatles, the Kinks, Elvis, the Zombies, Chuck Berry, the Supremes, the Temptations and, of course, the Rolling Stones (to name but a few). The entire weekend was so big it took an extra day to hold it with the first event a week ago on Thursday night when WTUL's Bizzarre Radio ("with two z's") literally took over the station and several old timers headed over to Molly's at the Market, a pub in the French Quarter to see each other. Among the people there were fellow general managers Mike Longman, Maurice Roe, Ruth Presslaff and Sara Bonisteel. Other general managers like John Poche and program directors like Charles Driebe, now an entertainment lawyer and manager of music groups like the Blind Boys of Alabama, also put in stops throughout the weekend. Friday night many of the alumni gathered onboard the Creole Queen, which kindly played WTUL's programming in a private room for the benefit of those that attended. It was stupendous seeing all of the past and some present staff members enjoying themselves while renewing acquaintances. Saturday continued the alumni programming including an hour between 4 and 5 p.m. when my oldies show ran once again. Talk about irony. Back then the oldies had to be three years or older. Now they would be 33 years or more. John Guarnieri and Jay Hollingsworth both brought punk back to WTUL in a way few had seen in nearly 30 years. Sunday the programming continued with more like Brian Hughes doing the Broadway Show and Country Kate (Katy Caraway) also returning to the airwaves. What fun. It made me truly happy and inspired to see all of the older members of the staff having such a great time. Perhaps this will be the first of several opportunities for get togethers such as these to happen again.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Windy Wedding

Birthday boy and his niece on her wedding night

Wow! What a weekend! The fact is that I was so immersed in meeting with family and dealing with the realization that almost a quarter of a century has moved between my own wedding and that of my beloved niece's that I've had to stop and take pause. I see the beautiful young woman before me who has found a great soulmate and provider and I know that she is truly happy. I know that feeling all too well. My own wedding where she served as but a minor player nearly 25 years ago seems so distant and so murky, but I remember the feeling of peace and joy that I experienced that entire day. It conducted me throughout one of the most perfect days I've ever known and when I arrived at the synagogue there was no need to do anything but be there and experience the goodness and warmth of family and friends. The two families involved really put on a show and I was especially happy to see that the wedding, while simple and elegant, had all of the elements of a classic Reform Jewish wedding. The bride did not walk around the groom for seven times, as some Orthodox customs might dictate, but the elements of kiddusim and nissim that are essential to a proper Jewish wedding were there. The opening salvo of a rehearsal dinner that took over historic Antoine's Restaurant (literally) was amazing! The groom's parents had an hour of cocktails in the front room where visitors typically dine on St. Louis Street in the French Quarter before everyone moved into the large "red" inside dining room. There were nearly 200 diners and, unbelievably, most of them were out-of-towners from Chicago and other points. The food was incredible and after dessert I was asked to give a few choice words among the crowd to relate how I felt and to shore up the mother of the bride -- my sister-in-law -- who was a bit nervous. The words of love poured out from me like the flowing wine enjoyed by the crowd. The video of both bride and groom was shown on a large screen and documented both lives that would be joined in the wedding ceremony the next night. I was deleriously happy, but had to wake up early the next morning for a dose of reality in the form of district training for the Boy Scouts local council. It was still early in the morning in Luling, Louisiana when I received a call from the mother of the bride advising me that I needed to be in my tuxedo at the downtown hotel where the reception would be held later in order to have pictures taken by 4:00 p.m. There went the thought that I would have time to rest! I did manage coordinate with my son, who served as an usher, but both of us needed to be going quickly and the photographer didn't start snapping pictures until after 4:30. It made for a slightly stressful time, but it turned out to be okay. After the ceremony ended, I headed over to the Intercontinental Hotel and had a grand time enjoying the libation and cuisine accompanied by a very good live band that performed a number of Old School tunes. The crowd consumed copious amounts of alcohol. I believe I heard they downed 14 bottles of Patron. I shudder to think how many vodka martinis were made, each one poured through a tube that ran through a fleur-de-lis carved out of ice. By the time I left the gathering, the crowd had dimmed, but the music was still going strong. My birthday had ended just a few moments before I left the hotel, but I was due to return there in about another eight hours. That morning I was one of several sponsors of a brunch the Vieux Carre Rooms downstairs in the hotel's convention center and quite amazed that some of the more hardy partyers were in such good shape after such an overwhelming party. The next few hours I kept busy and met back at the hospitality suite to say goodbye to the new Mr. and Mrs. Within another hour, I was on my way to Ruth's Chris Steak House to have the third helping of steak in as many days. However, this time it was not to celebrate my niece and her husband, but to commemorate my 55th birthday, which like March came in like a lamb. I had no time to ponder the event other than as an offshoot of the wedding. Next year will bring another birthday and yet another wedding, this one even closer to my heart.