Friday, July 24, 2009

White Noise

Just finishing a three-week run at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carrè is the cautionary musical "White Noise." This is the first production to take advantage of tax credits that were created by the state legislature to lure first run shows here first before they bow on Broadway or take to the road. It is an important part of the response of the theatre community and its advocates to make New Orleans a vital center for national and regional theatre. It is appropriate this show is being held at Le Petit, since it is the oldest continuously operating community theatre in the nation. Yes, that's right. The nation. New Orleans has long been at the forefront of the arts and while it does take a back seat to New York and other major cities in the promotion of the arts, we do hold our own. As to "White Noise," it has the potential to be the next "Hair" or "Rent." It deals with the very tough subject material of racism and how we should respond to it. The cast was assembled in New York, went through three weeks of rehearsals there, journeyed down to the Crescent City, had one additional week of preparation and then opened their doors almost three weeks ago. The reviews have been largely positive and the performances of this very young cast have been spectacular. I have seen it twice. The first time I was so pulled into the show that I was not able to absorb many of the intricacies of the book and the impressive score that is both riveting and fresh. The basic plotline involves a pair of beautiful blonde sisters, Eva and Kady Siller (played respectively by MacKenzie Mauzy and Patti Murin), who respond to their father's suicide by becoming members of a band with a message of hate against all those they hold responsible for his death. They team up with a menacing skinhead named Duke (Patrick Murney), who makes no bones about wanting to espouse his racist lyrics to rally like-minded racists. The group's name is an obvious metaphor, but it isn't until they are "discovered" by successful producer Rick Kent (Brandon Williams) that their message is coded and made more mainstream. Along the way Kent's protégé, Kurt, a talented musical genius repulsed by their message, is convinced to become a member of the group in order to make their message more tolerable to the masses. In short order a song decrying black people is re-titled "Monday's Suck" (as Kent explains to Kurt: "Everybody hates Mondays!") A popular rap group - Blood Brothers - is also used in juxtaposition to show their similar hateful "N.G.S" in which their profane laced lyrics profess a need to shoot whites. Their opening number for Act II, "Hip Hop Country" is a choreographic masterpiece with lyrics and music that steal the show. The music and lyrics by brothers Robert and Steven Morris, Joe Drymala and Joe Shane make the show even more compelling than the masterful book by young writer Matte O'Brien. O'Brien bravely professed in a talkback session last Tuesday night to the audience that some of the writing came from experiences he had as a young gay male. The homophobic hate he has seen could easily be translated into anti-Semitism and other racist thinking. The love story between Kurt and Kady is worthy of mention in that it shows the dichotomy of their feelings for each other and their disconnect with regard to Eva and Duke's message of hate. Despite enormous success, the characters spin out of control until tragic events rip the two groups apart. This is a show that Broadway should take to like a duck to water. Its message is raw and the language is frank, but the production has the potential to take the theatre district by storm. The production is due to open in a legitimate Broadway theatre in late fall or early 2010 and I predict we will hear more from them on what might then be the Great "White Noise" Way.

Monday, July 20, 2009

If you believe they put a man on the moon...

Apollo 11 astronaut

It seems surreal to think that it's been 40 years since man first landed on the moon and that the last man to walk on the moon did so in December of 1972. I seem to remember it all so vividly. The daytime air was hot in the summer camp I attended -- Blue Star-- nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. At the time the music of Led Zeppelin was making the rounds on portable phonograph players found in the various boys and girls cabins and at the recreation hall at the Teen Age Village (TAV) that late July. "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" was all the rage among the girls from Miami and I did my best to try to be cool to them. It turns out I was losing some of my awkwardness with the girls that summer. I had landed the role of Nicely Nicely Johnson in a production of "Guys and Dolls" that we put on early in the summer and by the end of the next session I was starring in "The Mouse That Roared" as Tully Bascombe. The girls liked the leading man, it would seem, although I was not nearly the tall and dark stranger many envisioned in their dreams. Nevertheless, I was enjoying my popularity. Because we were largely without TV during camp, we were sheltered from much of what was going on in the outside world. I am sure that we would have been much more excited had the camp allowed us to see the launch and kept us up-to-date on the progress that had been made prior to lunar touchdown. But they had a camp to run and I can understand why more attention wasn't paid. I guess they couldn't get away from the historic import of a terran man walking on the surface of his nearest neighbor in space. I must say I was filled with pride and patriotism. I couldn't help but think that maybe this would show the Soviet Union who really was the better superpower. This was, after all, a young teenager whose impressions were shaped by the Cold War and the threat of mutually assured destruction (MAD). In the end I should have seen that this had nothing to do with man-made borders, but instead with those imposed by the Almighty. Breaking the bonds of gravity and freeing ourselves to explore the solar system was but one tenuous step that man had taken and it didn't really matter which nation led that charge. All of us on Planet Earth would be forever changed as a result of what happened that July of 1969 and what has or hasn't happened since. Forty years is a long time for us to be in a holding pattern. The International Space Station has yet to come into fruition, but it is further along and is being shaped by a truly international team, not through the efforts of but one country. I like that. It hearkens back to the vision Gene Roddenberry had of a united Earth when he started the Star Trek legacy. Perhaps one day when it is much easier for us to do so, we will all have the chance to slip "the surly bonds of earth" that Gillespie Magee wrote of during World War II and "touch the face of God."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite (1916-2009)
The man America trusted most has finally gone on to meet the real newsmaker. Walter Cronkite, the voice of CBS News for decades, who followed Edward R. Morrow's tradition of hard-hitting broadcast journalism, became known to millions of American and citizens of the world as the voice of trusted news. He set such a high standard that even in Sweden, the term for a news announcer was given the honorific term of a "cronkiter." He was in many ways "Uncle Walter," an endearing term for a favorite relative who came into American homes each weekday evening and smartly and assuredly gave each of us a recap of the day's events. He was the reporter and anchor who watched with disgust as President Kennedy was gunned down in Texas and who paused in awe as American astronauts romped and cavorted on the surface of the moon. When he became disenfranchised from the Vietnam War, President Lyndon Johnson quipped that if he had lost Cronkite, he had "Middle America." Cronkite started out in the Midwest as I did as a high school journalism student. He had a penchant for being in the thick of a news story and started his radio broadcasting career with the air name of Walter Wilcox. His World War II correspondence from Africa and London got him noticed by Edward R. Murrow and his distinctive and authoritative delivery gave him the opportunity to move into the nascent television industry. He was there when Fred Friendly and Murrow set up shop at CBS News and he carried with him the highest standards of ethical journalism at a time when rules were being made and broken on a daily basis. Today there are a number of very talented network anchors that carry with them huge salaries, but I look to Walter Cronkite as I would Babe Ruth. He was grossly underpaid during his time on the air, although he would probably defend his salary as quite sufficient. His impact on America and me qualifies him as one of my true heroes in journalism. When he lost his wife Betsy four years ago, he was without her for the first time in nearly 65 years. A man who loved sailing, Cronkite's wind was forever gone from his sails. For him the love they shared was deep and abiding and the two of them were rarely without each other as he noted in his book "A Reporter Remembers." He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981 from President Reagan and I remember seeing the broadcast that year and the wonderful video tribute that went with the honor. Katie Couric's introduction on the CBS Evening News was rendered by Cronkite. I hope it will stay as a daily reminder of the high standards of broadcast journalism he set for himself and all others that will follow him. And that's truly the way it is.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

So many drinks, so little time

The popular "Tales of the Cocktail" events have continued over the course of the last several days and are winding down tomorrow. This year's featured libation has been the Mint Julep, a drink associated with the Kentucky Derby and a mainstay of the Old South. Frankly, with the rise of the Mojito as a popular drink, the concept of muddling mint leaves to render a refreshing cocktail doesn't seem so quirky. A well-made Mint Julep can be quite revealing as it swirls on one's tongue. It is sweet, but not overly so. It has a bite that lingers as the bourbon it is mixed with moves towards the back of the throat. While I still prefer the rich taste of a well-made Sazerac, it's easy to see why the drink was chosen to serve as the one to feature. Two nights ago special dinners were held at select restaurants featuring sponsors of various spirits who worked with the chefs at each location to make memorable meals coupled with complementary (not complimentary, mind you) drinks. Some of the seats cost as much as $100 a piece, but the experience was one that true epicureans could boast for years to come. It's not all drinking, mind you. There are seminars on varying topics of import, especially as drinks and cocktails relate to local and historical venues and events. This year's Tales of the Cocktails seems to be bigger, more organized and better attended than previous years. It has become a mainstay of summer during a period when tourism has traditionally been slow. Thank goodness its time has come. I'll drink to that.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Tales of the Cocktail 2009

And so it begins again. The New Orleans mid-summer convention dedicated to spirits kicks off today. The Tales of the Cocktail is featuring the Mint Julep this year much as they did the Sazerac last year. In short it is the premiere spirits event in the country. Now in their seventh year, Ann and Paul Tueneman hold court over this incredible event that attracts hundreds, if not thousands of attendees, from all over the world. For the next several days New Orleans is the epicenter of the spirits universe with seminars, lectures, parties and dinners being presented in support of this major event. You will see many different venues offered for world class dinners tomorrow night as well as a plethora of varying seminars on all kinds of spirits. If you want to know more about libations and potent potables, this is the place to be. New Orleans has always made itself evident as one of the great centers of drinking, although the aptly-named Bourbon Street does not lend itself toward greatness in mixology. Nevertheless, if you want to experience the science of drinking, this event is a must-see. I applaud all of Ann and Paul's staff for their cordiality and professionalism. It will be a great event and one not to be missed.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Scouter goes home

I received a call just prior to the July 4 holiday weekend that my longtime Scouting friend, Jerrold Lockshin, was in an accident at home, was rushed to the hospital and had been put on life support. He was not expected to survive. Indeed, a few hours later, I was notified that he did pass away by an e-mail from his son's office. Jerrold, whom most people on the National Jewish Committe on Scouting knew affectionately as Jerry, was my mentor. He was directly responsible for me taking on the challenges inherent with being a local Jewish Committee on Scouting chairman and he and his wife of 58 years, Phyllis, had become quite close to me over the course of several years of national meetings and pleasure trips to Cleveland. Following the Hurricane Katrina flooding that forced me to take refuge in nearby Cleveland, they had me to their home and invited me to the two Oster family reunions in 2005 and 2006 held in Canton that were organized with Phyllis with Jerry's help. I was made to feel a part of their family and I was concerned when both of them had health issues that prevented one or the other from attending several Scouting events. As a matter of fact, I had planned to room with Jerry at the last National Annual Meeting in Orlando at the end of May. He was forced to cancel at the last minute due to health issues involving him and his wife. The last time I talked to Jerry, he was angry about a matter and I advised him I would take care of it, whereupon he hung up. No goodbye. No thank you. That was Jerry. At times he was like a steamroller - a tour de force that left nothing standing in his wake. His brusqueness notwithstanding, Jerry could be a real sweetheart and his love for his family was expressed in thousands of ways. He enjoyed a stiff glass of Scotch and, until a few years ago, also favored a good cigar. Jerry enjoyed life to its maximum, traveling frequently with his wife to Israel and to Australia in recent years to visit his older son's family, who had relocated to Sydney. Aside from his dedication to his family, Jerry was passionate about helping Scouting and giving aid to Jewish Scouts and units. His constant phone calls and letters to local chairmen were instrumental in strengthening the National Jewish Committee on Scouting both before and after he was chairman. The remainder of the holiday weekend was spent traveling to Milwaukee by plane and a rental car eight-hour drive to Cleveland on Independence Day with my close friend, Cheryl Baraty, who is the regional chair for the Central Region from which Jerry hailed. We stayed with friends in Cleveland overnight before heading to Canton for the services on Sunday afternoon. We returned to Cleveland on the way back after the graveside services, saw some friends and then drove until the wee hours of the morning on Monday just in time for me to grab a 7:00 a.m. flight back home from Milwaukee. I crashed hard the next night after a full day of work on Monday. All the while, I kept hearing Jerry's voice in my head along with the eulogies of his children and the cantor who conducted the service. I kept thinking that I will surely miss him. Jerry's voice may be stilled, but his legacy will live on. Those of us who knew him will keep his memory alive in our hearts.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Printers, the scourge of network administrators

Egads! Not another printer problem. It seems whevever my day is going well, I'll get a franctic call from someone who is experiencing a problem with his or her printer. Now, don't get me wrong. Printers, or as Microsoft refers to them "print devices," do a lot of necessary work for legal, medical and retail firms across the country. They help students prepare academic work, draft plans for architects and engineers and make graphics design work a snap. They can be very expensive, very delicate machines or big clunkers that have form feeders pulling large boxes of fan-fold paper. Some multi-function printers scan, fax and copy. Every printer is different and requires drivers that interface with each operating system. Some are ink jet printers (usually the best and most expensive for photographic reproductions), while others are laser printers which involve a process where the ink is fused to paper. Older model printers use ribbon inks struck by nine- or 24-pin printer heads. The fact is printers do much of the work used in computing today. They organize our lives and make the cyber world accessible and mobile. Yet, they can confound even the most casual of users by their annoying habit of failing to print due to a host of factors. Low ink, no ink, no paper, inoperable form feeders, disfunctional fusers and dirty heads are just some of the reasons printers don't print. Many times the problem is in the software, as when a driver is corrupted or it could simply be a connection with the device has been lost, either over the network or through a cable. Microsoft calls the software on its operating systems that make print devices work as "printers." This can be confusing to anyone who doesn't understand Microsoft-speak. The fact is there are as many reasons printers don't print as there are that they do. The key to understanding a printer is to know the popular adage "garbage in, garbage out." A printer will usually do no more than it is told to do by the operating system. It rarely thinks for itself and that is good. There is enough going on in a computer operating system to go around that the printers don't need to start making decisions for us. In some of the more high-end print devices, there are parameters that can be set and maintained for every print job so that different size paper jobs can be diverted to the appropriate trays or that no color is used on certain jobs. As I indicated, when they work, they are a godsend. When they fail, they are nerve wracking. The first thing to remember when a print job fails is to stay calm and focused. Is the printer on? If not, plug it in. Is there an error message? If it suggests there is no connection, check the cabling. If it fails to print, but the job(s) are very plainly listed in the print device under the Printers and Faxes icon of the Control Panel, delete everything and start over. Many times a print job will fail for one reason or another due to an electric surge or choked network bandwidth. I have actually seen a print job fail due to a long USB cable being used. Moving the printer to within six feet of the computer cured the problem. The key is to approach these things in a mannered and orderly fashion. While one would like to drop kick them or crunch them beneath a steamroller, being patient does have its merits. If, after checking power and cables and deleting the print jobs from queue, the printer is still having issues (not printing), it may be time to examine the software. Sometimes deleting the printer, rebooting and reinstalling is called for. That's a drastic solution, but one that works in many cases. I recommend not doing it until consulting someone like yours truly. Network administrators and computer consultants know far better what might be going on. Deleting a printer is definitely not the first course of action and anyone who does that deserves to be without a printer in the interim. So, please, if your printer is not working, take a deep breath. Relax. Remember that a calm, measured approach to printers is best and that your friendly neighborhood network administrator or computer consultant can help. Whoops...gotta go. It's a phone call from someone having a printing problem....

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A performance with a purpose

Cabaret Le Chat Noir is hosting a performance tonight at 7:30 p.m. That's not unusual. The swanky stage where various plays and musical performances are seen is usually dark only a few nights a month. What is unusual is that hostess Barbara Motley is giving away all the money that's collected at the door for this evening's special show. It's a fundraiser for two local performers who will be participants at the seventh annual Cabaret Conference at Yale University. Amanda Zirchenbach, affectionately known as "Mandy" and Lisa Picone, a recent Big Easy Award winner for her work in "Assassins," are due to travel to New Haven in just a few more weeks. The expense of travel and the course fee for the two will take a considerable toll on their personal finances. So, in order to publicize the fact that two New Orleanians will be members of the class of 2009 and to spirit them on their way with wads of cash in hand, Cabaret Le Chat Noir is hosting a combination performance and silent auction this evening. The Cabaret Conference at Yale University has played host to a number of talented New Orleanians including singers Amy Alvarez, Julia LaShae, Suzaune McKamey, Natasha Ramer, Anais St. John and pianists Harry Mayronne, Jr. and  Jefferson Turner. Auditions are held across the United States and around the world (this year London, UK). Le Chat Noir serves as one of the venues for the auditions with each hopeful applicant singing two numbers; one, an upbeat, comic piece and the other a slow, more introspective song with patter between the two. Judges want to see they have the very best applicants from each region and offer only 40 slots each year to work with seasoned faculty members like Julie Wilson and Alex Rybeck, who critique each student, tear them apart and hone them into better cabaret performers in a nine-day course that is held on the New Haven campus. What makes this year's benefit show even more special is that Lisa Picone is finally making her way to Yale after last year's scare with breast cancer. Picone was given a slot this year after she had wowed judges in 2008, but was forced to bow out after her regimen of chemotherapy prevented her from attending the course. Picone's fellow classmate Mandy stepped into Ricky Graham and Jefferson Turner's Renew Review while Picone was on the mend. So, the two have history between them. Soon they will be making history on the historic Yale campus.