Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Its been a year of blessings and tragedy. So many terrible things happened around the world that creedence must be given to the belief that progress is hard to come by and old patterns of war, strife, greed, and darkness remain. The Tsunami, The Earthquake in Pakistan, The War in Iraq, The Hurricanes.

But through it all, strong, optomisitic, selfess and compassionate people have risen above the blood stained tides to help their fellows and keep hope alive.

For me it was a very interesting and exciting year, and one that I have so much to be grateful for. The amazing 5 weeks I spent in China in the Spring, launching my new company, seeing The Pogues in London and U2 in Dublin. Most of all, maintaining my health, my friendships, the love of my family and knowing compassion have trumped all.

In life there are things we anticipate, hope for, look forward to and desire to the point of irrationality. This is probably not one of them, but nonetheless this week I will be doing my "best of" lists. I am going to stick mainly to mainstream culture, news, sports etc. I may go ahead with a final list next week that deals with more off the beaten track things that I love that don't have wide appeal. Anyway, here it is.

Tuesday - Best of Popular Culture

Wednesday Best of the News/Politics

Thursday - Best of Sports

Friday - Best of Music


Doris Kearns Goodwin's masterpiece "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln." The master historian spent ten years researching and writing this book. In essence she wrote four biographies and the story of the most important moment in the country's history.

She follows Lincoln and his three rivals at the 1860 Republican convention, Edwin Stanton, Salmon Chase and Edward Bates - all of whom he would bring into his cabinet after winning the election.

This is a story of human nature, compassion, egos, friendship, competition, rivalry, war and sacrifice for the greater good. It goes to the heart of the questions: What is freedom and can people really govern themselves?

Ultimately it is the story of the most compassionate, brilliant, politically save, good humored president, speechwriter, orator and political crafstman in U.S. History.

The books crowning achievement is, through letters, diaries, newspapers, memoirs and government documents and recollections to put the reader directly next to
these four giants of their time as they navigate their hearts, their minds, their families, abolition and the saving of the Union. This is more than history, it is a primer on human relations.


'The truth makes for a bad sermon. It tends to be confusing and have no clear conclusion"
-Father Flynn, on why he uses parables

What do you know for sure? What is it that you know with absolute certainty? What have you done to help promote the "truth" you are sure about? What liberties have you taken to ensure that good and truth win out over falsehoods and evil?

In John Patrick Shanely's Tony and Pulitzer prize winning play "Doubt" the nature of truth, certainty, good, evil and changing social mores are laid out on a slab like a body laid out for autopsy.

Set in a Catholic school in the Bronx, 1964, the center of the play is Sister Aloysius, who's suspicions about a possibly sexual relationship between a young and charismatic priest and a student sets the story in motion.

She is, in a world where certainty and truth are being broken down and redefined, a woman and nun whose convictions about right and wrong, good and evil and guilt and innocence are unassailable. Played magnificently by Cheri Jones, Sister Aloysis has in her employ, a young, innocent and dedicated young teacher, Sister James.

Sister James is caught in the middle of the clash of views, convictions and strong personalities of the Nun and Father Flynn (played expertly by the great Irish actor Brian F. O Byrne). The battle is not only for truth, but for the mind and heart of this impressionable young teacher.

Shanely's genius is twofold, he communicates the points of view of all the characters without indulging any of them. He also makes the audience an integral part of the show and leaves them in the delightful and frustrating position of judge and jury. It is the reflection of Doubt by the audience that makes it stand apart from other shows.

The show is eloquent, angry, artful. At the end of this one act, 90 minute steamroller of human emotion, we are left wondering what the nature of certainty, belief, faith and doubt truly are and what we might do in the pursuit of the truth, even perhaps "stepping away from God to do his work."


SPAMALOT is one of the funniest productions I have ever witnessed on stage. Starring Tim Curry (King Arthur) David Hyde Pierce (Sir Robin) and Hank Azaria (Sir Lancelot)and directed by Mike Nichols, the Eric Idle penned lyrics and book combine the story lines from the original "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" movie with a sharp satirical skewering of popular culture by creating set pieces for send ups of Broadway Musicals, Movies, Las Vegas and the culture of 15 minutes of fame.

All of the classic scenes from the movie are included. The Knights who say Ni, The Taunting Frenchmen, The Killer Rabbit. But there is so much more to the stage version. The set pieces are tied together with brilliant musical numbers that send up "The Boy from Oz" (Lancelot discovers his inner Peter Allen - "his name is Lancelot, he likes to dance a lot") The Phantom of the Opera (punctuated by the hilarious "Every Show has a Song like This" - play on the dramatic Lloyd Weber love song duets. Tribute is also paid to "The Producers" with the brilliant and self referencing "You won't succeed on Broadway (without a Jew)."

What ties it all together is the brilliant and original plays on linguistic convention from the original and the newly twisted lyrics of the songs. While you have tears rolling down your cheek from laughter, as the brilliant faux diva Lady of The Lake (played perfectly by Sara Ramirez) sings "Whatever Happened to my Part?." Oh the vanity, oh the selfishness, oh where's my agent? You can't help but experience anew the power that language used in a comedic form can have in revealing truths about pop culture, history and ourselves.


Syriana does for illuminating the truths, strange political bedfellows and global interconnectedness of war, money, banking and politics of the oil industry what Traffic did for the illegal drug industry. No surprise as it was written by Stephen Gaghan, author of Traffic. Based on years of interviews, trips around the globe and the life and times of former CIA Agent Bob Baer, Syriana draws it power from the authenticity and truth provided by Gaghan's tireless research.

The overlapping story lines and characters sometimes come close to the movie collapse under its own weight, but it never does. Brilliant, important and well crafted, Syriana is a must see.

BEST CONCERT - U2 June, 2005, Dublin Ireland, Croke Park

I saw U2 seven times on the 2005 Vertigo tour, eight if you count the night I saw them play in front of only 1200 people at the March Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction ceremony. I also saw them in New Jersey, New York (MSG three nights) and Las Vegas and an additional night in Dublin.

Far and away opening night of a three night stand in the band's hometown was the best of the lot. Outside, in the middle of North Dublin, Croke Park, 80,000 people, of which at least 40,000 flew in from somewhere else. The opening chords of Vertigo, into the Electric Co. into Beautiful Day and a night of manic energy and socially conscious party theatrics. Simply put, the best live band in the world.

A long way from my first show on the WAR TOUR in 1983, but every bit as vital and important.


No matter how many years I go and see this annual concert series, I walk away feeling like I stepped into a time machine and disappeared into another time and place. The building, the orchestra, the soloists, the selections, this year again, the best put together series in New York.