Posted June 24, 2008 10:07 AM (EST)
Friday night at the Hollywood Bowl, in a blazing heat, under smoggy stars, Liza Minnelli gave the greatest performance of her life. At sixty-two years of age she defied the cookie-cutter-American Idol-mediocrity that Americans have come to accept as organic talent. Liza Minnelli earned her ovations with her lifetime of commitment and one night of sweltering, spot-on perfection. She soared with an intuitive talent fueled by grit, hard work, courage, and studied skill. A lightning rod of timing, movement and voice, each successive audacious number rocketed from the base of her soul exploding across the wide-eyed audience as they stood in giddy disbelief. This was American showbiz at the top of its game. Minnelli wasn't just living the performance; she made the audience feel 200% alive.
As Americans face our daily onslaught of bad news, dire predictions, and cynicism, entertainment must inspire us, not just entertain or distract us. Seven-plus years of Republican imprudence, fear mongering, and looking to the heavens for strength have disassociated too many of us from the possibility of perfection and rebirth that lies within each one of us. If America is to redefine herself as a leader, we must all learn from performances like Minnelli's. Each one of us must pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, cast off our "Restless Leg Syndrome-Fiber Myalgia-Identity-Theft" fears and get back to the work of being strong resilient individuals proud of our domestic output.
From Britney Spears to reality television, from violent films to the irresponsibility of the movie Juno, Hollywood has rewarded mediocrity time and time again, lowering the bar for millions of young viewers looking for their standard-bearer. If America is to shine once more, we need optimistic leaders in Washington, at home, in education, in science, on Broadway, and in Hollywood.
The LA Philharmonic, whose board runs the Hollywood Bowl, is taking the lead to educate and inspire children through music. The public sector benefits immeasurably from this kind of civic leadership. Just ask Gustavo Dudamel, their incoming music director/conductor. At the precious age of twenty-seven, he is the product of a trailblazing music education in Venezuela called El Sistema. If music education ever had an inspirational shot in the arm, Dudamel is a hypodermic. His success, spirit, and leadership will even help make music education a priority in America's public schools.
The LA Phil's varied music education program called "Music Matters" was the financial beneficiary of Friday evening. The opening night gala was a celebration honoring Minnelli, Sir James Galway, and B.B. King, inducting each of them into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame. B.B. King was stellar as the father of floor-stomping-soulful Blues; Galway's flute was prayful and playful as "Danny Boy" echoed across the bowl. It was a night that could rival the imagined dream ticket of Billie Holliday, Glenn Miller, and Judy Garland.
Tragically, Friday night's blowout is threatened by union rules to lose its only historical record. The Bowl captured the entire evening on DVD, but only the sections the stars specify to be archived at the Bowl's Hall of Fame museum will be retained. The rest of the evening -- potentially all of the evening -- will be destroyed. If Judy Garland's 1961 appearance at Carnegie Hall had lost its only recording, her greatest night would have been over at her final bow. I can only hope Liza will follow in her mother's footsteps by ordering The Bowl to preserve perfection.
Meanwhile, Bravo to Liza Minnelli!