Monday, May 08, 2006

Kennedy Center Spring Gala

Celebrating its 35th birthday this year, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday presented its annual spring gala, which brought in $2.8 million in funds to underwrite the performing arts and performing arts education.

After a really big show in the Concert Hall, featuring the National Symphony Orchestra Pops, the Ailey II dancers, the kids from Mad Hot Ballroom, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the Master Chorale of Washington, and many more stars of past, present, and future, gala-goers and celebrities mingled on the Kennedy Center's Rooftop Terrace, enjoying cocktails and desserts. Here are a few of the shots I snapped at the party.

The Honorary Chair of the evening's festivities was Angela Lansbury, Oscar-nominated and Tony-winning actress and star of the musical theatre milestones Anyone Can Whistle, Mame, Gypsy, and Sweeney Todd. (We'll pass by Dear World for the moment.)

Tony-Award-winning actor George Hearn, Broadway's original Albin in La Cage Aux Folles, was Angela Lansbury's costar in the national company and television productions of Sweeney Todd -- by many accounts, the best of the many Sweeney Todds to play the role. He and Lansbury sang "A Little Priest" on the Concert Hall stage Sunday night, to rousing applause. Mr. Hearn told me he will be doing an evening of Sondheim songs at Ravinia this summer, and he also plans to perform in a concert version of Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella.

One of the young artists featured at Sunday's gala was trumpeter Brandon Ridenour, a third-year student at Juilliard, who was recommended to NSO Pops conductor Marvin Hamlisch by Juilliard's president, Joseph W. Polisi, and the chair of the brass department, Raymond Mase. He has a new recording with his pianist father (Rich Ridenour), called Trumpet Invasion, (which his mother was kind enough to give to me, drawing it from her purse like a magician pulls a rabbit from his hat).

Speaking of musicians, the aforementioned Marvin Hamlisch -- who has brought home Oscars, Tonys, Grammys, Emmys, Golden Globes, and even the Pulitzer Prize -- was on hand as well. Maestro Hamlisch was credited with directing the whole amazing show, whose music spanned the spectrum from opera to Broadway to salsa to tap to spirituals to tango to the Bruch violin concerto.

Amidst all this star power, it was Charlottesville's own Big Ray and the Kool Kats that provided the dance music for the post-gala reception!

Some people are not old enough to remember Angela Lansbury from Gaslight or The Manchurian Candidate or as Auntie Mame or Mama Rose. But they do, as George Mason University student Richard Morrison does, remember her as Jessica Fletcher on TV's long-running Murder, She Wrote. (That's Richard to the right, the one not wearing diamonds.)

Update: I have posted the review I wrote about the Gala performance for the Metro Herald here.

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