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Kennedy Center nabs ‘Beauty’

When the Kennedy Center flexes its muscles, other area theaters feel pain. With its two big theatrical stages, well-oiled marketing machine and voracious appetite, the Kennedy Center has locked up some of the season’s most attractive touring productions.

Fully guaranteed shows simply plug into its healthy subscription base, enormous marketing capabilities, group sales effort and 300,000-subscriber newsletter.

Small wonder the center, with its 2,235-seat Opera House and 1,110-seat Eisenhower Theater, has snared the coveted “Beauty and the Beast” for an open-ended run in the Opera House next June (and for which sales efforts began last spring). The season also includes “Hello, Dolly!,” with Carol Channing, currently at the Opera House; “Master Class,” with Zoe Caldwell, now at the Eisenhower; Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women”; and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Not only does the Center typically snare the big productions, but the lack of product has forced it to forage for smaller shows that previously went to smaller stages. For example, the two-person Broadway production “Having Our Say” is likely to be booked into the Eisenhower next fall following its run at the Booth Theater, much to the chagrin of Frankie Hewitt, executive producer of Ford’s Theater here.

Perfectfit

“I went to opening night and immediately tried to get the show, which both the director and producer agreed is a perfect fit for Ford’s,” Hewitt says. “But I lost out to the Kennedy Center.”

Hewitt concedes there are obvious financial reasons for favoring the larger facility, but she laments that “this is what’s happening since there are so few larger shows coming out.”

Hewitt is trying her best to alleviate the product shortage. She is mounting the third revision of an original musical, “Elmer Gantry,” amid high hopes for a promising future.

In Washington, revivals and return engagements are again grist for the National and Warner Theaters. At the National, operated by the Shubert Organization, bookings sink or swim with the Shubert’s policy against guarantees. Typically that means sinking, as the venerable house endures months of darkness and has lost its once-enviable subscription base. Like the Warner down the street, it is also hampered by confining stage and fly space that precludes larger productions.

But general manager Harry Teeter promises a busy season of affordable shows. It includes “The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber,” a fortnight run of “A Tuna Christmas,” a three-month booking of “Les Miserables” and the umpteenth return of “Cats” next spring. “We’re coming back to where we were 10 years ago at the National,” Teeter says, praising the Shubert Organization for sticking with the house during the lean years.

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