Lots of important people, lots of clips of important people having their say about how grand the center will be/is fill out the opening seg of the long menu. Barbara Walters comes onstage to recall earlier days, and Sen. Ted Kennedy talks about his brother’s dream. Even the architect gets in a word, and the program hasn’t even started.
TX:Taped at the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C., by John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Smith-Hemion Prods. and WETA Washington D.C. Exec producers, Gary Smith, Lawrence K. Wilker; producers, Smith, Fred Rappoport; director, Dwight Hemion; writers, Robert M. Shrum, Smith, Rappoport; video, John Palacio Jr.; George Stevens Jr., commendably keeping the center in focus, recalls a touching anecdote about Leontyne Price, who made him a promise. But program’s most entertaining seg turns out to be a portion allotted to recaps of Honors achievers, with people like Henry Fonda, Bob Hope and James Stewart being the classiest acts of the entire show; it suggests something’s wrong when nostalgia beats out the rest of the marathon playbill.
Opening act features Robert Downey Jr. (program was taped April 27) in a spirited showcase with dancing youngsters, but doesn’t seem to have any other point. Later, a funny David Hyde Pierce joins nine other pianists onstage to pound out “Stars and Stripes Forever” as fireworks-like devices try to go off.
The Pilobolus Dance Theater is a high-class act with its charming, witty “Untitled” dance number in which not all is as it seems. Billy Taylor works up some jazz numbers, including all-femme jazz band Diva tearing into “Caravan.” Hal Prince intro’s Faith Prince, Hinton Battle, Melissa Errico and Colm Wilkinson handsomely bearing tunes from Broadway shows that played the Kennedy.
Youthful cellist Han-Na Chang turns in a top-flight perf of a Haydn concerto, and soprano Harolyn Blackwell beautifully chirps Bernstein’s “A Simple Song” from his “Mass,” which opened the center 25 years ago. Peter Nero, Trisha Yearwood and Aretha Franklin add tunes.
Most disappointing entry: With Wendy Wasserstein leading the way, Alan Arkin, Tyne Daly, Laurence Fishburne and Christine Lahti offer flat, brief readings from plays performed at the center.
A bizarre seg: Richard Dreyfuss, intro’d by Tom Selleck, conducts a young orch in Michael Kamen’s “An American Symphony”; being on key seems a secondary concern. Another odd piece: With indifferent camerawork, ballet dancers Amanda McKerrow and Vladimir Malakhov of the American Ballet Theater posture through “La Bayadere,” which means “East Indian dancing girl,” though no one says so.
Hemion’s cameras dart among the celebs in the red-drenched opera house, cover the horseshoe circle, and focus and refocus on John Kennedy Jr. The people look pleased, though Ted Kennedy comments on the length of the show when, at the end, he says he doesn’t know whether it’s time for dinner or breakfast.