WASHINGTON — Five titans of showbiz from the worlds of acting, opera, dance and rock ‘n’ roll were feted over the weekend at the Kennedy Center Honors.
Singer-songwriter Chuck Berry, actor-director Clint Eastwood, actress Angela Lansbury, singer-conductor Placido Domingo and dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov received the coveted honors, which salute lifetime achievement in the performing arts.
The quintet received the customary lavish treatment — a banquet at the State Dept., a White House reception hosted by the president and first lady and a gala performance and dinner at the Kennedy Center.
As always, this year’s Honors program represented an unabashed lovefest between the political and entertainment establishments. It also enables corporations like CBS and Merrill Lynch (which funded the post-show dinner) to be associated with a prestige event. On another level, the honors were a successful fund-raiser that in the past has returned some $5 million each year to the Kennedy Center’s national education and community outreach programs.
George Stevens Jr., who enjoys connections in both Washington and Hollywood, conjured up the concept of the Honors 23 years ago and has co-produced the variety show ever since, first with the late Nick Vanoff and then with Don Mischer. This year’s edition will be broadcast Dec. 27 on CBS.
Audience at this year’s event included Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Lieberman, and William Daley, known as Vice President Gore’s campaign chairman.
Emcee for the affair was Walter Cronkite.
First honoree Lansbury was toasted by actress Glenn Close, who emphasized her London-born colleague’s versatility and generosity. Several performers, including Nathan Lane and Len Cariou, performed songs from “Mame,” “Sweeney Todd” and other Broadway shows that featured the performer.
Eastwood’s career was chronicled by Donald Sutherland, followed by an awkward display of personal reflections from Tommy Lee Jones, Morgan Freeman and Forest Whitaker. Comedian Don Rickles, who co-starred with Eastwood and Sutherland in the 1970 film “Kelly’s Heroes,” briefly turned the occasion into a celebrity roast, offering his trademark sarcasm.
Domingo’s musical career was extolled by Beverly Sills, a frequent onstage companion for more than 30 years. Ukrainian tenor Konstyantyn Andreyev and Argentine soprano Virginia Tola performed.
Baryshnikov was saluted by dancer Gregory Hines, followed by a performance from the New York-based Mark Morris Dance Group.
The evening’s vocal highlight was the final salute to rocker Berry, which included music from the Black Crowes, the B-52s and Little Richard, who performed a rousing “Roll Over Beethoven.” Leading the tribute was actress Goldie Hawn, who said it was Berry who spurred her teenage infatuation with showbiz.
Berry is the second rock ‘n’ roll legend to be honored by the center, following Bob Dylan, who received a tribute last year.