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The 1940s roar during Kennedy Center season

Event billed as venue's largest ever

WASHINGTON — A celebration of art from the 1940s, including a new production of “Mr. Roberts,” will be among the highlights of the John F. Kennedy Center’s 2004-05 season.

The celebration, unveiled by president Michael Kaiser, will include music, dance and film from the decade. It is billed as the center’s largest project ever, and will include a new, semi-staged production of “Regina,” the 1940 Broadway musical by composer-librettist Marc Blitzstein based on Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes.” Patti LuPone will star.

“Mr. Roberts,” to be directed by Robert Longbottom, will accent a ’40s tribute that will be long on music, including a tribute to jazz legend Charlie Parker, as well as several presentations of the decade’s popular songs and composers.

Dance companies showcasing 1940s works will include American Ballet Theater, Dance Theater of Harlem, the New York City Ballet and the Martha Graham Dance Company, which will offer “Appalachian Spring,” a 1944 choreographed by Graham with music by Aaron Copland.

In addition, four of the decade’s most popular films will be screened — “Casablanca,” “Mildred Pierce,” “The Maltese Falcon” and “Meet Me in St. Louis.”

The center’s theater sked will not reach for the rafters, as it does this season with its Tennessee Williams retrospective, or the Sondheim festival of two years ago. It will debut with a staged reading of Ernest Thompson’s “On Golden Pond” with James Earl Jones and Diahann Carroll at the Eisenhower Theater.

The center also will mount the musical “Bye Bye Birdie” in a co-production with Manny Kladitis slated for Broadway following its Kennedy Center run. A return of the Royal Shakespeare Co. and a summertime booking of “Hairspray” will complete the theater season.

Other highlights of the center’s upcoming season will include an opening-night gala of the National Symphony Orchestra celebrating music director Leonard Slatkin’s 60th birthday. A blizzard of accomplished artists will perform.

Also on tap is a six-program showcase of black choreographers, a new staging of George Balanchine’s “Don Quixote” by the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, a performance by Mikhail Baryshnikov and a celebration of the arts of Puerto Rico.

The Kirov Opera and Orchestra will return in January to present “Boris Godunov.” The Kirov Ballet also will be on hand for a new production of “Cinderella.”

For his part, Kaiser will launch a series of conversations with accomplished artists, “Voices of the Arts.” Series will debut with chats with opera star Marilyn Horne and actor John Lithgow.

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