- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2001

It wasn't just "Another Op'nin' Another Show" at Saturday night's performance of "Kiss Me Kate," the revival of the famed Cole Porter musical now in a five-week run in Kennedy Center's Opera House.
Lead male singer Rex Smith, who appeared in the matinee show, bowed out due to vocal distress, giving understudy Michael Lackey normally a bit player called only the haberdasher — his big chance in the spotlight.
And Jim Newman, the second male lead, found himself twiddling his thumbs after the scenery suddenly shifted during the second act, leaving him no space to perform his "Bianca" song-and-dance number. "Our set just broke. Give us a few minutes here," the handsome actor told the audience before improvising an adroit "shuffle off to Buffalo" routine into the wings until the problem was fixed.
In the age-old tradition of theatrical gumption, the show must go on, and it did — in high spirits. Even the commanding female lead, Rachel York, had her troubles. "An actor has two kinds of nightmares. One is that you're on stage and forget the lines. The other is you can't find the stage. The Kennedy Center has so many corridors. I had to make an entrance at one point, and I didn't know where to go." A stage manager saved her by pointing the way.
The party after Saturday night's performance, which was open to members of the center's many "Circle" supporting groups, was also the occasion to toast the 38th birthday of cast member Stephen Reed at midnight. "Washington audiences are great," said the man who also understudies Mr. Newman's role. "The energy just goes back and forth across the stage. Today I saw a little girl in the front row hearing the music for the first time, beside an 80-year-old who knew the show. They were both enjoying it. We'll think back about all this when we are in Columbus or Grand Rapids."
The musical, which is having its first full revival in more than 50 years, was "doctored" and updated to some degree with the help of playwright John Guare. Topical jokes and allusions were added — poking fun, for instance, about a senator choosing to live in Georgetown — but the original setting of the play within a play taking place in Baltimore was the same.
"The audiences here laugh more at all the smart jokes," Mr. Reed said. "In New Haven (where the touring show opened), they weren't as quick. And in Los Angeles, audiences tend to sit on their hands until the end." The show goes next to Dallas and then Los Angeles. The opening week here was especially rough on the cast which had seven performances in four days.
"I love the Kennedy Center," said orchestra conductor Jim Moore, who had only a six-hour rehearsal before opening night Thursday with local musicians who make up the Opera House Orchestra. "There is a festive air about the place."
Mr. Lackey basked in the attention, as congratulations came his way from all sides. The hardest part of stepping in to the role, he said, wasn't the lack of rehearsals (he had only two), but the tension of having to wait for the green light while Mr. Smith decided if he could continue. "Once I knew for sure, the pressure was relieved." An equally youthful Miss York, whose last visit to Washington consisted of a "two-hour drive" around the monuments," said she grew up listening to the score sung by Ella Fitzgerald and others.
The script wouldn't pass muster among a politically correct crowd, but that didn't dismay Randy Donaldson, who plays a black valet catering to the whims of a white producer-director-lead in the show within the show. "It doesn't bother me: It shows the times. And, anyway, an African-American, Brian Stokes Mitchell, played the lead on Broadway."
There were memories of much earlier productions of the old time favorite as well. Former FBI Director William S. Sessions recalled seeing original cast member Lisa Kirk with Jose Ferrer (who had taken over from Alfred Drake) onstage in Dallas in 1954 when he was a young second lieutenant in the Air Force, fresh out of Nebraska. "It was the singularly most important thing I'd ever seen in my life up until that time," Mr. Sessions said of his first-ever Broadway show.
As his wife, Alice, remembered, that night was particularly special as well, though the excitement had nothing to do with crashing scenery or variations of "All About Eve" scenarios involving suddenly sick stars. "When we got home the next day, we read all about it in the newspapers," Mrs. Sessions said. The big news: Jose Ferrer and Rosemary Clooney, both major stars of the day, had "gone off and gotten married right after the show."

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