- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Warm and fuzzy feelings flowed in a bow to power and partisan politics at Ford's Theatres annual benefit Sunday night.
Decked out in their Sunday best, the president and vice president, Senate majority and minority leaders and a slew of representatives and other VIPs were treated to an "American Celebration," a chance to put aside Senate power coups in favor of patriotism and performance.
"Notice how nice Sen. Lott and Sen. Daschle work and play together when they are at Fords Theater," said Fords Artistic Director Frankie Hewitt, addressing President Bush in his first foray to the million-dollar benefit.
She called the 19th-century theater, most famously known as the site of Abraham Lincolns assassination, the "Switzerland of Washington."
Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, now the Senate minority leader because of the change in the balance of power, voiced no disagreement.
"We always enjoy it," he said of the celebration. "Its a night to put partisan politics aside."
The man who switched places with Mr. Lott last month, Tom Daschle, said that the mere fact that different parties and philosophies were unimportant that night is part of Fords "uniqueness."
"It really is the Switzerland of Washington."
The fund-raiser, which always attracts Washington power, hosted Sens. John Breaux and Bill Frist; Rep. John Dingell; Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson; Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta; Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.
The evening honored actor James Whitmore, famed for his portrayals of Will Rogers and Harry Truman, with the Lincoln medal. During intermission, John Norton puzzled over how to introduce the star to his wife, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton. It was no problem to the down-to-earth, pipe-smoking actor, who warmly shook hands and signed autographs.
The entertainment, which will be aired on ABC later this summer, was hosted by ABC journalist Sam ("I am not Billy Crystal") Donaldson and featured 13-year-old country singer Billy Gilman; comedian Jeff Foxworthy (sans redneck jokes); R&B; singer Mya, from Maryland; English opera singer Russell Watson; country rock band SheDaisy, from Texas; the Eastern High School Choir; and the Choral Arts Society. Members of SheDaisy, an all-girl country rock band, mused that they were "really not used to playing for this kind of audience."
All entertainers joined in the evenings finale of "God Bless America."
Ventriloquist Ronn Lucas irreverently began by having his dummy describe the theater as the "Sistine Chapel designed by Sears," flirting with "cute" Laura Bush and asking a delicate question:
"What happened to the last guy?" asked the dummy, looking down at President Bush. "Hes gone," Mr. Lucas answered.
"Does he know?"
Mr. Lucas left many in the audience with tears of hilarity when he persuaded American Airlines Chairman and CEO Don Carty to don a movable mouth and a felt cowboy hat and play a dummy performing "When Youre Smiling."
The president took the stage and the opportunity to commend the public-private partnership that revived the theater, and he pledged support for other ventures in the arts.
"Its right for government to support such ventures," he said before quoting Lincoln on the need for entertainment and rest. "We all need hearty laughs around Washington."

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