- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 30, 2001

Rex Smith easily could have hidden in the "Where are they now?" bin. Instead, the former teen heartthrob persisted until he earned regular gigs on Broadway. These days, he's crisscrossing the country as part of the "Kiss Me, Kate" touring troupe.
"This is what I've settled into, life as a live-theater performer," he says during a phone call from Connecticut.
Mr. Smith, 44, stars as Fred Graham, ex-husband of Lilli Vanessi, in the classic Broadway musical, which comes to the Kennedy Center on Tuesday and runs through Aug. 5.
The show, set backstage during a musical tryout based on Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew," features songs such as "Wunderbar" and "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" by Cole Porter.
The 1999 Broadway revival, which sparked the current tour, was the first since the Tony Award-winning show's debut there in 1948.
Mr. Smith's transition from television's "Solid Gold" and "Street Hawk" to working Broadway performer didn't happen overnight.
But a friendship he forged with actor Kevin Kline during the making of the 1983 film version of "The Pirates of Penzance" helped nudge his career in the right direction.
"Kevin Kline planted the seeds of responsibility that didn't take life until about eight years ago," he says of the Oscar-winning actor, with whom he still gets together to bounce around creative ideas and audition tips.
"'Kate' is the bookend to 'The Pirates of Penzance,'" he says, looking back on his curious career. "This is the most physically demanding part of my life."
His latest creative partner, "Kate's" Rachel York, is an old friend, too. The pair worked together on Broadway, also as ex-lovers, in "The Scarlet Pimpernel."
Working with Miss York means "a thousand less things to worry about," the Jacksonville, Fla., native says. "The first day of work, we didn't have to spend time skirting issues."
Mr. Smith's teen-idol days remain a part of him, though. Next spring, he and his 1979 hit, "You Take My Breath Away," will enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland as part of its teen-idol exhibition.
The memories are sweet, but he prefers his current job to the screaming masses of yore.
"I don't know anywhere else where I can get the swell of a 16-piece orchestra," he says. "You peel off your costume, and you're soaking wet from the work."

WHAT: "Kiss Me, Kate"
WHERE: The Kennedy Center Opera House, F Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW
WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, from Tuesday through Aug. 5. There will be no performance on July Fourth, but added performances at 2 p.m. Thursday and Aug. 1 and at 8 p.m. July 30.
TICKETS: $20 to $79
PHONE: 202/467-4600 or 800/444-1324

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