- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 25, 2007

“You need a Lili in your life — the sort of innocence she portrays,” said “Carnival!” director-choreographer Robert Longbottom Saturday at the cast party following the opening of the Kennedy Center’s $4 million musical, a revival of the 1961 Broadway production, which follows the adventures of a French provincial orphan learning about life’s truths.

Innocence would seem to be a rare quality in Washington, which may be why he was so upbeat. Leading lady Ereni Sevasti, a mature gamine, said it was no trouble playing the role of a 16-year-old, as quaint as her teenage naivety might seem to contemporary audiences: “Sixteen? It’s easy. You can just sort of go there,” she said while handing out gifts of wine and candy to Kennedy Center officials and fellow cast members.

Neither Miss Sevasti nor 35-year-old Jim Stanek, playing opposite her as a troubled puppeteer, ever had seen the original, of course, and he confessed he only had heard that show’s star, the late Jerry Orbach, on an old cast recording. His thrill was having his three young sons present to see him handling puppets as well as singing and acting. “You sing better than Jerry Orbach,” fans told him.

For Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser the production was a trip down memory lane. Thirty years ago in Arlington, Mass., he portrayed a dancing-singing roustabout — circus hands as pertinent as sawdust to traveling circuses or “carney” shows — in another revival. The reason to tackle “Carnival!” again now, he said, is because “it hasn’t been done often, and it is beautiful music.” Would this version travel? “It’s never our idea; we don’t do work and think about taking it somewhere else.” The large cast of 40, plus a 20-member orchestra, makes that doubtful, he pointed out.

Party guests drank blue, pink and yellow martinis and nibbled on such throw-back ‘60s treats as Rice Krispies cakes. ‘smores and cream-layered cookies. Center trustee Bill McSweeny struck the right appreciative note, saying of the play’s nostalgic bittersweetness that, “It’s nice to leave with a feeling of joy.”

— Ann Geracimos

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