- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser keeps a chart of past, present and future seasons when plotting the arts center’s schedule.

It’s an old-school approach that prevents him from giving any one genre short shrift.

Nevertheless, yesterday’s official announcement of the 2007-08 season was a totally modern affair.

A gleaming white robot kicked off the program, shuffling to center stage to play “What a Wonderful World” on trumpet.

Yes, the robot actually played the instrument.

And every part of Mr. Kaiser’s announcement could be heard online via streaming video.

How fitting to trumpet the center’s coming season, which will celebrate Japan’s forward-thinking culture.

The Japanese festival will feature both national and world premieres and is just one of many internationally flavored programs that will take center stage in the Kennedy Center’s new season.

The center also is planning a celebration of the late playwright August Wilson, a tribute to the underrated art of a cappella singing and a farewell to outgoing National Symphony Orchestra conductor Leonard Slatkin with music by cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

“August Wilson’s 20th Century” will include a series of staged readings, in costume and with sets, comprising Mr. Wilson’s 10-play cycle on the black experience in America.

“They’ve never been done in the order in which they take place. You’ll see the whole sweep of the 20th century,” Mr. Kaiser said, adding that he began working on the project shortly after Mr. Wilson’s death in 2005. “You couldn’t do 10 fully staged plays, so we came up with this approach.”

The actors set to appear in the productions including John Amos, Rocky Carroll and Tony Award winners Phylicia Rashad and Viola Davis all have worked with the playwright’s material before.

Among the other scheduled performances:

mAccomplished singer and conductor Bobby McFerrin will highlight A Cappella: Singing Solo, a program set to showcase everything from barbershop quartets to music by Nova Scotia miners. Mr. McFerrin’s concert will include Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares, La Capilla Virreinal de la Nueva Espana and Chanticleer.

“Each year I try to do something that people hadn’t thought of before,” Mr. Kaiser says of the a cappella festival. “I don’t think anyone’s treating seriously.”

The Japanese festival, dubbed Japan! Culture + Hyperculture, will feature a laptop orchestra that uses technology to improvise material, the Strange Kinoko Dance Company and programs revolving around robots and the arts.

The new Ballet Across America program promises the country’s brightest dance talents, and theater fans can check out both “The Lion King” and a new production of “My Fair Lady.”

In a similar vein, the new season will feature Barbara Cook’s Spotlight, a new series offering the best Broadway singers, including Miss Cook herself.

The upcoming season also will feature the 30th Kennedy Center Honors as well as the 10th annual Mark Twain Prize for American humor.

It all kicks off Aug. 30 with the annual Prelude Festival, highlighted by an Underground Circus featuring a variety of big-top-style acts.

For more information about the upcoming season, visit www.kennedy-center.org/programs/newseason/.

The late August Wilson’s 10-play cycle on blacks in 20th-century will be performed in order.

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