- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2007

It was a draw whether the remarks of philanthropist Sidney Harman or the building in his name — the Harman Center for the Arts — stole the show at Monday’s opening party for the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s new stage at 610 F St. NW.

Near the end of a star-packed performance emceed by actor Sam Waterston, the self-effacing high-fidelity pioneer thanked his wife, Rep. Jane Harman, for her inspiration and offered some inspiring words of his own, delivered extemporaneously in a manner as polished as any heard from the 17 company actors who opened the show.

A long ovation followed from the nearly 750-strong audience, which included Britain’s Duchess of Gloucester, ambassadors, Cabinet secretaries, past and present Supreme Court justices, and past and present District mayors. A contribution of about $20 million from Mr. Harman, an equal amount in grant form from the District government, and trustee contributions of more than $30 million had made the project a reality.

If a three-story glass-fronted high-tech cultural emporium seems over the top for tradition-bound Washington, so was the celebration that raised $2 million and reportedly cost an estimated $1 million to produce. “Like a Hollywood opening in New York,” volunteered Helen Hayes Awards impresario Victor Shargai. “The best.”

“California weather anyway,” noted a grateful Lucky Roosevelt, watching patrons and guests alight from limousines to be greeted outside by a smiling Nicholas Goldsborough, the theater’s managing director, and inside by gala chairwoman Ann Nitze, holding a pink-bowed wand Mr. Goldsborough had given her “for a magical evening.”

There were street closings, klieg lights, sidewalk entertainers and even fireworks lighting up the night sky as patrons trod a half block on a red carpet to the National Building Museum for a dinner that didn’t get under way until well past 9:30 p.m. A band kept festivities in motion until midnight.

The international contingent included a countess who flew in from Brazil for the occasion, the chairman of Buenos Aires’ Teatro Colon, and leaders from European music circles. New Yorkers present included actress Judith Light, who had appeared on Shakespeare’s Lansburgh stage in 2001; Kennedy Center Chairman Steve Schwarzman; Chelsea Clinton (who is on the company’s national council); and fashion designer Mary McFadden. “This is delicious,” commented Broadway-minded investor Mel Estrin. ” I’m proud of the city. We need another cultural center here.”

The enthusiasm was palpable. A likely motto for a venue that also will serve other arts groups could be lines spoken by Prospero in “The Tempest” — “Now I want spirit to enforce, art to enchant …”— said Shakespeare trustee Ken Adelman, who can quote the Bard on the spot

Social mavens and theater moguls such as Kennedy Center head Michael Kaiser were among those hearing violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter perform selections from “Porgy and Bess,” watching dancers Julio Bocca and Nina Ananiashvili in “Swan Lake,” moving in time to Wynton Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and seeing Patti LuPone step blithely through some of her most famous numbers. Miss LuPone, who came onstage referring to herself as the show’s comic touch, declared the evening important “for all of us artists.”

Local performers represented onstage — the Washington Ballet and Washington Performing Arts Society Men and Women of the Mass Choir — rightfully won raves.

Five years ago, Shakespeare’s Artistic Director Michael Kahn went into a meeting of his board of trustees to ask about expanding the theater’s capability and reputation by adding a second stage. “It was pretty extraordinary the board agreed,” he related gleefully from the podium.

And over the top they went — to just under $60 million. A bit more is needed, but no one was talking about that Monday night.

Ann Geracimos

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