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At the Kennedy Center’s ’50 Yars of Broadway,’ Vanessa Williams, Andrew Rannells, and other theatre legends dazzle

Vanessa Williams
Vanessa Williams dazzles at the Kennedy Center's Broadway celebration.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, WASHINGTON, D.C. – If Broadway is the pinnacle, the Kennedy Center is where it all begins.

The historic Washington arts center, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is known for its symphony performances and specialized events, with the Kennedy Center Honors and Mark Twain Prize at the top of the list.

But it’s also long been a haven for theatre, both new and old, and that great recollection was honored on Friday, the opening night of the two-night.

Bette Midler, Joni Mitchell, and Lorne Michaels are among the Kennedy Center Honorees.

The evening would have been complete without Tony winners Stephanie J. Block

One of the most interesting features of the play was the reminder that three Broadway musicals – “Annie,” “Pippin,” and “Les Miserables” – had their world premieres at the Kennedy Center. McArdle, the first Annie, and Ruffelle, the first Eponine in “Les Miserables,” took on songs from those early roles with the knowledge that comes with experience.

The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra zigzagged between songs from “Wicked” to “Cabaret” to “Sunday in the Park with George” in more than two hours of music, capturing the magnificence of live theatre with this all-star group.

— During “Hit Me with a Hot Note,” Williams, 58, shimmied, swirled, and bared her muscular legs in a fringed black dress (“Sophisticated Ladies”).

– She was immediately intrigued when Wolfe merely got behind the mike stand and uttered lines eternally associated to Liza Minnelli – “Maybe this time, I’ll be lucky/maybe this time, He’s going to remain.” Her extraction of the hope and desperation from “Maybe This Time” from “Cabaret,” a continuous ascent until its climax, was a master class in technique.

The show’s first standing ovation came in the second act, a well-deserved salute to Lewis, whose seductive “Music of the Night” . – Block made an amazing performance of “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” making the “Funny Girl” hit forever associated with Barbra Streisand her own with altered phrasing and a wonderfully maintained final note, as witnessed in “The Cher Show,” when she played Cher — no easy assignment. She also reprised her role as Elphaba, which she first played in the Kennedy Center performance, by singing “Wicked’s” most vocally demanding song. Block used her arms for emphasis as she plunged into the soaring “Defying Gravity” on a stage illuminated in green, despite the lack of a billowing outfit.

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