Honorees for the 25th annual Kennedy Center Honors include Tony Award winning singer/actress/dancer Chita Rivera, Tony-winning actor James Earl Jones, conductor James Levine, singer/songwriter Paul Simon and Academy Award-winning actress Elizabeth Taylor.
President Bush and the First Lady attended the gala ceremony at the Kennedy Center's Opera House. Earlier in the evening, Bush addressed the five artists at a White House reception. "This year we've brought together in one room a legend of Broadway," the President said, "the conductor of the Met, the composer of 'Mrs. Robinson,' the face of Cleopatra and the voice of Darth Vader. Each one of you is known to the American people in a way that runs deeper than fame."
The tribute to Chita Rivera — a Washington-born artist — included Donna Murphy's rendition of "Kiss of the Spider Woman," Valarie Pettiford's "All That Jazz" as well as 83 dancers who performed West Side Story's "America." Man of La Mancha's Brian Stokes Mitchell, director Harold Prince, Chicago's Charlotte d'Amboise and dancer Desmond Richardson also saluted the Tony Award-winning star.
Charles S. Dutton and Kelsey Grammar led the salute to James Earl Jones, and the evening also included appearances from John Travolta, Sidney Poitier, Steve Martin, The Gay Men's Chorus of Washington D.C., Bryn Terfel, Rudolph Giuliani, Frederica von Stade, Bryn Terfel, James Taylor, Billy Hartung, Patricia Ben Peterson, Courtney B. Vance, Dionne Warwick, John Mellencamp, Placido Domingo, Alison Krauss, Alicia Keys, the Dixie Hummingbirds and Broadway's Alice Ripley, who — with Matt Bogart — reprised her version of "Getting Married Today" for honoree Elizabeth Taylor.
Variety reports that 57 minutes of the evening were trimmed for the CBS broadcast, although this Steve Martin introduction — for Paul Simon — remained: "Coming in here tonight, I heard [someone] behind me saying, 'Steve, Steve, Hey Steve' and I turned and I said, 'Yes, Mr. President.' And he said, 'Do you know where I can get some Paul Simon records?' And I said, 'Sure. At the record store.' And he said, 'No, no, no. I don't want all the album notes and all that stuff. I need bootleg stuff.' Then he said, 'And while you're at it could you get me some Barbra Streisand records? I love her music, but I can't be seen buying it. I need pirate stuff.' And I said, 'But Mr. President, that's illegal. And he said, 'Oh right."' *
Born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero in 1933, Chita Rivera is one of the theatre's most acclaimed performers. She has won Tony Awards for her performances in two Kander and Ebb musicals, The Rink and Kiss of the Spider Woman, and was also nominated for her work in Bye Bye Birdie, Chicago, Bring Back Birdie, Merlin and Jerry's Girls. Rivera's other Broadway credits include the musical Seventh Heaven, her Broadway debut; Mr. Wonderful; the original production of West Side Story; and Bajour. She appeared in the film version of "Sweet Charity," starred in the world premiere of Kander and Ebb's The Visit, and recently headlined Bernarda Alba at the Mark Taper Forum.
James Earl Jones won his Tonys for The Great White Hope and Fences. His other Broadway credits include Sunrise at Campobello, The Cool World, Infidel Caesar, Danton's Death, A Hand Is on the Gate, Les Blancs, The Iceman Cometh, Of Mice and Men, Paul Robeson, A Lesson from Aloes, Othello and MASTER HAROLD . . . and the boys.
Last year's recipients included Julie Andrews, Van Cliburn, Quincy Jones, Jack Nicholson and Luciano Pavarotti.