Kennedy Center Enters Its “Golden Age”

Marc Kudisch as Antonio Tamburini and Jeffrey Carlson as Vincenzo Bellini in "Golden Age." | Mark Garvin

Marc Kudisch sounded psyched.

“We’re all eager to bring this play to Washington,” Kudisch, who’s appeared at Signature Theater here and who’s a veteran of big Broadway musicals, said in a phone interview from Philadelphia. “Washington is such a great theater town and they audiences here are so responsive, they’re so sharp so I for one can’t wait to see what happens.”

Kudisch is part of the cast of “The Golden Age” by Terrence McNally, which kicks off “Nights at the Opera,” a three-part, five-week presentation by the Kennedy Center in which three of McNally’s plays, all of them with opera themes or focuses, will be performed concurrently on three Kennedy Center Stages.

In addition to “Golden Age,” the festival also includes “The Lisbon Traviata” and “Master Class,” which will star Tyne Daly as the legendary diva Maria Callas. But “Golden Age,” which just completed a world premiere run at the Philadelphia Theater Company, is by far the most newsworthy of the three offerings, given that it’s a new play by the prolific McNally, and that it continues and perhaps completes his theatrical passion for opera.

Kudisch, who’s had some experience with opera and shares the fascination, actually has made his mark in today’s Broadway musical theater, although that’s not what he set out to do. Originally from Hassenback, NJ, “I came to New York as a dramatic actor, I’d never seen myself as a singer, had no intention of doing musicals, I did off-Broadway a lot,” he said.

Then came Birdie. “I got cast as Conrad Birdie, in the Tommy Tune revival of ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ and toured with it,” he said. “That sort of set me on my way.” And then some: “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Bells Are Ringing,” “The Wild Party,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” “9 to 5,” Sondheim’s dark “Assassins,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “A Little Night Music,” the Signature’s cutting edge musical “The Witches of Eastwick” and as Vincent Van Gogh in “The Highest Yellow.”

“You can really tell how the people that are creating, writing, and composing musicals today are going in new directions,” Kudisch said. “In some ways, that’s what “Golden Age” is all about, except that the characters are Rossini and Bellini and the creative artists who inhabit the world of opera in Paris in 1835. They’re thinking about the same things, new music, how it will be greeted by critics, other artists.”

“Golden Age” is about back-stage doings at the premiere of Bellini’s opera “I Puritani.” Rossini will be heard from and we also hear the Puritani quartet, the four singers who are the stars of the opera, one of them played by Kudisch. “It’s a very personal thing for McNally, and we and he learned a lot from the run in Philly.”

Kudisch thinks the festival is a great idea. “You get a chance to see what I think is some of McNally’s best work,” he said, “and it’s a focus that tells you a lot about his career.”
“Golden Age” will be at the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater March 12-April 4. “The Lisbon Traviata” will be at the Terrace Theater March 20-April 11 and “Master Class” will be at the Eisenhower Theater March 25-April 18.

Upcoming performances:

– There’s new material from playwright Neil LaBute, who tackles contemporary American contentions with gusto, clear-headedness and the impact of a punch in the mouth. LaBute’s latest, “Reasons to be Pretty,” comes to the Studio Theater, which has become a go-to theater with LaBute’s work, and completes his trilogy exploring our obsession with looks and physical beauty, which began with “The Shape of Things” and “Fat Pig,” both hits at the Studio. “Reasons to be Pretty,” directed by David Muse, opens March 24 at the Mead Theater.

– Could there be a more provocative and tempting title than “Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews”? Especially if you’re Jewish, or follow all things Warhol. The D.C. Jewish Community Center has you covered on both issues, with the very same one-man show written and performed by Josh Kornbluth, the popular San Francisco-based monologist who had a hit with “Citizen Josh,” through March 21. The show is based in part on a ground-breaking exhibition of silk screen portraits of prominent Jewish figures by Warhol in 1980, an exhibition which can be seen in the DCJC’s Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery. “Good for the Jews” runs through May 2.

– “Porgy and Bess,” George Gershwin’s landmark, truly American opera, opens the Washington National Opera’s spring portion of its 2009-2010 season March 20-April 3, with such stirring American classic songs as “Summertime” and “Porgy.”

Read Vera Tilson’s interview with “Porgy and Bess” conductor John Mauceri here.

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