The chief attraction of a backstage pass at the Kennedy Center, besides a peek at the pulleys, is the sense that you’re getting behind the glitz, seeing what Zoe Caldwell and James Earl Jones see when they bask in the spotlight. So when the folks at the KenCen decided to turn the Eisenhower Theater’s stage into a nightclub called K.C.’s Cabaret for the presentation of intimate summer comedy and musical revues, they didn’t want to pretty things up too much. Elegance mixed with greasepaint was the idea.
To that end, they built a performance platform with its back to the main auditorium, hung 30-foot-high curtains around a backstage bar, and installed tables and about 500 comfortably padded chairs where dancers usually dance and thespians thesp. A massive, horizontal, five-pointed star provides a ceiling of sorts (the real ceiling is almost six stories up) without obscuring the cables and rails from which scenery usually hangs. When stage flats propped against cinder-block walls proved overly pristine, some were flipped so their wood frames would show.
Technicians in the lighting and sound booths are in full view. And with the stage curtain wide open, so is the Eisenhower’s auditorium—row upon row of scarlet seating behind the makeshift stage—reminding patrons of the privileged perch they’re temporarily occupying.
When a troupe of Second City alums (pictured)—including Saturday Night Live-ers Tim Meadows (the guy who always plays Johnnie Cochran) and Dave Koechner (one of the fops)—breaks the space in with Truth, Justice or the American Way, all this atmosphere will be just a pleasant backdrop. But for the Broadway songbooks to follow, it’s more integral: a theatrical space ideally suited to the talents of Broadway’s Carol Lawrence (West Side Story’s original Maria), who’ll headline Puttin’ on the Ritz, and legendary song stylist Julie Wilson, who’ll interpret the hell out of Rodgers & Hart standards in This Funny World.
Tickets are priced to move (a $20 top for the comedy, $30 for the songbooks), and drinks and light snacks will also be available. The schedule:
•June 4-23—Truth, Justice or the American Way
•June 25-July 14—Puttin’ on the Ritz: The Irving Berlin Songbook
•July 16-28—A Swell Party: The Cole Porter Songbook
•July 30-August 18—This Funny World: The Rodgers & Hart Songbook
•August 20-September 1—Curtain Up!: The Jule Styne Songbook —Bob Mondello