Harman Center makes debut in D.C.

Theater company gets a second home

October 03, 2007|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- Under a halo of popping flashbulbs, the capital's high society turned out in droves this week for the gala opening of the Harman Center for the Arts, which includes a new $89 million, glass-fronted auditorium that will be a new home for the Shakespeare Theatre Company.

Each of the guests - who included Chelsea Clinton, with Secret Service agents in tow, and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor - paid $5,000 to attend events that included a cocktail party; performances from, among others, Broadway star Patti LuPone and jazz virtuoso Wynton Marsalis; a fireworks display outside on F Street; and a banquet in the National Building Museum a couple of blocks away.

The master of ceremonies at Monday night's gala was actor Sam Waterston of the TV show Law & Order. He introduced not only LuPone and Marsalis, but also violinist Ann-Sophie Mutter, who played selections from George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess; ballet dancers Julio Bocca and Nina Ananiashvili, who danced a pas de deux from Swan Lake; the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, which played two Marsalis compositions and a crackling version of "Take the `A' Train" by Billy Strayhorn; and the Washington Ballet, which danced to five Beatles songs.

Michael Kahn, who has been the company's artistic director for 21 seasons, told the audience that the event had raised almost $3 million. Construction of the 755-seat Sidney Harman Hall, packed with state-of-the-art soundproofing and lighting technology, began in November 2004.

The Shakespeare Theatre Company, Kahn said, will continue to use its longtime home, the 451- seat Lansburgh Theatre nearby, also part of the Harman Center. Having two theaters lets the company expand its coming season from five to eight plays, present two repertory series, introduce family and lunchtime programming, and increase its education and outreach efforts.

The company's new season begins today with Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew at the Lansburgh Theatre and, on Nov. 7, Tamburlaine by Christopher Marlowe in the new auditorium.

The center is named for Sidney Harman, who built a fortune by making high-end audio equipment and donated about $19 million for the new theater.

"People make this kind of gift because they believe it sanctions their lives, but I don't need any of that," Harman, whose wife is Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat, said Sunday during a reception at the British Embassy in honor of the new theater. His gift, he said, was "an act of love."

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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