It's nice when I can recommend something incredible that happened and lead you to a video. Four great Broadway actors - Zoe Caldwell, Audra McDonald, Richard Thomas and John Glover - spoke about their craft Monday night at the Kennedy Center. The program took place to shine light on the Terence McNally "opera" plays that the Ken Cen is putting on the next month: Lisbon Traviata, Master Class (with Tyne Daly) and Golden Age. Caldwell and McDonald won Tonys for Master Class on Broadway a few years ago. McNally, who was in the audience, said that he wrote the play for Caldwell. At 76, the English actress remains elegant, beautifully spoken and FUNNY. She recalled having to meet McNally in Big Fork, Montana, to go over the play. "I stayed at a dreadful motel," she said matter-of-factly. "Indoor/outdoor carpeting for the fishermen who stayed there." Peter Marks, The Washington Post theater critic, moderated the discussion, discovering that McNally often calls actors himself to offer them the roles. Can you turn them down? "He doesn't really give you that option," McDonald said. Thomas, who told the embarassed Marks that it was okay to mention his John-Boy past, said he appreciated the full theater experience that McNally writes, compared to say, the 90-minute David Mamet play, Race, that he currently co-stars in on Broadway.Thomas, McDonald (Dr. Naomi Bennett on ABC's Private Practice) and Glover (Lex Luther's father on Smallville) all defended their TV lives a bit - with a wink - with Thomas saying, "Our lives are not subsidized." (He looks wonderful, by the way, still with silky brown hair.) Though there was a shared laugh when Marks asked Glover with a straight face: "Did you feel that Smallville was well-written?"
McDonald, who I have seen in numerous productions like Carousel, Ragtime and 110 in the Shade - and signs one of my favorite all-time songs - Stars and the Moon - said that Caldwell taught her so much and was (with another wink) "the best leading man I ever had." Her daughter is named Zoe and the name, she happily displayed, is tattooed on her shoulder. At the end, McNally stood up and turned the compliments back to the stage: "They were all just words till you four said them." One other funny moment had Glover talking about Lisbon Traviata and then saying to Marks, "You're going to review it, aren't you?" Everyone laughed and Marks didn't know what to say except yes. Later, in the lobby, he acknowledged that he tries his best to stay unbiased.
These programs are among the best - and economical ($15) - that the Kennedy Center does. On Thursday April 22, the spotlight goes to gospel with the great Mavis Staples and Dr. Billy Taylor as two of the guests. On Monday, May 3, Frank Loesser will be the subject and shows like Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business will provide the music.
Speaking of Dr. Taylor, I saw the jazz legend up close on Saturday night at the Kennedy Center at a Jazz Club show of pianist Shelly Berg. He was sublime and varied - finishing with a Fats Waller tune - and I will let you know when he is around again. These are also amazing forums - $25 (and no minimums) to sit a few feet away from some musical geniuses. Only one more remains this year - this Saturday March 27, as Toshiko Akiyoshi, one of the great female jazz pianists ever, plays.