Wednesday, February 11, 2009

America's most famous theatre

Ford's Theatre bills itself "as America's most famous theatre" and that's probably true, although certainly not in a way you'd want to be famous. I saw a show there in 1976, during my first visit to Washington, D.C., when I was in high school. It was the gospel-themed musical Your Arm's Too Short to Box With God.

While I don't remember anything about the musical, I do remember looking up at the presidential box more than once. The history buff in me wondered what it must have been like on that fateful night of April 14, 1865, when John Wilkes Booth entered the box, shot President Lincoln, then leaped to the stage to make his getaway.

Tonight, a day before Lincoln's 200th birthday, Ford's Theatre officially reopens after a $25-million renovation. To mark the occasion, there's an invitation-only gala featuring a host of celebrities and the presentation of the Lincoln Medal to George Lucas and Sidney Poitier.

The theatre also plans a makeover of the type of work it presents, according to its director, Paul Tetreault. The emphasis will be on education and the American experience. "I think we're going to be focused on more important work. It might be funny, it might be serious."

A new play about Lincoln, The Heavens Are Hung in Black, by James Still, is playing there until March 8. Starring David Selby as Lincoln, it covers the five months between the death of the president's son Willie and the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. It'll be followed by the musical The Civil War from March 27 to May 24.


Joseph Gomez said...

Would it be inappropriate to stage a production of Assassins there?

After reading the theater's statement about its future productions and goals, that was the one musical that popped into my head as being about the American experience ('everybody's got the right to be happy').

I don't know. Very interesting.

Esther said...

I dunno, Joseph. It might be a tad inappropriate to stage it there. On the other hand, some people might say it's the perfect place. But I would like to see "Assassins" on stage sometime. It's a powerful meditation on our obsession with celebrity and violence. I really like the revival cast recording. Michael Cerveris as Booth gives you a great sense of his warped thinking. I've seen some clips of it online.