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MUSIC REVIEW

Kennedy Center Marks 25th Anniversary

August 17, 1996|DANIEL CARIAGA | TIMES MUSIC WRITER

Close to three hours long, "The Kennedy Center 25th Anniversary Celebration" Sunday night on PBS turns out to be a vaudeville with film clips.

The variety show enlists orchestras, dance companies, actors, a troupe of young people, a quartet of musical-theater stars, a female jazz band and several solo singers--among them Kathleen Battle, Trisha Yearwood, Aretha Franklin, Dede Bridgewater and Harolyn Blackwell. The clips bring back memories of the 1960s, of the opening of the Center in 1971 and of subsequent performances there.

Amusing as some of the live performances are, the high points for many may be the filmed remembrances of Jacqueline and John F. Kennedy; of other U.S. presidents and politicos; of the recipients of the annual Kennedy Center Honors; and some performances surrounding those honors.

Leading the National Symphony, Music Director Leonard Slatkin is the most visible conductor on the premises, but others participate. Those guiding the dance portions--by American Ballet Theatre and Dance Theatre of Harlem--for instance. Actor Richard Dreyfuss leads an orchestra from the Idyllwild Arts Academy briefly, before Slatkin takes the podium to accompany a speedy young cellist named Han-Na Chang in a movement from Haydn.

Pianists? Among those who play a little Grieg and a little Sousa on 10 pianos simultaneously are Slatkin, David Buechner, Peter Schickele, Jeffrey Siegel, Peter Nero, David Hyde Pierce and Alicia Witt.

Brief, live excerpts from members of ABT, Pilobolus and Dance Theatre of Harlem indicate the range of dance activity at the Center in the last quarter-century.

Not to miss: At the beginning, there is an implicit plea for arts-education funding in an extended number called "The Yellow School Bus," sung, danced and played by a schoolhouse full of gifted young performers, led by the super-gifted Robert Downey Jr.

* "The Kennedy Center 25th Anniversary Celebration" airs Sunday at 7:10 p.m. on KOCE-TV Channel 50 and at 7:30 on KCET-TV Channel 28.

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