It wasn’t weird to see Newt Gingrich at the Kennedy Center Honors Sunday night — heck, he’s a regular at the opera and elsewhere in D.C. But it was kind of telling that one of the leading contenders for the GOP nomination sat quietly enjoying the post-show supper in the Grand Foyer: No working the room, no schmoozing, no photo-ops with other celebrities.
“I took one night off to support the arts,” he told us.
“It was date night,” explained his wife, Callista.
But here’s the weird thing: For the most part, people didn’t interrupt Gingrich — or honorees Meryl Streep, Neil Diamond, Yo-Yo Ma, Barbara Cook, or Sonny Rollins. In a room packed with A-list names — James Taylor, Anne Hathaway, Lionel Richie, Stephen Colbert, Glenn Close, Patti Lupone, Herbie Hancock, Joshua Bell, Denyce Graves and Alan Alda — the crowd of 2,000 well-heeled donors ($2,000 and up for the show and supper ticket) ate their food, gazed at the stars from afar, and behaved themselves.
Maybe too well-behaved. Every memorable party needs a little mischief. Last year, fans mobbed the table around Paul McCartney, ignoring pleas to behave from bodyguards and KenCen staffers.
This year, the room was almost. . . shy. Why? Maybe because the show ran late, and dinner didn’t start until 11 p.m. Out-of-towners seemed to dominate — did no one teach them the Washington table hop? Fewer political heavy hitters showed this year to jack up the excitement — and those who did kept to themselves. (What’s up, Mayor Emanuel? Night off for you, too?)
You’d think the star-studded room would practically vibrate with mutual adoration, but the mingling was almost nonexistent. Streep dined largely in peace, only a discreet little line of Kennedys (Jean Kennedy Smith, William Kennedy Smith, his bride Anne) waiting patiently to talk to her. Her 20-something daughters — actresses Mamie and Grace and younger sister Louisa, all blonde, luminous and angular, looking both exactly like their mother and interestingly different — looked slightly peeved and rooted in their seats.
Mamie’s new husband, rangy young actor Ben Walker – hey, you’re the one who’s starring in “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.” Must be intimidating to play the same role as Daniel Day-Lewis, huh? He laughed. “That one doesn’t have vampires!” It was his first time at the Kennedy Center. Met any interesting political types yet? “Well, the president.” Yes, that counts.
One guy waiting silently for a cell picture with Streep — one of the traditional perks of this particular dinner is the chance to meet the stars — was dressed down by her brother Dana. “She’s had a long day,” he scolded. “You’re kind of stalking her.”
We pried Diamond from deep conversation with Richie (who, experts agree, killed with his rendition of “I Am. . . I Said”). True that “Sweet Caroline” was inspired by the euphonious name of Caroline Kennedy? Yes, he said: “I haven’t talked to her about it, but she knows.” What better night? Come on, people, do we have to make the introductions here?
Tracey Ullman and Kelly Ripken – old pals, it seems? Cal’s statuesque wife, a knockout in violet, hugged the comedienne and exclaimed, “You made my night!” Who knew?
Hathaway traipsed carefully through the room, her procession halted by a barrage of fan-girls and a slightly unwieldy long skirt. Fiancé Adam Shulman gathered up the train to help her get over a tricky step. She smiled at him with a sweet little eyeroll. “Thanks, mom,” she joked. One more photo to pose for, and then she muttered to him, “let’s beeline” — over to talk to Sugarland frontwoman Jennifer Nettles.
We didn’t see Close in the room until later– she was stuck in the theater late, re-taping her song tribute to Cook that veered mysteriously off-key in front of the audience.
The only two guys in the whole room really having fun? Yo-Yo Ma, who sat next to Michelle Obama during the show and spent the entire night with a huge grin on his face. “I was relaxed,” he explained between hugs from friends.”I was lapping up everything. This is huge.”
And Colbert, who attended the Honors for the first time (“I loved it”) , was one of the few stars mobbed all night. “It’s an awards show with no suspense, so that’s nice.”
Kennedy Center Honors: D.C.’s glitziest night of all, 12/4/11
Parties of past years: Kennedy Center Honors after-show party: Guess who’s coming to dinner? (McCartney, Oprah), 12/6/10