Correction to This Article
An article in the Dec. 24-30 TV Week, which was printed in advance, misspelled the name of Kennedy Center Honors producer George Stevens Jr.

Five Emotional Tributes

By Kathy Blumenstock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 24, 2006

The "Kennedy Center Honors," airing Tuesday, celebrates the careers of conductor Zubin Mehta, singers Dolly Parton and Smokey Robinson, filmmaker Steven Spielberg and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

"The challenge, creatively, is to capture the essence of each honoree," said George Stevens, who has produced the event since it began 29 years ago. "The spoken tributes and the film are a part of that, along with performances."

Stevens said TV viewers will see the show, hosted by Caroline Kennedy on Dec. 2, with the ovations and speeches trimmed for time.

"It's condensed in a good way," he said. "Some of the tributes really work [live] at five or six minutes, but on TV, they play much better shorter."

The edited broadcast is distinguished by shots of the honorees responding to the tributes unfolding onstage. "The TV audience sees the intimate reaction of the honorees, which of course the people there do not see," Stevens said. "You get to see the emotion."

For conductor Mehta, the surprise was that he traveled from Tel Aviv to Washington, not knowing that his orchestra was en route on another airline. "You'll see his reaction when the curtain goes up," Stevens said.

Paying tribute to Robinson's signature Motown sound presented a "wonderful challenge" for Stevens. Then he found Johnny Lang and Sam Moore to sing Robinson's songs.

Webber, hearing his songs performed by Betty Buckley, Christine Ebersole and his ex-wife Sarah Brightman, "was almost weeping and singing along," said Stevens.

"And Dolly is much loved. So many people were willing to come from far away to honor her -- Vince Gill, Reese Witherspoon, Alison Krause."

The tribute to Spielberg includes remarks by actor Tom Hanks, who brought five war veterans and a Holocaust survivor on the stage to acknowledge the director's "Saving Private Ryan" and "Schindler's List."

"It's always challenging to find a way to honor film directors or actors. They don't have songs, they don't have a dance company," Stevens said.

"I got the most beautiful letter from him, saying he appreciated not just his segment but all of them," said Stevens, who learns the names of the new honorees during the first week in August.

"Every year it's five new people and it's a Rubik's cube of how you choose and orchestrate the mixture."

Kennedy Center Honors


9 p.m.


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