Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
It was a television show to be for a President-to-be. "The New Spirit Inaugural Concert" started at about 7:15 Wednesday night in the Kennedy Center Opera House and two hours later became a hurriedly taped and edited TV special on CBS.
A crowd that included Supreme Court Justices, future Cabinet members, the Jimmy Carters, the Walter Mondales and even Walter Cronkite passed an "applause the taping started and the show went on. And on. Throughout the program, the audience was reminded it was witnessing the coming of a "new spirit" upon the land.
Poet James Dickey, in remarks edited out of the TV version, even referred to Carter as a "mythic hero."
It had to be fairly obvious to everyone in attendance that this was a television event first and an event event second. There were hot lights bathing the crowd, cameras poking out from every cranny and reams of cue cards for the horde of stars.
At one point, the booming voice of the offstage announcer was heard to bellow, "Ladies and gentlemen, two great American institutions!" Immediately, a pair of stagehands appeared to remove a microphone and a stool.
Pause. Again, "two great American institutions" were introduced. They turned out to be Leonard Bernstein and the National Symphony Orchestra.
Though they'd been told to be in their seats no later than 6:30 p.m., more than half the audience was still absent at 6:45. President-elect and Mrs. Mondale, were among the minority who arrived on time.
Among the illustratious latecomers were John and Yoko lennon (about 25 minutes late), CBS newsman Charles Kuralt (about 30 minutes late) and, latest of all, Gregg and Cher Allman, who weren't sneaked into the hall until after the intermission, which came at the two-hour point in the three-hour production.
Producer James Lipton, who coached the crowd beforehand, told them "some 70 million people" would be watching - probably a bit of an over-estimate considering the show would air opposite "Charlie's Angles," one of the top 10 shows on television. Lipton also declared this to be the first Inaugural Concert might never have occurred at all if one of the networks hadn't agreed to televise it. All three were approached: CBS came to terms.
What was edited out of the show for telecast? Lots of little pauses, one of Paul Simon's two songs, and such embarrassing moments as the delayed entrance of Beverly Sills, who couldn't come on until the curtain went up. The curtain wouldn't go up. Sills could be heard laughing backstage.
Finally the curtain, two layers of long gold and white tassles, did come up, but then the gold tassles started to comr down on sills' head. She roared with laughter, then sailed right into an aria from "The Barber of Seville."
If President-elect Carter was too early for the first act, he was too late for the second - which meant he missed more than half of a sketch by comics Chevy Chase and Danny Aykroyd, with Aykroyd doing his celebrated Carter imitation at a mock swearing-in ceremony. Carter missed hearing the line "I promise to be a lusty President" and "In my heart, i do wear women's clothing."
He entered in time to hear Aykroyd promising to maintain "eye contact with each and every and every one of you." For the record, he entered laughing.
The lineup amounted to a festival of American pop culture, from Hank Aaron to Bette Davis to Paul Newman to John Wayne. Carter himself led standing ovations for singer LOretta Lynn, for the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and for poet James Dickey, whose poem, "The Strengths of Fields," ran longer than expected but got a blustering. Sounthern-preacher's delivery from the poet.
"My life belongs to the World: I will do what I can," Dickey concluded, with a huge TV camera pering into his face from the orchestra pit. At moments like that, members of the audience may not have been able to decide whether it would have been better seeing this spectacle close-up at home or watching Dickey and the camera performing together.
Dickey returned unexpectedly later during the singing of "God Bless America" by the entire company. He tottered onstage behind the line of singers, put his arm round Paul Newman, whispered something in his ear - which caused Newman to blush vivdly - and then joined in the last few words of the song, which had been written in giant letters on huge cards at the very back of the Hall.
For some, the cue cards were a distant problem. Newman squinted and strained. Jean Stapleton ("Edith Bunker") fluffed her lines. When Jack Albertson arrived to do his spiel on senior citizens, special cue cards were brought all the way down to the 10th row so he could see them.
Among Albertson's sentiments was.
"You're a beautiful audience. You're a cross- section of America." Every so often, two big camera would poke their black noses throughj torn holes in the gold curtain so as to capture this cross-section of America for the cross-section of America for the home. The audience was asked before the show not to "move about" and spoil the picture.
"I wonder when this damn thing is going to end," one man muttered to another at intermission. Largely, though the crowd seemed pleased, or at least placated, by the bombastic revue.
The show went smoothly considering the lack of time for preparation and the huge number of artists involved. At 6 p.m., one hour before scheduled showtime, the cast was still rehearsing "God Bless America" and still getting it all screwed up.
"Stop!" cried Bernstein as the gang committed massacre on the song. Shirley MacLaine gave John WEayne a big hug and Bernstein put an arm around Paul Simon as they tried again to sing the number. In the middle of the second chorous, Bernstein began to pantomime the raising of the flag. Bette Davis was singing loudly and brassily. Chase broke out of line and began doing Ed Sullivan gestures. This inspired Bernstein to break out of the and tap dan ce.
Mike Nichols and Elaine May couldn't decide whether to put their hands over their hearts or salute.
"I don't believe it, I don't believe it," muttered a member of the chorus. But seeing, about an hour later, was Concert" ended without a single true calamity.