Geoffrey Holder was at the bar, fingering scarlet trading beads, a goodluck token received just before his musical, "Timbuktu," opened Saturday night at the Kennedy Center Opera house.
Skillfully avoiding comment on his own feelings -- Holder, the director, choreographer and costume designer, pleaded, "I'm too close" -- he anxiously solicited others' opinions. The rest of the cast, nearly 50 people, most of whom crowded into Guards in Georgetown around midnight Saturday, danced away any postopening anxieties they had.
A few minutes behind Holder was Eartha Kitt, one of the four principals of the remake of "Kismet," her arrival not as flamboyant as her stage one, but, certainly, an entrance. She stood still just long enough to shake hands and lower her duplex stage eyelashes, very demurely, at the wellwishers. Then she followed the recorded sounds of Natalie Cole and LaBelle onto the backroom dance floor.
First in a long line of admirers was Obba Babatunde, at various times in the play a stiltwalker, antelope and orange merchant, who propelled her into a fast hustle.
Producer Luther Davis, who won a Tony Award as co-author of "Kismet" nearly 25 years ago, and dreamt up this all-black version, was beaming at the energy being displayed by the cast, who had been working 12 hours a day, with one day off every 14 days "I thought it was a lovely idea, I didn't know frankly if it would work but it is, to my satisfaction," said Davis.
One Washingtonian in the cast, Rodney Green, who left town to appear in the Broadway and film versions of "The Wiz," was surrounded by young friends from the local dance community, Robyn Nash and Jason Taylor.
Bruce Hubbard, 25, who played "Porgy" here last year, has been the understudy to Gilbert Price, and on Saturday afternoon, played the lead role.
"Compared to Porgy, this role is like a vacation, but it's still demanding because I have been switching back and forth between my regular slot and Gilbert's," said Hubbard.
Ira Hawkins -- who two weeks ago was finishing a long stint in "Bubbling Brown Sugar" on Broadway and planning a vacation when the call came to replace the fourth lead. William Marshall -- was there, and exuberant. "In the business those phone calls often sound fabulous but two days later it falls through," said Hawkins, draped in a bearskin coat. "So I tried not to hope but, for me, at least, "Timbuktu" was a fantasy that's working."