Maybe they should just rename it the Dionne Warwick Elevator.
After all, the singer already had a perfume, a hotel room and a salmon dish named in her honor -- so why not the elevator she was stuck in on her very own mayorally proclaimed Dionne Warwick Day?
Yesterday, Warwick was visiting the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, one of the last stops in a daylong tribute, when the elevator stopped between floors. Her party of 10 waited warmly while the police and fire departments worked to free them before celebrity claustrophobia set in.
Warwick remained inscrutably serene, blinking her impossibly long eyelashes, emanating a powdery cloud of Dionne perfume, leaning on her boyfriend, Las Vegas restaurateur and actor Gianni Russo.
Someone joked that she might sing "I Say a Little Prayer," or maybe even "Help!" Warwick was not amused, but others were secretly thrilled -- trapped in an elevator with a superstar! "This didn't even happen on 'Fame!,' " said Assistant Principal Linda Grove.
After about 15 minutes, the doors slid open to reveal a greeting committee of D.C. police and firefighters. "Welcome to Washington," they said.
The elevator incident capped Warwick's day, a sort of star's state visit made up of a series of nominal honors and minor indignities as she was led through a maze of amateur photo sessions gathering clicks and claques -- and armloads of plaques.
It began as Warwick, a photo-opportunity-perfect vision of coppery hair and skin, was whizzed (in a charcoal-gray stretch limo with police escort) to the Department of Health and Human Services for a briefing with officials on the AIDS crisis. It wasn't empty praise -- Warwick's recent single "That's What Friends Are For" raised more than $1 million for AIDS research, and her 25-year singing career is paralleled by a history of contributions to health-related causes, including Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, alcohol abuse and diabetes.
Warwick was presented with a certificate and a yellow T-shirt bearing the words "Ambassador of Health," and conferred with Assistant Secretary for Health Robert Windom. Earnest discussion of AIDS awareness was difficult as the star-struck officials kept prefacing their statistic-swapping with requests for autographs.
"I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an expert in anything. I just know I'm concerned enough to try and do something about AIDS," said Warwick, who announced that she will host a "gala, gala benefit" for AIDS in Washington next year. Afterwards, in an HHS office filled with antismoking posters, she lit up while signing a stack of albums and compact discs and posing for photos with secretaries.
Warwick was then whizzed to Columbia Road NW near Connecticut Avenue, where her appearance startled some passers-by used to more mundane motorcades.
"I was just standing here waiting for the bus, and all of a sudden there's Dionne Warwick and Marion Barry, hanging out with me," said Karen Friedman, who works at a pension rights agency. Warwick, the mayor and Russo perched on the back seat of a red convertible and drove off down Connecticut, leading an impromptu parade.
In a ceremony at Western Plaza, Barry spoke, taking credit for the weather and cheerleading for Pennsylvania Avenue development. Dionne Warwick Day seemed to be an afterthought until the mayor produced an enormous framed proclamation and a morass of "Whereases" ensued.
On to a luncheon of filet mignon at the Grand Hyatt, where Warwick was addressed as "Madame Ambassador" by D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy and others. Gary Noble, AIDS coordinator for the U.S. Public Health Service, made a speech about the need for AIDS education, followed by a pitch for the Dionne perfume and cosmetics line. "Last month Dionne Inc. went public," said Linda Marshall, Warwick's perfume partner. "Now the world can all buy a small piece of Dionne."
After lunch, Suite 1146 was dedicated to Warwick, who held the brass name plaque steady while Grand Hyatt's Rick Masucci turned the screws and cameras rolled. Later, Warwick was gracious as she was interviewed under a penumbra of pink lights for "Entertainment Tonight" and "Dance Connection."
After the Duke Ellington School tribute, Warwick was whizzed off to a reception in the Budget Committee room of the House of Representatives. Tossing away her plastic-coated speech, Warwick said, "I've said this all day at all these different events, but now I want to truly express the way I feel. I want you to know we need your help in the battle against AIDS." She collected two more plaques and a letter from President Reagan, and was re-presented with the yellow "Ambassador of Health" T-shirt she received earlier. Then it was on to Beezer's Restaurant, where a poached filet of salmon was named in her honor (perhaps with a sauce of Dionne mustard?).
Warwick is off for another round today, this time with New York Mayor Ed Koch presiding. And on Thursday, she will begin a three-night engagement at Radio City Music Hall with Burt Bacharach, composer of her greatest hits. "He's singing better these days," she jokes.
When Warwick finally got off the Ellington elevator, she entered a room packed with kids, made a short speech and beamed when a chorus sang "Close to You," gazing at her with adoration.
Warwick thanked them, but as she turned to leave someone shouted, "Your turn!" She obliged with a slow version of "That's What Friends Are For," with Assistant Principal Grove on piano -- and the snapping of shutters as percussion. "Sing, children!" Warwick said at the coda, and they did, unleashing a roomful of show biz fantasies.
Kara Swisher contributed to this story.