White House organizers finally raised the curtain yesterday on New Year's weekend festivities on the Mall, revealing a cast of performers and speakers including actor Robert Duvall, singer Jessye Norman, basketball great Bill Russell and children's author David Wisniewski.
Although the Smithsonian Institution will host three days of indoor activities--dozens of discussions about subjects both esoteric and everyday--the brightest spotlight will be on the Lincoln Memorial and the nationally televised New Year's Eve show that actor Will Smith will host starting at 10 p.m.
Joining Smith will be country singer Trisha Yearwood, Norman and fellow opera diva Kathleen Battle, Duvall and actors Sam Waterston and Diane Keaton. Also appearing will be gospel singer Bebe Winans, the New York cast of the musical hit "Stomp," Brian Stokes Mitchell, former star of Broadway's "Ragtime," and numerous other celebrities that organizers, intent on the element of surprise, declined yesterday to identify.
But they promised that the three-hour spectacle, the creation of musician Quincy Jones and producer-director George Stevens Jr., will live up to its advance billing and offer a thoughtful melange of 20th-century America.
"It's meant to be moving and uplifting rather than just a musical show," said Paul McCarthy, executive director of America's Millennium, the entity coordinating all Mall events that weekend. The Lincoln Memorial has stood witness to key moments in history, he noted: "The setting where we're doing this puts us at a high standard."
As midnight approaches, a live orchestra will premiere a score by award-winning composer John Williams as images of the American century--tableaux chosen by movie maker Steven Spielberg--play on giant screens on three sides of the Reflecting Pool. New works by U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky, his predecessor Rita Dove and poet-writer Maya Angelou will accompany the orchestral-film arrangement.
From Dec. 31 to Jan. 2, the Smithsonian's diverse lectures and demonstrations will focus on a trio of themes--"Future Visions" at the Hirshhorn Museum, "American Voices" at the Museum of Natural History, and "Story Circle" at the Museum of American History.
At the natural history museum, the lineup will include musician Ricky Skaggs, who will play and talk about that distinctly American art form of bluegrass, and Susan Butcher, who will recount her repeated championship runs on the Alaskan Iditarod.
At the Hirshhorn, a panel of chefs will prognosticate on the future of American taste, and scientists such as MIT's Neil Gershenfeld will discuss science, technologies, future explorations and extraterrestrial intelligence.
At the American history museum, Sweet Honey in the Rock founder Bernice Johnson Reagon and music legend Ella Jenkins will wax mellifluous, while authors and storytellers for children and adults alike will read aloud.
In addition, an interactive exhibit at the Air and Space Museum will offer visitors a chance to participate in "Launch 2000," a nationwide project challenging students to design the first village settlement on Mars, circa 2030.
Officials estimate that 12,000 people will attend Smithsonian activities, which have been moved inside because of budgetary constraints. A complete schedule, with the times of all lectures and exhibits, will be available in early December. Previously announced appearances by rock-n-roller Chuck Berry and soul queen Aretha Franklin still are being negotiated.
Also yesterday, organizers of the District's two-day festival along Constitution Avenue NW announced more performers who will help the city ring in the New Year. They include master percussionist Okyerema Asante, the Midnight Movers reggae band, the Keter Betts Quintet and the BET Urban Nation Hip Hop choir.
The president and first lady will celebrate New Year's Eve with a White House "Creators Dinner" to honor some of the country's most prominent figures in sports, arts and sciences. Playwrights Edward Albee, August Wilson, Arthur Miller and Neil Simon will be among them, as well as musicians Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zuckerman, and Marilyn Horne; and dancers Edward Villella and Arthur Mitchell. Artist Robert Rauschenberg, architect Maya Lin, Olympian Carl Lewis and Internet co-founder Vinton Cerf will attend, too.
After dinner, a motorcade will take the Clintons and their guests to the Lincoln Memorial, where they will join a Mall crowd that--depending on the weather--could number 100,000 people, organizers said.
And then, at 10 p.m., come sleet or snow, the show will go on.
CAPTION: Scheduled to participate in millennial events, from top: actor Will Smith, actress Diane Keaton, singer Jessye Norman and actor Robert Duvall.