The orchestra seats are all taken. If there were a dress circle, it would be filled, too. On New Year's Eve, the closest the hoi polloi will get to the star-packed production at the Lincoln Memorial will be down and out--quite literally--at the edge of the Reflecting Pool.
A map put out yesterday by White House organizers shows that public viewing areas for "America's Millennium Gala" will start well beyond the drive that encircles the memorial, behind a huge VIP section for such famous faces as Robert De Niro, Elizabeth Taylor and Muhammed Ali.
But the show's co-producer, George Stevens Jr., said distance should matter little for the tens of thousands of people expected on the Mall that night. "We've been very attentive and most interested in making this work for the public," he said.
Four huge video screens will be near the stage and along the southern edge of the Reflecting Pool to provide close-ups of host Will Smith and nearly three hours worth of entertainers. An extensive sound system will carry the music well down the Mall, Stevens said, so that people will have no trouble hearing Bono, Luther Vandross, Usher and Tom Jones--four more performers whose names were added to the program yesterday.
And anyway, by midnight, the best seats in the open-air house will be those facing in the other direction. When the aerial pyrotechnics begin at 11:59.50, Stevens said with delight, the people farther out will have "the absolute best view of the only, once-in-a-lifetime . . . illumination of the Washington Monument."
In several key ways, the Dec. 31 production will differ significantly from its most frequent comparison, the annual Fourth of July show at the Mall's Sylvan Theatre. That owes in part to the demands of the site: The Lincoln Memorial drops away sharply from its top steps, pushing the public back farther. The size of the show also has required special staging accommodations.
"It's a very unique situation," said Vikki Keys, a deputy superintendent at the National Park Service.
In addition, given increasingly dire alerts this week about possible terrorist attacks in the United States over the holidays, the gala's organizers have scrutinized their plans. But there apparently has been no discussion of scrapping the show.
"They've done what they could to strike a balance between security, overcrowding and the reality of the terrain," a White House official said.
U.S. Park Police will be out in force, as will the Secret Service because of the presence of President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Metal detectors will be positioned in certain areas.
"It's not going to be business as usual. Things will be increased as far as visitor protection," a Park Police supervisor said.
People who come--braving low temperatures that typically hover just below freezing on Dec. 31--will have to pass through one of four secured entrances off Constitution Avenue, Independence Avenue or 17th Street. Nearly all of the area immediately around the Lincoln Memorial will be off-limits to the public, according to the White House map.
First aid tents will be on either side of the Reflecting Pool, and concessions and souvenirs will be sold from a large warming tent.
As the audience gathers that night, military bands will begin playing at 9 p.m. The Clintons will be bused over with their celebrity entourage at 9:30. The show, broadcast nationally by CBS, will start half an hour later.
Now comes the last-minute fine-tuning. With only one week to go, construction of the stage is nearly complete, and the fireworks technicians are checking their countdown. Stevens and co-producer Quincy Jones were at the memorial last night looking things over.
"Quincy and I are exhilarated," Stevens said. "We were just out on the stage, looking at the Washington Monument reflected in the Reflecting Pool. . . . It's the best canvas two struggling producers could ask for."