On any given night at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, you might see the resident National Symphony Orchestra in the 2,500-seat Concert Hall; a straight drama or classic farce in the 1,200-seat Eisenhower Theater; and a Broadway musical, Kabuki spectacular, or big name ballet company in the 2,300-seat Opera House (that is, when the Washington Opera is not in residence). Philip Johnson’s steeply canted and gracious Terrace Theater, a gift from the nation of Japan, is an intimate venue of fewer than 500 seats, ideally suited for experimental or cult-interest productions, specialty concerts, and showcases. In the even smaller Theater Lab, designed to accommodate the avant-garde and cabaret, the semi-improv comedy whodunit Shear Madness has been in residence for nearly three decades.
The smallest venue, the KC Jazz Club (actually just the Terrace-level gallery, tricked out cabaret-style) is open only on weekends but hosts such first-rate groups as the Roy Hargrove Quintet and the Chick Corea Trio. It also presents cutting-edge discussions on quintessential jazz moments (Roots’ pianist Ray Angry conducting a reimagining of Sarah Vaughn and Clifford Brown’s 1954 recording), Washington jazz traditions (NPR’s now-25-year-old “Jazz Piano Christmas”), and some startling one-chance double-bills such as the Branford Marsalis Quartet with the Terrance Blanchard Quintet or classical star Jeremy Denk and Kennedy Center Artistic Director for Jazz Jason Moran.
And the Family Theater in the lobby level is one of the most up-to-date venues in the complex—the setting for musicals, folk music, all-ages pops concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra, and even educational (disguised as sci-fi) plays.
Perhaps most remarkable, however, is the Kennedy Center’s gift to music lovers: the free Millennium Stage, which provides national and top local acts in an indoor venue at
6 p.m. every day of the year, usually in the 630-foot-long Grand Foyer (which, as docents love to point out, could easily cradle the not-quite-555-foot Washington Monument, though it might bust out part of the ceiling) but occasionally in the Theater Lab. The Kennedy Center is at Virginia and New Hampshire Avenues NW, next to the Watergate; the closest subway station is Foggy Bottom, and the center operates a free shuttle from the station. For tickets and information, call 202-467-4600 or visit the website.
For more information on nightlife in our nation’s capital, check out The Unofficial Guide to Washington, D.C. by Eve Zibart, Renee Sklarew, and Len Testa.
Outside photos of Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Grand Foyer of Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: By Farragutful (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons