Hail to the Chief, Hail to Ford’s Theatre: Annual Gala Brings Out the Stars

By: Leslie Milk

Washington’s political elite dressed to the nineteens for the annual Ford’s Theatre Gala Sunday night. It wasn’t at Ford’s (that’s under renovation, so the show was moved to the National Theatre), and it wasn’t actually a gala (more of a show and a late buffet supper at the National Building Museum), but it always attracts a great crowd. One reason: This is one evening event that the early-to-bed Bushes never miss. What’s more, they sit in the audience like ordinary folk, albeit with the Secret Service nearby.

All photos by Chris Leaman.

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The Bushes arrived on time, and the bipartisan crowd roared in approval. Face it, when the band plays “Hail to the Chief” and the President of the United States walks down the aisle, to do otherwise would be as gauche as noting that the bride is ugly at a wedding.

The show itself was a concert preview of the musical The Civil War, which will be onstage at the reopened Ford’s next season. Hal Holbrook played Abraham Lincoln, Avery Brooks was Frederick Douglass, and Maya Angelou read the words of a slave woman declaring her humanity. Larry Gatlin, Trisha Yearwood, and Clay Aiken sang. But the showstoppers were gospel singers BeBe Wyans, Cheryl Freeman, and Patrick Lundy & the Ministers of Music.

After the finale, Bush joined the company onstage. He heralded the reopening of Ford’s on February 12, 2009, and asked the theater’s producing director, Paul Tetreault, to “send some pictures of it to Crawford.” Then the President and his party went home, skipping the 9:30 dinner. After all, it was a school night.

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