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Rashad, Olmos, Hwang and Graham join Music Center's 50-year gala

Rashad, Olmos, Hwang and Graham join Music Center's 50-year gala
Phylicia Rashad portrays Aunt Ester in August Wilson's "Gem of the Ocean" in 2004. (Ringo H. W. Chiu / For The Times)

The bar for gala performances marking milestones at the Music Center got set pretty high when it opened in December 1964. Jascha Heifetz, Van Cliburn, Frank Sinatra, Diahann Carroll, Vikki Carr and Tony Bennett were among the luminaries in an opening-week roster spanning three evenings.

The lineup for the Music Center's 50th anniversary gala on Dec. 6 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion has been fleshed out with that tradition in mind, but there's also a trump card to be played that wasn't available at the beginning -- 50 years of performance history on Music Center stages.

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The names announced Monday include Phylicia Rashad, Edward James Olmos, playwright David Henry Hwang,  mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and Davis Gaines, who'll duet with the previously announced Dale Kristien.

The evening's repertoire will mainly look back toward past triumphs at the Music Center, but the show will also try to break new ground: L.A. Dance Project and the Los Angeles Philharmonic will team for a performance of Esa-Pekka Salonen's rapid-fire piece, "Helix," with the dancers onstage at the Pavilion and Gustavo Dudamel and his musicians piped in playing live across the street at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Tickets are $35 to $350 for the concert,  jumping to $2,500 to $15,000 for those who want to attend a post-performance dinner on the Music Center Plaza.

Much of the newly announced portion of the program concerns Center Theatre Group's production history at the Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre.

Rashad will perform a monologue from one of August Wilson's plays -- evoking an actor-playwright connection that included Rashad's starring role at the Taper in 2003 as a 400-year-old former slave in "Gem of the Ocean," and her direction of last year's acclaimed Taper revival of "Joe Turner's Come and Gone."

Hwang will play his own alter ego in an excerpt from "Yellow Face," a comedy that had its world premiere at the Taper in 2007, riffing on reimagined episodes from the playwright's career.

Olmos will re-create his role as El Pachuco from the Taper's  groundbreaking premiere of "Zoot Suit," Luis Valdez's 1978 play with music about racial tensions in L.A. following a 1940s murder.

Two prize-winning dramas spawned by the Taper will be recalled with scenes: Mark Medoff's "Children of a Lesser God" from the 1980s and Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" from the 1990s.

Gaines and Kristien will reprise moments they had together at the Ahmanson in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera," a show that hunkered down for a record Music Center run of more than four years starting in 1989. Gaines played the Phantom 942 times (more than Michael Crawford and Robert Guillaume, who also starred in L.A. in the title role). Kristien monopolized the role of Christine for the entire time, logging nearly 1,800 performances.

Tracie Bennett, Jennifer Paz and Debra Monk will revisit musical roles they played in "End of the Rainbow," "Miss Saigon" and "Curtains," respectively.

A second dance highlight, a duet from "Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake," will be performed by Chris Trenfield and Chris Marney, members of Bourne's Adventures in Motion company.

The Los Angeles Opera orchestra will be the house band for the "Swan Lake" and musical theater performances, as well as for Graham, who'll sing three arias in three different styles -- Mozart, Gershwin and Edith Piaf.

The opera musicians and members of the opera's chorus will be joining forces with the Los Angeles Master Chorale for the banquet scene from John Adams' "Nixon in China." Soloists will be Gordon Hawkins (Chou En-lai), Richard Paul Fink (Henry Kissinger), So Young Park (Pat Nixon) and Liam Bonner (Richard Nixon).

Grant Gershon, the Master Chorale's music director, will conduct the opera scene, as well as three pieces sung by a 95-voice Master Chorale.

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The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion's nationally telecast turn as one of the homes of the Academy Awards ceremonies from 1969 to 1999 will be revisited in a tribute narrated by Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The youngest performer in the gala will be a recent winner, not yet named, in the Music Center's annual Spotlight Awards, in which teen artists from the L.A. area vie for recognition in various arts disciplines.

Follow twitter.com/boehmm  of the LA Times for arts news and features

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