by Norm Clarke
How’s this for openers?
Country icon Willie Nelson and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson performing plus Neil Patrick Harris hosting opening night of the $480 million Smith Center.
That’s just the teaser.
Smith Center President and CEO Myron Martin is keeping some secrets. But he added the 24 marquee names lined up include six Broadway stars and other surprises for the March 10 debut.
The big night is being filmed, and, while Martin isn’t saying where it will eventually be seen, he added, “My preference is that it’s on PBS, nationally.”
Producing the show will be Emmy Award-winning producer George Stevens, founder of the Kennedy Center Honors, and son Michael.
“We had great dreams for our opening-night ceremony,” Martin said, “but it wasn’t until we engaged Mr. Stevens that it really took shape. We’ll have more than a dozen great, great, great entertainers.”
Nelson was booked to honor Fred W. Smith, chairman of the board of trustees of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. Smith is a huge fan of Nelson. The Smith Center is named after Smith and his wife, Mary. The foundation honored them with a gift of $50 million to support and name the building the Smith Center for Performing Arts. Another $100 million was later donated to the project by the Reynolds Foundation.
Martin said the Smith Center has been called “the most important local project to be built in our lifetimes. It’s going to be a night people will remember for a long time.”
Harris, who stars in CBS’ hit series “How I Met Your Mother,” has hosted Tony Awards and the Emmys.
“He’s gotten such great reviews as a host we think he’s just going to be great,” Martin said.
Hudson, a seventh-place finisher on “American Idol” eight years ago, won an Oscar for best supporting actress in her film debut in “Dreamgirls.” She won a Grammy for her debut album, “Jennifer Hudson.”