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History in the making

Flushing Town Hall will kick off its partnership with the Smithsonian Institution Monday with "Smithsonian Day." An official ceremony will start the evening's events at 5:30 p.m. when a Smithsonian banner will be raised above the arts center. Elected officials and representatives of the Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts and the Smithsonian will listen to a proclamation from Mayor Michael Bloomberg before slipping inside for a VIP party.

The VIPs will be treated to a concert featuring Ken Primus ("Cats," Ain't Misbehavin',") and Mary Stout (currently in "Beauty and the Beast") playing Broadway favorites. The concert is open to the public, and tickets are still available.

This is all a precursor to the first joint exhibit: "Red, Hot & Blue: A Salute to American Musicals," which will run May 18 through July 4.

The exhibit will focus on every aspect of musicals, both on Broadway and in Hollywood, and will feature celebrity performances as well as historic pieces from the Smithsonian archive.

Featured in the exhibit will be "theater kiosks" that focus on the development of the American musical. The five eras explored will be:

Street Scene, 1870-1906, which will feature Tin Pan Alley, the emerging music industry and early vaudeville performers;

Curtain Up, 1907-1927, focusing on the rise of Ziegfeld, Al Jolson, Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor and more. There will also be a focus on "Show Boat," thought by many to be the first of the true American musicals.

Light the Lights: Broadway and Hollywood, 1927-1942, kicks off with Jolson's "The Jazz Singer" and reminisces on musicals such as "42nd Street" and "Golddiggers." This will also focus on the careers of Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, the Gershwin brothers and more.

The Heights, 1943-1959, is all about the Golden Age of Hollywood musicals, with such perennial favorites as "Meet Me in St. Louis," "Guys and Dolls," "The Music Man," "West Side Story" and more.

Side by Side, 1960 to Present, will show how social and cultural changes have influenced the musical, with such shows as "Hair" and "A Chorus Line."

The exhibit first was featured at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. in 1996.

Running in tandem with the exhibit is a cabaret series that will feature the composers of Broadway and Hollywood musicals.

On May 21 Broadway performer KT Sullivan, who has appeared in "The Threepenny Opera" and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" will perform the songs of Harold Arlen in "Beyond the Rainbow."

Heather MacRae will perform June 11 in "Songs for my Father," a tribute to Gordon MacRae.

One June 25 Mark Nadler joins KT Sullivan in "Sweet and Lowdown," which will feature the music of George and Ira Gershwin.

Hollywood musicals will be featured in a film series which kicks off May 19 with "Showboat" and continues June 2 with "South Pacific," June 16 with "West Side Story" and June 30 with "Cabaret."

Not all aspects of the exhibit involve film and theater. There will be two lectures under the title "Coffee, Culture and Conversation," May 18 and June 15.

The first will focus on "The Jazz Singer," with Rabbi Charles Agin leading the discussion of the Jolson original as well as the popular remakes featuring Jerry Lewis, Danny Thomas and Neil Diamond.

The second will be "The Evolution of the Asian Stage and Film," which will focus on the perceptions of Asians and Asian culture in musicals ranging from "South Pacific" to the current hit "Cookin'."

The grand finale of the exhibit will be held July 4 when Ted Levy, known for his work in "Jelly's Last Jam" and "Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk," will perform a tribute to tap dancers from Broadway to Hollywood.

Flushing Town Hall is located at 137-35 Northern Blvd. (at the corner of Linden Place). The exhibit is free, and open Mon.-Fri. from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sat. & Sun. from noon to 5 p.m. For more information on this exhibit, schedules and other events, call 718-463-7700 or go to www.flushingtownhall.org.

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