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A Festival at Ford's Theater: The Stars Salute the President

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Here’s a soothing way to spend the Fourth of July: This is the annual benefit for Washington’s Ford’s Theater in which an array of stars performs in front of government bigwigs, including President and Mrs. Bush. (Look for a few not-so-subtle shots of TBS network owner Ted Turner in the crowd.)

There are solid performances by Tony Bennett and dancer-choreographer Tommy Tune, who does an elegant soft-shoe. But most of the musical acts are country stars: Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Janie Fricke, Roy Clark (massacring Hank Williams’ ”Hey, Good Lookin”’), and Tanya Tucker (born again as a first-rate ballad singer).

The show, taped March 25, is most interesting in its presentation of comedians. Judging from the reaction shots, most of the audience had no idea who Jake Johansen was. One presumes Washington workers aren’t tuning in every night to Johansen’s main showcase, Late Night With David Letterman. Here, his nervous-guy updating of Woody Allen mannerisms is a discreet bomb.

On the other hand, impressionist Jim Morris is a big hit. Morris does a good, low-key version of Bush, but gets his biggest response for his devastating Ronald Reagan. He does Reagan as an amiable idiot who can’t remember the beginning of any sentence he starts; by the time Morris-Reagan looks down at the current president and mutters, ”George, you were the best vice president. . .um. . .in my memory,” the Bushes are wiping away tears of laughter.