Shhhh! No singing at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center

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Local,Michael Neibauer

The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center wasn't very neighborly to an audience of hundreds hoping to close a fun night on the Hill with a rousing rendition of a Mister Rogers classic.

A screening of the documentary "My Tale of Two Cities" was scheduled to close with David Newell, who played Mr. McFeely on "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," leading the audience in a sing-along of "Won't You Be My Neighbor." But there is no music or singing allowed in the $621 million visitor center without special approval, and the rules could not be bent -- not even for Mr. Rogers' delivery man.

So Newell performed the tune like it was spoken word poetry, though he couldn't help but sing the last few notes.

The Capitol Hill Business Improvement District, which hosted the screening Tuesday night of the Pittsburgh-centered film, was told Monday by a CVC special events assistant that there is no "music/singing in the CVC," what the assistant deemed "one of those random nuances in our rules" having "something to do with the business of Congress."

"They were really accommodating and it is a beautiful space, but it's absurd the rules they were throwing out at me," said Nina Liggett, program manager with the Capitol Hill BID.

For example, Liggett said, permission to simulcast the event to other cities was denied, and approval to videotape the evening for the BID's use took nearly two weeks and required the backing of a congressional oversight committee. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., was the evening's congressional host.

The documentary centers on screenwriter Carl Kurlander's triumphant return to his hometown of Pittsburgh, only to find the himself and the Steel City suffering a midlife crisis. The film highlights the challenges of urban revitalization.

Fred Rogers, a native of Latrobe, Pa., filmed his classic PBS show in Pittsburgh.

The BID's request for a sing-along "did not come in soon enough to allow for the appropriate review," said Sharon Gang, CVC spokeswoman. She could not say whether there are security reasons behind the music ban, but said it's "a working office building" and music isn't necessarily appropriate in that environment.

"The hope was we'd all get to sing it and go about our merry way, but then we couldn't do that," said Julia Christian, executive director of CHAMPS, the Capitol Hill chamber of commerce.

As for the prohibition on all music, Christian said, "I do think it's very silly."

mneibauer@washingtonexaminer.com

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