The North American tour of The Vagina Monologues, New York actress/playwright Eve Ensler’s eyebrow-raising Off-Broadway hit about a heretofore taboo female body part, will open March 25 at The Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham, North Carolina. Former WTVD-TV news anchor Miriam Thomas will join touring New York actresses Gretchen Lee Krich and Joyce Lee for five of the six performances of this production of this 1997 Obie Award-winning play, and Durham native and five-time Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon will occupy the center chair for the Saturday-night performance.

After working as a reporter and an anchor for radio and television news outlets for more than 20 years, Miriam Thomas recently formed a media consulting firm to serve the Raleigh-Durham area. She previously served as principal co-anchor (with Larry Stogner) of the primary evening newscasts at WTVD-TV, the Disney owned and operated ABC television affiliate that serves the Raleigh-Durham-Fayetteville market.

Nnenna Freelon just released her sixth album, “Tales of Wonder,” which honors legendary composer/arranger/singer Stevie Wonder. The winner of the Billie Holiday Award from the Academie du Jazz and the Eubie Blake Award recently made her feature-film debut in What Women Want, starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt.

Gretchen Lee Krich has extensive New York and regional theater credits. She performed in the feature film Henry Fool, and she appeared on television in episodes of “As the World Turns,” “Law & Order,” and “Third Watch.”

Joyce Lee recently recently performed in William Mastrasimmone’s Tamer of Horses at TheatreVirginia. She also won an AUDELCO award for her performance in August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at the New Federal Theatre. She has also toured Japan with People’s Light and Theatre; and she has written, directed, and edited a documentary on The Ethnic Groups of Ghana.

Tour organizers say a local or national celebrity will join Krich and Lee for each segment of the current national tour. Past guest performers have included Maria Conchita Alonso, Sharon Gless, Jasmine Guy, Jerry Hall, Carol Kane, Margot Kidder, Ricki Lake, Kelly McGillis, Brooke Shields, and JoBeth Williams.

“In The Vagina Monologues,” tour organizers say, “Eve Ensler has given voice to a chorus of lusty, outrageous, poignant, brave, highly original, and thoroughly human stories. Based on over 200 interviews with a diverse group of women from around the globe, the play explores the humor, power, pain, wisdom, outrage, mystery, and excitement hidden in vaginas. Having seen The Vagina Monologues, no one — woman or man — will look at the world the same way again.”

Tour organizers add, “The Vagina Monologues has grown from an Off-Broadway hit into an international phenomenon and has been performed in over 40 countries along with two North America touring companies, currently booked in over 160 cities in the U.S. and Canada, and has been translated into over 35 different languages. Here in the U.S., the play has entered the popular consciousness and has been referenced on several hit television programs, including ‘Will & Grace,’ ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Ally McBeal,’ ‘Sex and the City,’ ‘Dharma and Greg,’ ‘Saturday Night Live,’ and ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ among others. It also has been a hot topic on national talk shows including ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ and ‘The View’ and featured in top media outlets including CNN, The New York Times, Newsweek, Time, The Washington Post, Marie Claire, People, Entertainment Weekly, and O-Magazine, among others. During appearances to promote her engagement in the Off-Broadway production, Calista Flockhart tried unsuccessfully to get David Letterman to say the word ‘vagina,’ but did join with Kathie Lee Gifford in getting the studio audience of ‘Live with Regis and Kathie Lee’ to chant the word.”

By desensitizing an overly sensitive subject, playwright and political activist Eve Ensler has opened a series of important (and potentially liberating) discussions on a heretofore forbidden topic. The Vagina Monologues was originally staged in New York Joe Mantello. Abby Epstein is the director of the current tour.

The Carolina Theatre presents The Vagina Monologues Tuesday/Wednesday/Friday, March 25, 26, and 28, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, March 29, at 4 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, March 30, at 3 p.m. at The Carolina Theatre, 309 W Morgan St., Durham, North Carolina. $26.50-$32.50, except $10 student discount and $29.50 per ticket for groups of 20 or more. 919/560-3030. and [inactive 7/1/03].