The Kennedy Center Honors came out of its comfort zone on Sunday night, recognizing for the first time a living and breathing art work, as well as four seasoned but also lively and breathing American artists. And the change felt both fresh and a little heavy.
By adding a popular musical, the famous "Hamilton", to the historical list of 41-year-old winners in alphabetical order, from George Abbott to Joanne Woodward, the Kennedy Center has radically revised the rules and, from some way, ceremony that celebrates the winners. Other winners this year were singer and actress Cher, country music star Reba McEntire, jazz legend Wayne Shorter and avant-garde composer Philip Glass.
The joyous part was infusing into the program – a show to be broadcast on CBS, as well as a fundraiser – with the music and power of a star of a blockbuster dazzling Broadway and a quartet of artists at the peak of their careers. It is likely that by awarding special honors to Hamilton composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Thomas Kail, music director Alex Lacamoire and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, the arts center is making a direct appeal to a younger audience for the relevance of rewards. .
Phillipa Soo, Renee Elise Goldsberry and Jasmine Cephas Jones, Schuyler's original sisters, and Christopher Jackson and Miranda, a question that arose at the opera. Is this price unique? Is "Hamilton" the only artistic product made in the United States with sufficient impact to disrupt the tradition of awarding individual merit prizes? And if not, what comes next?
Of course, it remains to be seen whether this year has been a major breakthrough or an opportunistic exception. Meanwhile, the production itself, divided as always into five distinct segments and directed by Glenn Weiss, presented itself as a kind of hypermarket of acts, mostly musical but sometimes spoken or comical. Gloria Estefan, winner 2017, was emcee for a cast including such luminaries as Renee Fleming, Cyndi Lauper, Herbie Hancock, Kristin Chenoweth, S. Epatha Merkerson, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Lambert, Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Koh, Esperanza. Spalding and St. Vincent.
It is incredibly difficult to summarize the life of the laureates with 25 minutes of material, to do justice to a consecrated life, for example, to find "as many ways to make his horn look like the human voice", as commented Wynton Marsalis. a short film presented on Shorter, the jazz composer. And in some cases, the praises were so syrupy that they could have stuck to your shoes. "Reba, on behalf of the Earth, the universe and the outside worlds, thank you very much for sharing these gifts with us," exclaimed comic actress Melissa Peterman, co McEntire's short story in the sitcom WB "Reba".
Whoopi Goldberg, presenting the last segment of the night, exhilarating Cher, did better to Peterman. "Elvis. Sinatra. Dear, she declared with great force.
It is as usual the exceptional musical acts that fueled the ecstatic engines of the evening. Clarkson, McEntire's daughter-in-law, played a divine version of McEntire's "Fancy," and Jackson reproduced George Washington's "One Last Time" rendering, which evolved into a floating member-in-one. local Voices. of America Youth Choir. The participation of Miranda and Lacamoire, on the piano, at the number, by the way, was the first time that the laureates had performed at their own celebration.
Lambert, presenting himself for Cher's tribute, made the event its "Believe" success in 1998, and Lauper immediately materialized and allowed the audience to get up. with the film "If I could go back in time". Box of the house that the winners shared with representatives such as Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) And Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., a Dear Shine could be seen, taking tears to the eyes. (As one could expect, President Trump was again absent this year.)
Some interludes fell a little flat in the lobby: Chenoweth, wearing shiny boots and singing "Doin 'What Comes Natur'lly" from "Annie Get Your Gun," in which McEntire appeared on Broadway in 2001, had only very little sense. And although Soo, Goldsberry and Jones looked splendid, the trio sang "The Schuyler Sisters", but it was painful to hear Soo singing "Helpless" or Goldsberry guiding us through the brilliant "Satisfied" of "Hamilton" ". A disadvantage of presenting a current Broadway production, perhaps, is the possibility that its producers are reluctant to share the biggest numbers of the musical.
But the segment of Shorter's career consisted of two extraordinary pieces. The first was a long jazz session in a nightclub setting, with instrumentalist Hancock and jazz singer Spalding. This was followed by Fleming who played a jazz tune from one of Shorter's last prolific works. I'm not sure how these plays will be shown when CBS airs on December 26 at 8 pm But their beauty has shown how crucial it is to include jazz legends in the annals of honors.
Another touching interlude was created for Glass's work: the Philip Glass Ensemble and the Washington Chorus performed selections from the score of the movie "Koyaanisqatsi" and Koh joined the choir and Merkerson for "Knee Play 5" of the Opera in four acts of Glass dating from 1976, "Einstein to the beach." Perhaps the most memorable part of her tribute was Jon Batiste at the piano, interpreting the multi-colored opening of the "Glassworks" chamber piece.
Gentle and punctual, the series evoked the news only once, and it was a tribute to another remarkable American, the 41st president, George H.W. Bush, who died Friday. Estefan was moved when she recounted that she had received a comforting call from Bush after his almost fatal bus crash. The sustained ovation that followed was one of the longest of a busy evening.
Peggy McGlone contributed to this report.