By: Jacob Elyachar, jakes-take.com
The Kennedy Center Honors is one television program that I look forward to every year.
Over the past 15 years, I have enjoyed watching some of my favorite pop culture legends such as Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Carol Burnett, David Letterman, Dolly Parton, Dame Elizabeth Taylor, Sir Elton John, Jack Nicholson, Mel Brooks, Oprah Winfrey, Sir Paul McCartney, Quincy Jones, Tina Turner, Tom Hanks, The Who and Yo-Yo Ma be inducted into this elite and elusive group.
Tonight, five more well-deserving artists were initiated into this arts and entertainment society.
Singer-songwriter Carole King, director George Lucas, actresses Rita Moreno and Cicely Tyson and conductor Seiji Ozawa were honored by their peers and respected colleagues.
After a brief monologue from host Stephen Colbert, Golden Globe-winning actress Gina Rodriguez kicked off the night with a tearful tribute to the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) icon. The “Spanish Elizabeth Taylor” was featured in numerous films and television shows such as Singin’ in the Rain, Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?, The Ritz, The Electric Company, Jane the Virgin and most importantly…West Side Story, where her fiery performance as Anita earned her an Academy Award.
Rosie Perez and Animal recreated Ms. Moreno’s iconic rendition of “Fever” that she performed alongside the wild Muppet when she appeared on The Muppet Show. I loved seeing Rosie Perez back on TV and the duo made me laugh so hard. As Animal left the stage, Ms. Perez thanked her fellow Puerto Rican for blazing the trail for her. Lin-Manuel Miranda added laughs with his message for Rita and shared a small anecdote about how the EGOT icon helped save a youth orchestra’s performance from disaster. The final number of Ms. Moreno’s tribute highlighted her West Side Story roots with a rousing rendition of “America.”
George Lucas was the second honoree to receive his tribute. C-3P0 and R2-D2 appeared on stage with a message from longtime friend Carrie Fisher. The Star Wars actress’ brief cameo was followed by a surprise speaker: his wife, Mellody Hobson. Mr. Lucas also got a special treat as fellow Kennedy Center Honoree (and the voice of Darth Vader) James Earl Jones voiced his journey from American Graffiti to present day. Mr. Lucas’ longtime friends, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, talked about how Industrial Light & Magic changed film forever with its groundbreaking technology that was featured in several of the highest grossing films of all-time and won 43 Academy Awards. For the final act of George Lucas’ tribute, an orchestra brilliantly fused John Williams’ orchestrations of both the Star Wars trilogy and Indiana Jones. I got chills watching some of these iconic scenes and I instantly got chills when the Stormtroopers walked on stage along with C-3PO and R2-D2. In addition, the laser light show was spectacular.
Before we moved onto the next honoree, Miranda Lambert performed a heartfelt cover of The Eagles’ “Desperado.” As the Late Show host mentioned earlier that evening, due to Glenn Frey’s health, the band elected to forego the Kennedy Center Honors for this year. They will be amongst the nominees that will be honored next year
Academy Award and Tony-winning actress Cicely Tyson was the third honoree to be recognized by the Kennedy Center. Media mogul Tyler Perry talked about working with Cicely Tyson on the set of Alex Cross and how he was worried about hurting Ms. Tyson during the filming process. Tyler Perry praised her tenacity and strong work ethic that led her from Harlem to the Kennedy Center. Emmy and Tony-winning actress Viola Davis called her TV mom her inspiration and how Ms. Tyson’s performance in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman let her dream of “seeing the mountain” and inviting the audience on her incredible journey. Kerry Washington talked how Ms. Tyson moved her audience each night with “Blessed Assurance” during the second act of The Trip to Bountiful. CeCe Winans, Kenneth Blanchard and the Cicely Tyson Community School of Performing Arts students brought the crowd and Ms. Tyson to their feet with a beautiful cover of “Blessed Assurance.”
Celebrated classical musician and 2003 Kennedy Center Honoree Itzhak Perlman shared how his Seiji Ozawa’s artistry electrified classical music. 2004 Kennedy Center Honoree John Williams showcased Mr. Ozawa’s story on how he went from Japanese protégé to the Boston Symphony’s maestro for over 29 years. After Opera superstar Renee Fleming shared a brief memory from her 24-year friendship with Mr. Ozawa, 2011 Kennedy Center Honoree Yo-Yo Ma led a string ensemble on one of Mr. Ozawa’s favorite pieces that brought the Maestro to his feet.
Carole King is one of my favorite singer-songwriters of all-time. I was extremely ecstatic to learn that Ms. King would be honored by the Kennedy Center. Secretary of State John Kerry became the first Secretary of State to participate in a Kennedy Center Honors tribute. He praised Ms. King’s partnership with her ex, Gerry Coffin, and how both Lennon and McCartney wanted to be just like the American songwriting duo. The cast of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical brilliantly brought Ms. King’s history to life. Several artists assisted Beautiful cast in pulling off this impeccable tribute. Janelle Monae (“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “One Fine Day”), longtime friend James Taylor (“Up on the Roof”) and Sara Bareilles (“You’ve Got A Friend”) brought their own take on Ms. King’s hits, but it was the one and only Queen of Soul, Ms. Aretha Franklin, that brought the house down with her hit: “(You’ve Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman.”
Stephen Colbert closed the night with the impeccable closing number of “I Feel The Earth Move” that featured all of the performers of the evening!