‘The Kennedy Center Honors’ Cher, ‘Hamilton’ & Reba

(Photo property of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts)

By: Jacob Elyachar, jakes-take.com

Earlier this month, political leaders and international superstars arrived at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to celebrate leaders in the entertainment industry. However, this event was not your parents or grandparents’ Kennedy Center Honors ceremony. There were numerous changes to the iconic television special. 

Music legend Gloria Estefan, one of last year’s Kennedy Center Honorees, took over the hosting duties from Late Show’s Stephen Colbert.  Also, the main four Kennedy Center Honorees (Cher, Reba McEntire, Philip Glass, and Wayne Shorter) all represented the music industry. Plus, the creative team behind the blockbuster musical Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, Andy Blankenbuehler, and Alex Lacamoire) earned a special recognition award for their work in the musical theatre world.

After Ms. Estefan’s inspiring speech, radio icon Bobby Bones introduced Reba McEntire’s segment. Mr. Bones shared the actress-singer’s origin story and introduced her daughter-in-law, Kelly Clarkson. The original American Idol gave the audience chills when she covered “Fancy.”  Lady Antebellum joined in on the fun as they performed a medley of her hits. Next, Melissa ‘Barbra Jean’ Peterman reminisced about Reba’s first table reading, while Kristin Chenoweth performed a number from Annie Get Your Gun. Finally, Reba’s longtime friends and Las Vegas co-headliners Brooks and Dunn concluded the segment with “Why Haven’t I Heard from You?”

Pianist and the Kennedy Center’s Artistic Advisor for Jazz, Jason Moran, introduced a poignant segment tribute for Wayne Shorter.  Kennedy Center Honoree Herbie Hancock lead an all-star Jazz ensemble to pay tribute to Mr. Shorter. Next, they were joined by four-time Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding, who showcased her beautiful voice as she scatted through Shorter’s music. Baseball superstar Bernie Williams shared how he studied Mr. Shorter when he was in school and also introduced singer Renee Fleming who performed “Aurora.”  

Ms. Estefan introduced original cast member Anthony Ramos to pay homage to the Hamilton creative team. The segment showcased how the show went from the White House to the Great White Way.  The audience roared when the original Schuyler Sisters (Renee Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, and Jasmine Cephas Jones) took the stage for “The Schuyler Sisters.” Next, Miranda and Lacamoire joined Christopher Jackson, the show’s original George Washington, for “One Last Time.”

Music legend and previous Kennedy Center Honoree Paul Simon introduced Philip Glass’ segment.  Mr. Simon praised Glass’ work and introduced Late Show with Stephen Colbert’s bandleader, Jon Batiste, who delivered an elegant piano solo. The Phillip Glass Ensemble, Angelique Kidjo, S. Epatha Merkerson, and St. Vincent also participated in this tribute.

One of the highlights of the evening was Cher’s tribute. EGOT icon Whoopi Goldberg received major laughs when she told Cher-“I went into your closet,” as a montage of her iconic career played to the Kennedy Center audience. The View moderator introduced Little Big Town, who performed a medley of Cher’s hits: “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves,” “I Found Someone,” and their favorite tune, “Baby Don’t Go.”

I was overjoyed to see Adam Lambert cover “Believe” for the Kennedy Center audience.  Next year will mark the tenth anniversary of Adam performing the song on American Idol.  He delivered a star-making performance during the Hollywood Week finale and tonight it was a full circle moment as Adam performed the iconic song for the entertainment icon. Cher nearly shouted from the Kennedy Center balcony when she saw long time friend and opening act Cyndi Lauper took the stage.  The “True Colors” singer-songwriter brought the house down with “If I Could Turn Back Time.”

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Copyright 2019 Jacob Elyachar