Kennedy Center Honors Fetes Legends with Tunes, Tears and Lasers

7 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

George Lucas, Cicely Tyson obtain Kennedy Middle Honors.

The Kennedy Center Honors Gala saluted five legendary artists on Sunday night, the extravaganza unfolding with First Lady Michelle Obama and one late arrival: President Obama, who appeared after his speech to the nation on the mass shooting in San Bernardino and terrorism.

As the tribute to the Star Wars creator began at a gala honouring him and four others for contributing to American culture through the arts, the crowd was asked to welcome actress Carrie Fisher. Filmmaker George Lucas, actresses Cicely Tyson and Rita Moreno, singer-songwriter Carole King and conductor Seiji Ozawa were heralded during a splashy holiday spectacle, one hosted by Stephen Colbert and filled with political, business and entertainment titans.

The first honors program under new the Kennedy Center’s new president Deborah Rutter coincided with a new production team, Tony Awards veterans Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss of White Cherry Entertainment. Instead, one of Lucas’s beloved creations, the feisty droid R2-D2, rolled onstage and projected her image, recreating the famous scene from A New Hope. Star Wars became one of the greatest successes in the history of Hollywood, even though many people — including Lucas himself — were convinced that the movie would flop.

The duo was tapped last May under a one-year tryout deal to succeed George Stevens Jr., who conceived the Honors program and co-produced from its inception through last year. Lucas’s films, especially the first Star Wars movie that came out in 1977, “changed movies absolutely for ever,” said Spielberg, who was at the event. Secretary of State John Kerry began the homage to King, saying she was more than a celebrity — and more than the writer of 400 compositions (including 100 hit singles) sung by more than 1,000 artists. “She lives the word ‘citizen,'” Kerry said, noting her work against climate change, women’s rights, justice and peace. Movies by Lucas and Spielberg, who often worked together, marked the birth of a new genre of popular science fiction movies with high-tech special effects.

The black-tie crowd thundered when James Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Janelle Monae and Sara Bareilles — plus cast members from “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” — performed some of King’s hits including “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Up on the Roof,” “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman” and “I Feel the Earth Move.” A showy special-effects segment honored Lucas, the man behind the blockbuster franchise and pop culture phenomenon that is “Star Wars.” As a director he hit the big-time with “American Graffiti” in 1973. As the crowd of Washington power brokers and Hollywood celebrities stood and applauded, Lucas waved from a balcony, wearing the event’s signature rainbow-coloured garland. Each honoree got their time to shine, starting with Moreno, whose TV granddaughter, Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez, got emotional as she recalled idolizing the actress as a young child and what it meant for her to see a fellow Latina on screen. “You gave me hope, a reason to fight and speak up,” said Rodriguez of Moreno, who was the first Latin woman to win an Academy Award. “When you followed your dreams, you gave me the allowance to follow mine.” Rosie Perez sang Fever while Animal of The Muppets manned the drums, — a performance for which Moreno, who turns 84 on Friday, won an Emmy. “Te amo mucho,” said Perez, expressing her love in Spanish. “Because without you, there would be no me.” Ozawa, who led the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 29 years, was feted by violinist Itzhak Perlman, soprano Renee Fleming and previous Kennedy Center Honoree Yo-Yo Ma. Earlier on the red carpet, Ozawa, 80, said that he felt as if he were “receiving this (the honor) with my colleagues in the orchestra.” Stephen Colbert returned to host for his second year in a row. “It’s a little embarrassing…they all showed up tonight wearing the same necklace,” he joked of the honoree’s rainbow medallions, which were bestowed upon them during a State Department dinner Saturday night. Lucas however sold his company, Lucasfilm, to Disney in 2012 for $4 billion (Dh14.6 billion) and is no longer associated with the franchise that he created.

In 2012 Lucas retired from corporate life to focus on philanthropy and education and to shepherd a gargantuan museum for his film and art collection in Chicago. But the team sprinkled new video segments throughout the show to supplement biographical films of each honoree, changed the look of sets and clearly aimed for a breezier flow of proceedings. Moreno said she planned on putting them “in a very prominent place” next to her grandson’s plastic soccer trophy, which she proudly displays alongside her Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony statuettes.

It wove in scenes and songs from the King bio tuner “Beautiful” performed by Jessie Mueller, supplemented by James Taylor (“Up on the Roof”), Sara Bareilles (“You’ve Got a Friend”) and Franklin. Carole King was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame nearly 30 years ago for her broad influence on pop music, which helped shape the sounds of the 1960s and 70s.

Moreno moved from Puerto Rico to New York’s Spanish Harlem as a child, overcoming odds and stereotypes to join a rare group of entertainers by collecting an Oscar, a Grammy, an Emmy and a Tony for her diverse work. “Jane the Virgin” star Gina Rodriguez, actress Rosie Perez, “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tony winner Karen Olivo all paid tribute. Star Wars is “not a movie about spaceships…but about family,” she said, recalling how his long gaps between movies were because he wanted to spend time raising his children. Emceed by Usher, it included appearances by Carrie Fisher (by “video voicemail”), as well as former honorees Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. The Eagles, who were due to receive an Honor this year but opted to postpone until next year because of a band member’s health problems, were not forgotten: Miranda Lambert performed Desperado in their honor. Tyson’s celebration included spoken tributes by Tyler Perry, Viola Davis and Kerry Washington. “She chose to empower us when we didn’t even know it was possible to be empowered,” said Perry. “Cicely refused to take a role that would not better humanity.” Davis, called the 90-year-old actress “my friend, my inspiration, my TV mother.” She “motivates others to follow her lead and her dreams.” “Cicely Tyson does not merely act,” said Washington. “She soars.

She didn’t make it big until she was about 30, when she portrayed Anita in the film version of “West Side Story.” “It’s kind of a reward, a recompense, not for the obvious things, but for all the hard work, falling down and getting up and persevering,” she said in an interview. “All those years of struggle, the challenges to my dignity, all of those things. Aretha Franklin, clad in a floor-length fur coat, capped off the night with a booming performance of Natural Woman that had everyone — including all Honorees and the Obamas — on their feet. Honorees were presented with their rainbow ribbons, surrounded by invited members of the artists committee and some past honorees, Kennedy Center board members, a smattering of D.C. politicos and media celebs. Kerry, taking a quick break from Paris global warming talks, said he welcomed the reception and dinner as “Washington’s true politics-free zone.” But he set a serious tone by decrying the brutal war being waged by ISIS terrorists against culture, art and world peace.

Jazz pianist Herbie Hancock emceed the post-dinner festivities which featured tributes to each honoree by a special friend. “Scandal” star Washington saluted Tyson, followed by the toast to Lucas by Usher. King’s tribute was delivered by longtime colleague Taylor, who said that when he first released King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” he never dreamed the tune would be “my first and last number one single, and a song I would sing every night for the rest of my entire life.”

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