Official Washington toasted five titans of the performing arts Sunday night at the 33rd annual Kennedy Center Honors, the nation’s primary assemblage of entertainment and political aristocracy.
Country singer Merle Haggard, legiter Jerry Herman, terp Bill T. Jones, Paul McCartney and Oprah Winfrey took their bows during another exuberant gala.
As per the time-honored format, the Kennedy Center affair followed a White House reception on Saturday hosted by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, a dinner the previous evening at the U.S. State Dept. and other private events. The show was again produced by George Stevens Jr. and his son, Michael; it will air Dec. 28 on CBS.
Individual segments devoted to each honoree were highlighted by the compelling stories of Haggard, who’s served time in San Quentin, and of Winfrey, who rose from rural Mississippi poverty. Vince Gill emceed the tribute to Haggard, while Julia Roberts narrated Winfrey’s bio, with both featuring brief videos highlighting their respective careers.
The Winfrey segment included remarks from Sidney Poitier, who called her “an inspiration wherever people gather to conquer the complexities of life.” Jennifer Hudson performed, joined in tribute by Chris Rock, John Travolta and Barbara Walters.
Not surprisingly, the Stevens duo made the most of the Herman tribute with a lively medley of tunes from “La Cage aux Folles,” which followed a tribute by Angela Lansbury. Herman’s “Dolly,” Carol Channing, appeared for a chorus of “Hello Jerry.” Others singing his praises were Christine Baranski, Christine Ebersole, Chita Rivera and Kelsey Grammer.
Edward Albee and Claire Danes praised Jones (“Fela!”), followed by a performance from Jones’ dance troupe. The tribute capped an eventful week for the choreo-grapher following the announced merger of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company with New York’s Dance Theater Workshop.
Event’s traditional climax was centered on McCartney, with several musicians offering medleys to the former Beatle following a tribute by Alec Baldwin. No Doubt presented the early years (“All My Loving,” “Penny Lane”) followed by an “Abbey Road” medley by Dave Grohl, Norah Jones, Steven Tyler, James Taylor and Mavis Staples.