Access Pollywood: Kennedy Center Honors

Guests didn’t bother counting stars at this year’s Kennedy Center Honors, they were too busy counting galaxies.
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Nancy Shevell, Paul McCartney. Kennedy Center Honors Red Carpet. Photo by Tony Powell.

Nancy Shevell, . Kennedy Center Honors Red Carpet. Photo by Tony Powell.

The evening’s somewhat surreal edge was evident even before the curtain went up. All eyes – and there were 1,900 pairs of them – were glued on President and his wife Michelle as they joined fellow supernovas Paul McCartney and in the box tier of the Opera House beside fellow honorees , and .

But that was only the beginning; far more extraordinary moments would follow as a who’s who of the entertainment world paraded across the stage or watched from the audience.

Actress started the show with a personal tribute to old pal Winfrey and got the first big laugh of the night when she closed by saying, “Everybody reach under your seats … ” noted that there are 500 million friends on Facebook but the world’s most famous talk show host’s “gift of true friendship” was “exactly what a social network should be.” cracked up the crowd with jokes about Oprah’s power (“She got [President Obama] a job!”) and Oprah’s wealth (“She’s so rich China owes her money!,” followed by , who called Winfrey “the best interviewer ever. No one else comes close – not even me.” Of course there had to be a song and was there to sing it. The “Dreamgirls” star brought down the house with a powerful rendition of “I’m Here,” from “The Color Purple,” the film Winfrey starred in and later produced as a Broadway musical.

Jennifer Hudson. Kennedy Center Honors Red Carpet. Photo by Tony Powell.

Jennifer Hudson. Kennedy Center Honors Red Carpet. Photo by Tony Powell.

Actress praised choreographer/dancer Jones for “honesty, curiosity, fierceness and restless creativity” (and for being “a goofball who loves to get down”) just in time for the audience to get over playwright spoiling his own Jones tribute with gratuitous comments about the dearth of artists who are Republicans. (Later on, Kennedy Center Chairman made nice by mentioning all those major GOP donors to the Center.) Dancers from the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company performed an impressive work titled: “Fondly Do We Hope … Fervently Do We Pray” in their co-founder’s honor.

credited Herman for giving her the “chance of a lifetime” to star in “Mame” in 1966. “He understands romance,” she noted, adding that the famed composer/lyricist was “packing them in even now on the Great White Way” in a successful revival of “La Cage Aux Folles.” The extravaganza that followed produced what was undoubtedly the biggest surprise of the night: , age 89, singing “Hello, Jerry” to the tune of “Hello, Dolly!” on stage as eight lithe male dancers cavorted in her midst. , , , Laura Benanti, , and joined Channing and Lansbury (who is 85) onstage with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington DC to finish with a rollicking revue of Herman’s work.

credited Haggard, the “most resonant voice in country music,” as a “poet of the man” concerned about “drifters, factory workers, farm hands and prisoners … who need a decent job, self respect and a place to call home.” joined to perform Haggard’s classic “Today I Started Loving You Again.” , , and joined them onstage to round out the musical segment in his honor.

Sheryl Crow. Kennedy Center Honors Red Carpet. Photo by Tony Powell.

Sheryl Crow. Kennedy Center Honors Red Carpet. Photo by Tony Powell.

It was no surprise that the evening’s grand finale was reserved for McCartney, whose career was lauded by Alec Baldwin (apparently they take yoga classes together in East Hampton). The actor’s droll commentary focused at first on the former Beatle’s “awful early years … assaulted by hostile female gang members” and having to perform in “places reserved for baseball games, bullfights and papal masses.” That McCartney is a “genius” was not forgotten, although Baldwin expanded the characterization beyond the realm of music to family, friends, and life in general.

The finale featured (wearing the highest and thinnest pair of stiletto heels ever seen outside of a circus) and her No Doubt band mates playing Beatles’ covers (“Hello Goodbye,” “All My Loving,” “Penny Lane”) and the unusual combination of and Foo Fighter’s collaborating on “Maybe I’m Amazed.” The show-stopping finale came courtesy of Aerosmith’s , who ground out his own Fab Four medley in a variety of gravity- defying positions.

Gwen Stefani and the members of No Doubt. Kennedy Center Honors Red Carpet. Photo by Tony Powell.

Gwen Stefani and the members of No Doubt. Kennedy Center Honors Red Carpet. Photo by Tony Powell.

A lengthy audience sing-along with the assembled crew (also including and The Joyce Garrett Choir) ended the night with “Hey Jude” and what seemed like each and every one of the “Na na na na” lines with a Washington political galaxy –the Obamas, Vice President and , Chief Justice , Speaker of the House , , half the Cabinet and a near majority of the Senate – joining in. And yes, some of them were even waving the little flashlights ushers handed out to create the “magical effect” of a starlit universe centered – for one night anyway – at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Abbey Road.

Erin Brady, Steven Tyler. Kennedy Center Honors Red Carpet. Photo by Tony Powell.

Erin Brady, Steven Tyler. Kennedy Center Honors Red Carpet. Photo by Tony Powell.

Oprah Winfrey. Kennedy Center Honors Red Carpet. Photo by Tony Powell.

Oprah Winfrey. Kennedy Center Honors Red Carpet. Photo by Tony Powell.

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