Melissa Ethridge was happy to tell us ahead of time that she was singing “Born to Run,” as part of the Springsteen tribute. Jack Black tripped on the train of his wife’s gown, but played it off with a “High School Musical” spin move, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was having trouble talking. Pelosi had lost her voice and was leaning in almost nose-to-nose to chat with the press. She declared in a whisper that she had never missed a Springsteen concert in her home state of California.
Lynda Carter was first to flash her pearly whites for photographers, and Harry Connick Jr. the very last. In between was of course “The Boss” himself, who arrived to a bellow of “Bruuuuuuuce,” De Niro didn’t talk at all, Katie Couric declared herself very over “Crashergate,” NBC News’ Brian Williams said he and his wife “fell in love with Springsteen and then fell in love with each other,” and Sharon Stone cooed to the press like a movie star should.
Violinist Joshua Bell avoided the red carpet all together, while Ben Stiller and Philip Seymour Hoffman had reporters tripping over each other to make it to the other side of the velvet rope where they made nice with fans instead of flashbulbs (as did Mayor Adrian Fenty and his wife Michelle).
Local standouts making their way into the building were Bonnie McElveen-Hunter in a gown like they don’t make ’em anymore and David Gregory’s wife, Beth Wilkinson, in a gold sequins number reminiscent of smoky nights and Bond heroines.
While the stars dealt with media madness, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were being ushered through the back entrance to the Presidential Box to await a performance that started with a tribute to De Niro. Meryl Streep spoke touchingly about her friend while Ben Stiller and others recited monologues in homage. Stiller had the house snickering when he called the president, “the Nobel Peace guy,” and then got distracted and yelled, “Oh my God, it’s Bruce Springsteen! Bruuuuuce!”
Jazz legend Herbie Hancock ticked the ivories for Dave Brubeck along with Brubeck’s sons and a full military band. Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu sang in honor of mezzo-soprano Grace Brumby, who, like Marian Anderson, broke racial barriers in the operatic world. In her early 20s she was asked by Jacqueline Kennedy to sing at the White House, and footage from that memorable time was shown during her salute.
Harry Connick Jr.’s knees were knocking as he sang “High Anxiety,” in tribute to Brooks, whose salute also included Jack Black crooning “Men in Tights” while he pranced in a felt hat and de rigueur evergreen tights, and Matthew Morrison from “Glee” singing “Springtime for Hitler” from “The Producers.” It was a major highlight but one that left guests wagering whether it would ultimately be axed from the version that will be broadcast on CBS on December 29.
Everyone will probably agree that the line of the night was uttered by Jon Stewart, who opened the Springsteen tribute by declaring, “I’m not a music critic, nor historian… but I am from New Jersey. And so I can tell you what I believe. I believe that Bob Dylan and James Brown had a baby. And that child is Bruce Springsteen.” Yes, even POTUS and FLOTUS were doubled over in laughter as veep Joe Biden guffawed next to them.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, the security at Honors was tighter than Fort Knox and the evening was crasher free.