Cher, Reba McEntire, Philip Glass, 'Hamilton' Lauded at Kennedy Center Honors
The 41st event had Gloria Estefan as host and performances by Kelly Clarkson, Amanda Seyfried and Kristin Chenoweth, among others.
It was a music-heavy night for the 41st annual Kennedy Center Honors, an awards gala that celebrates the lifetime achievements of a handful of performing artists who have had an indelible influence in their field.
This year's ceremony, which was recorded live on Sunday night and will air on CBS on Dec. 26 at 8 p.m. ET, paid tribute to multimedia diva Cher, country singer and actress Reba McEntire, pianist and composer Philip Glass, and jazz saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter. A first-of-its-kind special award was bestowed upon Hamilton creators Lin-Manuel Miranda (writer and actor), Thomas Kail (director), Andy Blankenbuehler (choreographer) and Alex Lacamoire (music director) to acknowledge their groundbreaking multi-genre work in the arts.
"It really felt like we shouldn't wait to acknowledge that [Hamilton] has transformed how we think about art," Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter told The Hollywood Reporter, explaining how they arrived at the decision to acknowledge this "transformative work that defies category." She added, "Most of the time you wait 30 years to acknowledge an artist when they've achieved something, [but] we should really note that this is a pivotal moment in our world of performing arts."
As to whether this award will be a recurring one? "We'll only do it when there's a reason to do it, but it does give us an opportunity to think about it," said Rutter.
When asked what the secret is to having the Kennedy Center create an award just for them, Lin-Manuel Miranda told THR that it happened by writing "one couplet at a time — and then finding the smartest people around me to help make a great musical. What's great about this award is that it's a group award and a celebration of collaboration, which is the only way musicals get made. There's no lone genius behind any musical."
Gloria Estefan, a 2017 Honors recipient and the host for the evening, took a moment at the beginning of the program to remember the life and contributions of the late President George H. W. Bush, who had attended many of the past Honors and who showed a personal kindness to Estefan and her family, both during their visit to the White House in 1990 and throughout her recovery from the infamous accident that nearly ended her career.
A handful of individual admirers and collaborators, none of whom were announced beforehand, feted each honoree with both performances and words of appreciation.
Kelly Clarkson, McEntire's daughter-in-law, thanked her for being "a really rad grandma to my kids" before performing roof-raising rendition of "Fancy." Melissa Peterman, McEntire's co-star on the sitcom Reba, fought back tears in remembering McEntire's boundless energy, genuine warmth and professional generosity, saying, "On behalf of Earth — and I'm just going to throw it out there, the universe, and worlds beyond — thank you for sharing those gifts with us."
Amanda Seyfried got personal in her appreciation of Cher as both a co-star (the two shared the screen in this summer's Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again) and an activist, and Adam Lambert filled the opera house with his own Cher-worthy rendition of "Believe."
Several Hamilton cast members were present, including Phillipa Soo, Jasmine Cephas-Jones and Renee Elise Goldsberry — the original Schuyler Sisters — who performed their eponymous song. A duet by Miranda and castmate Chris Jackson (George Washington) and backed by the Voices of America Youth Choir received a standing ovation.
The event, arguably the most glittering and well-attended shindig on the Kennedy Center's calendar, drew a crowd that included such Washingtonian notables as Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Chief Justice John Roberts. Jake Tapper was spied in the crowd, and Betsy DeVos — a Kennedy Center donor — was in attendance.
The night was sprinkled with surprises, too: an audible gasp when Kristin Chenoweth took the stage to sing a song from Annie Get Your Gun in tribute to McEntire (who starred in the Broadway revival in 2001), an appearance (although not a performance) from 2002 Honors winner Paul Simon honoring Philip Glass, and a head-to-toe-sequin-clad Whoopi Goldberg, who welcomed Cher by saying, "I went into your closet … and I'm aware [who] wears it better."
Perhaps the most genuine and unexpected moment came from Cher herself. As her friend Cyndi Lauper strode out onstage in leather bike shorts and stiletto over-the-knee boots to sing "If I Could Turn Back Time," the diva cried out from her perch in the prime box seats, "I thought you said you were going to Los Angeles!" To which her pal Cyndi smiled and replied into the microphone, "I lied!"