Last night’s Oscar broadcast was their first tribute to music in Film, hosted by Seth McFarland from “The Family Guy” and the movie “Ted”. Before I talk about the program, let me talk about Seth. It must be horribly difficult to be put in the crosshairs as an Oscar host–which is why there have been relatively few hosts considering 85 year history of the show. The Academy planners have an amazing tendency to pick hosts because they are comedians–as long-time hosts Bob Hope and Johnny Carson–while disregarding the obvious fact that their comedic style may not be appropriate for this type of show. Seth said he’d been working on the show for over five months, and it showed. He sang and danced well, was his own brand of charming, and stayed out of the way as much as possible. They seriously edited Seth’s usual comic style, not doubt in terror that he would re-create the Ricky Gervais experience. It’s too bad; he and the audience could have had more fun if they’d let him fly a little.
Okay, on to the music. I’m not discussing the performances in order, but there’s a point to this. The Chicago reunion was puzzling until I remembered from the red carpet pre-show that the people who did Chicago produced last night’s show. They had been campaigning for years to be allowed to produce the Academy’s and were very excited–they hoped they’d be invited back. (This fact will be important later). There were three performers whose performances had been widely hyped, and they delivered! Shirley Bassey in a gold sequined gown sang the daylights out of her trademark “Goldfinger”, alone on a brightly lit stage. Just after the usual In Memoriam segment honoring industry people who had passed away in the last year, Barbara Streisand walked out onto an empty stage–which was black and looked like she was standing in a field of stars– wearing a black and gold gown, and very simply but with deep emotion, sang “The Way We Were” in tribute to her friend, Marvin Hamlisch. As the monitor behind her showed a montage of photos of him, I noticed they hadn’t played his song under the In Memoriam segment as they have done for years; which made Barbara’s performance even more poignant. Although they are both over 70, both Barbara and Dame Shirley’s performances had the crowd on their feet at the end of their songs, having casually shown the audience “that’s how it’s done, son”.
I confess that I am not familiar with all Adele’s songs, but she deserved a better production than they gave her performance of “Skyfall”. Her mike wasn’t working properly when she started, there was a big crowd of people on stage, with a giant blue smoke projection behind her–and flashing lights– and the music was too loud. No wonder she looked very uncomfortable until about halfway through the song. Of course since she won the academy for her performance on the soundtrack of “SkyFall”, she’ll get over it, but I liked her voice and really wanted to hear her sing something she could sink her teeth into, without all the extras.
Jennifer Hudson looked amazing in her dark blue gown, and settled in to sing her trademark, “I’m not leaving” from Dreamgirls. The woman has an incredible voice whose intensity can make you drown in your own tears when she really gets going. That said, I wish she would remember that you can get a bigger buildup on a song if you leave yourself room to grow. It might have been the excitement of the night, her desire to really hit the song out of the park after Barbara and Shirley, or the distraction being unable to connect with the orchestra which was in another location and completely out of sight, but she started the song too hot–the intensity was already too high. When she tried to build to a bigger finish, she had nowhere to go but screaming–which put her off-key. The volume level of the orchestra and the lighting display around her made it all exciting for the audience nonetheless, but again, the overproduction of her number did her a disservice.
There were many surprises last night; among them–who knew Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron could dance? The final appearance of the cast of the movie version of Les Mis was stirring, Catherine Zeta-Jones finally got to sing the entire song, “All that Jazz” (she was interrupted by Rene Zellweger in the film), and there were other big dance numbers. Kudos to Seth and Kristen Chenowith for singing “Here’s to the Losers” as the credits rolled. It was funny and clever but I couldn’t enjoy it from worrying at what point they broadcast was going to cut them off since the show was running overtime.
Musically, I really enjoyed last night’s show. However as is usual with 3+ hour-long shows, it did drag during the presentations, and some of them were Only Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy know what their bit was all about. The field of winners were surprising. The awards didn’t go as they had on the preceding events, but held such gems as Ben Affleck’s touching acceptance speech (“..and no one would hire me) and Daniel Day Lewis saying he was up for the role of Margaret Thatcher, but lost to Meryl Streep. I look forward to the Tony Awards in a few months. I hope the producers allow the performances to speak for themselves and not try to replicate the Superbowl.