FLASH SPECIAL: Unforgettable Oscars Performances
Today we are shifting our focus from the stages of Broadway and beyond to the stages of the previous 84 Academy Awards telecasts that have transpired to date, in anticipation of Sunday night's big, big, big show - Hollywood's hugest night. After all, this year's Academy Awards is of particular interest and excitement to theatre fans around the globe, especially because super-producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are behind it - the men responsible for the hit stage-to-screen adaptations of CHICAGO and HAIRSPRAY, as well as the small-screen successes GYPSY, LIFE WITH JUDY GARLAND: ME & MY SHADOWS, ANNIE, and, most recently, NBC's musical series SMASH, to name but a few of their many marvelous musical-friendly credits. They told me themselves earlier this week that this year's telecast would be the most music-packed Academy Awards show to date, and, just judging from the announced tributes, performers and presenters thus far it is clear to see that they were not kidding - reunions of the casts of the film versions of CHICAGO and LES MISERABLES live onstage, singing their films' most famous songs to Jennifer Hudson leading a DREAMGIRLS homage all the way to a James Bond 50th anniversary celebration featuring Adele and Shirley Bassey on some famous Bond themes, as well as EGOT (more on that later) recipient Barbra Streisand herself singing "The Way We Were" in memory of friend and collaborator, three-time Oscar-winner Marvin Hamlisch.
Plus, host Seth MacFarlane - an all-around affable personality well-known for his affection for and adeptness at musical comedy performing - shall be lending dulcet tones to a few tunes, too, including a highly-touted post-Best Picture grand finale duet with Broadway baby Kristin Chenoweth.
2012 was an especially kind year to theatre fans thanks to the worldwide smash hit status of a full-fledged movie musical like LES MISERABLES - lest we forget we also had some other movie musicals like ROCK OF AGES and THE SAPPHIRES fill our screens, as well - so we certainly have a horse to root for in this race for the only time besides 2002 and 2008, when CHICAGO and SWEENEY TODD competed for prizes previously (though only CHICAGO has scored a Best Picture nomination out of all the movie musicals this century so far; and, it won).
Yes, the 2013 Oscars will be all about the music, the stars and the glamour, so today let's take a look back at some of the most marvelous, magical and momentous Academy Awards opening numbers and performances of all time - the triumphs, the thrills, the divas, the disasters, the comedians and everything else - while we anticipate tomorrow's awards ceremony to beat the band on any coast, whether on Broadway, in Hollywood or anywhere else, for that matter.
The 85th Annual Academy Awards airs Sunday, February 24, at 7 PM on ABC.
Also, don't miss my extensive InDepth InterView with 2013 Academy Awards producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, available here.
Snow White and Rob Lowe to Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway; James Franco and Anne Hathaway (again) to Beyonce, Liza, Diana (Ross), Angela (Lansbury) and Barbra; Bob Hope to Johnny Carson to Whoopi Goldberg to, now, Seth MacFarlane - the heavenly highs and hellish lows showcased on Oscar telecasts over the last several decades, which have had more than their fair share of fine musical fare and fiery bombs, but, no matter what, the Academy Awards are always exciting - sometimes much more. And, they are always the ideal place to witness Hollywood's best on their utmost behavior, no matter what the quality of the show being seen onstage may be. In recent years, we have seen Hugh Jackman soar and James Franco flounder, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin zing and sting with aplomb and Billy Crystal remind us why we love him, while also getting a glimpse of the hosting skills of some celebrated comedians who more or less effortlessly carried the night (Johnny Carson and Bob Hope would be proud of their legacy living on through Chris Rock, Ellen Degeneres, Jon Stewart and some of the very finest among the recent comedian hosts, no doubt). Seth MacFarlane has proven he can do it all in the past - look no further than his voice work on FAMILY GUY and his solo album MUSIC IS BETTER THAN WORDS; to say nothing of his marvelous work at the BBC Proms in the last couple of years - but hosting the Academy Awards is one of the toughest and most thankless jobs in all of show business. Never the less, all eyes will be on the controversial performer Sunday night to not only see if he will push the envelope and warrant the intercession of the almighty censors, but also if he can carry it all off with his trademark cool brow intact. Given his resounding success performing somewhat similar duties on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE in the past, we can certainly hold onto a whole lot of hope for MacFarlane.
Now, let's turn back the clock and view some of Oscar's proudest and most "Proud Mary"-esque moments to date over the course of his 85 years.
First up, LES MISERABLES stars Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway create a dazzling memory to treasure with their stupendous opening number at the 81st annual awards show.
Broadway/Hollywood crossover star Neil Patrick Harris reminds us all of his fierce triple-threat abilities with his instantly classic Oscar opening number from when he amiably and ably hosted the show in 2010. Wow!
No Academy Awards performance retrospective would be complete without the most bizarre and outright ludicrous opening number to date, the infamous 1989 Snow White-led opening produced by legendary GREASE and LA CAGE AUX FOLLES producer Allan Carr. Merv Griffin singing, Cyd Charisse dancing, Snow White and Rob Lowe covering a John Fogerty anthem, with poor Marvin Hamlisch stuck arranging and conducting it all, this clip goes from weird to ridiculous to jaw-droppingly bad enough times to make one's head spin - with or without an exorcist. It doesn't get any more infamous than this as far as Oscar moments go!
From later on in the same head-scrating show, here is Lucille Ball, Bob Hope and Walter Matthau among those paying tribute to young Hollywood, and the ensuing production number, "I Wanna Be An Oscar Winner", which must be seen to be believed - no, really.
Easily the most far-out Oscar performance to date is Sheena Easton leading one of the most garishly overproduced production numbers you are ever likely to see, featuring the James Bond theme from the 1981 film of the same name, "For Your Eyes Only". 3,2,1... lift off!
Enjoy Whoopi Goldberg reminding us why she is a well-deserved EGOT - Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony-winner, that is - with her "Oscar Is A Host's Best Friend" showstopper kick-off to that year's splendid show.
Angela Lansbury blows the roof off of the auditorium with her stunning rendition of "Thoroughly Modern Millie" at the 1968 Academy Awards. Spectacular, stylish and smart!
Iconic Broadway leading lady Bernadette Peters sings "Putting It Together" from SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE in this specially-penned edition of the famous Stephen Sondheim song used in a montage sequence at the 66th annual Academy Awards.
Living legend Liza Minnelli joins ARTHUR castmate Dudley Moore, along with Richard Pryor and Walter Matthau, for the sparkling, spunky, star-themed opening number of the 1983 Academy Awards. No one does it like Liza!
Music icon Diana Ross sings the most famous movie song of all time, THE WIZARD OF OZ's "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", originally introduced by Liza's mother, the one and only Judy Garland, at the 62nd annual Academy Awards.
Barbra Streisand lends her impeccable instrument to her Academy Award-winning Best Song, "Evergreen" from A STAR IS BORN, in 1977 at the 49th annual show. This Sunday will mark her first performance on the Academy Awards in almost 40 years, making it a surefire must-see moment of many.
Beyonce, Hugh Jackman and more high-wattage names join forces in the eye-popping "The Musical Is Back!" production number envisioned by Baz Luhrmann for the 2009 Oscars.
John Travolta introduces Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah joining forces to perform the Kander & Ebb CHICAGO movie add-on, "I Move On". They, too, will be reconvening onstage on Sunday's show! But, what will they sing?
Of special interest to our discussion, Tony Award winner Marc Shaiman discusses his penchant for genius parody writing in this clip discussing his composition of specialty material for Billy Crystal at many Oscar telecasts over the years - as well as the ritzy audience's reaction to them. "A gay boy's dream," indeed!
As a special bonus, let's take some time to pay tribute to some of the finest comedic performers who have hosted the Academy Awards over the years and enjoy their sparkling opening monologues.
Bob Hope - 1955
Johnny Carson - 1980
Billy Crystal - 1990
Chris Rock - 2005
Ellen Degeneres - 2009
As a final bonus, journey back in time all the way to 1954 and view the entire Academy Awards as broadcast back then! My, how times have changed - yet, then as now, this is Hollywood's night of nights and the biggest star in town was, is an always will be Oscar.
So, who has been your personal favorite Oscar host to date? Which showstopper is the Academy Awards production that number you just can't forget? Will Seth MacFarlane manage to make a magical musical memory or two for us all come Sunday night along the lines of the many moments to treasure here - train wrecks included - in today's clip collection? Furthermore, could this year's show be the best show yet given the pedigree of the producers and announced participants, presenters and performers? Well, either way, tune in to ABC at 7 PM on Sunday to see the sights, hear the songs, and, of course, get a gander at those fabulous gowns! Oh, and there will be some awards handed out, too...