Monday Morning Open Thread: The Kennedy Center Honors

A nearly four-hour performance in the Opera House toasted the high points of the careers of the Honors recipients: actress Bette Midler, comedy impresario Lorne Michaels, singer Joni Mitchell, Motown producer Berry Gordy and opera bass-baritone Justino Díaz. Before a packed audience that included Biden, Vice President Harris, several Cabinet secretaries, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and a horde of celebrities, the evening’s medal winners were serenaded and saluted in a Washington tradition that goes back 43 years.

The evening, which will be broadcast by CBS on Dec. 22, was the most high-powered entertainment event in Washington in years. That was partly owing to the attendance of Biden and first lady Jill Biden, the first “first couple” to attend in person since Barack and Michelle Obama in 2016. During President Donald Trump’s tenure, a presidential boycott meant no chief executive or first lady in the president’s box. The pandemic-delayed 2020 ceremony, held in May, was mostly presented virtually…

The production, as is traditional, consisted of five segments celebrating the careers of the award winners. This year’s show, directed by Glenn Weiss, with music direction by Rickey Minor, was as sharp and lively an installment as the franchise has seen in years. It had a passel of prize moments: Brandi Carlile gave resonant lilt to 78-year-old Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” and Brittany Howard and Herbie Hancock united to perform her eternal “Both Sides Now”; mezzo-sopranos Grace Bumbry and Denyce Graves offered heartfelt tributes to the 81-year-old, Puerto Rican-born Díaz. And for the tribute to Michaels, 77, a series of hosts over the decades of “Saturday Night Live’s” venerable “Weekend Update” segment — Kevin Nealon, Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers, and Colin Jost and Michael Che — appeared on a mock-up of the television set to make a hilarious target out of their former (or current) boss…

The evening of encomiums began with Yo-Yo Ma playing a moving opening cello solo of the national anthem and offering an inspirational boost: “The land of the free and the home of the brave,” he declared. “This is who we are.” An irreverent follow-up occurred with David Letterman’s appearance. “It’s nice to see the presidential box once again being occupied,” he observed. After an ovation subsided, he added dryly: “And the same with the Oval Office.”

Political commentary was not high on the menu this night, however. The proceedings moved in polished fashion through the first tributes, to Mitchell and Díaz, but a technical problem required one of the final numbers of the evening, with Stevie Wonder, to be restarted. Seated at a piano, Jones performed a medley of Mitchell songs, including a fine version of “The Circle Game.” The Díaz segment featured a chorus led by Graves, Christian Van Horn, Ariana Wehr and Hannah Shea in the Toreador Song from Bizet’s “Carmen.” And it closed with Van Horn, Anna María Martínez and Matthew Polenzani in the finale of Gounod’s “Faust.”…

Biden, at a separate White House ceremony, got to turn the tables on Michaels. “Finally,” he said, “I get to say something about him!” He added good-naturedly as he gazed at the SNL creator, “If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re in real trouble. And you make me laugh at myself a lot.”

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