To borrow a cue from Superman: Look, it's the Grammys! No, it's the Tonys! No, it's a super-musical edition of the Oscars—which have never focused on music quite as much as they did on Sunday night's gotta-sing, gotta-dance telecast.
It didn't hurt (or did it?) that host Seth MacFarlane is more of a song-and-dance man than most viewers knew, or that the show's producers were responsible for the Chicago movie, or that Dame Shirley Bassey had to represent for Bond in lieu of Sean Connery's apparent unwillingness to show up for a 50th anniversary salute.
Who came out ahead or behind amid all this hoofing and histrionic singing? "Here's to the losers," as MacFarlane and Kristin Chenoweth sang at the end...and, while, we're at it, the night's crooning winners, too:
HIGH Adele bonds with the world, again. "Skyfall" rose once more in the capable hands of the most reliably great live singer among today's pop superstars. Her Connery-era styling was almost as fantastic as her dynamic vocal prowess. Was she or Shirley the better Bond girl of the night? Do we have to pick? The only letdown was MacFarlane's subsequent joke about Rex Reed critiquing her performance...which, yeah, was ostensibly aimed at Rex Reed, but also seemed aimed a little at the adored diva who'd just been on stage, too.
LOW We all saw way too much of "We Saw Your Boobs." Count us among those who think that MacFarlane's lengthy opening had a lot going for it—with the notable exception of this droopy exercise in self-conscious sexism. MacFarlane and the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles lyrically listed just about every A-list and B-list actress who's ever dropped her bra on the big screen. The host's out was that the number was supposed to be show-stoppingly offensive, as Captain Kirk came from the future to warn him. But a snippet would have sufficed, whereas a full run-through made it seem like MacFarlane is proudest of his worst material.
HIGH Shirley Bassey proves there's nothing like a dame. Admit it. You felt a little scared wondering if, at 76, Bassey could still hit the brassy high notes. And besides, there's that legendary story about how she wasn't able to nail down the original recording of "Goldfinger" in the studio until she took her brassiere off. Would she have to do the same now (and provide an illustration of the previously mentioned MacFarlane number) to get the song across? Happily, her lungpower is apparently undiminished with age. Our only complaint: Why couldn't she have done a medley with her arguably even better "Diamonds Are Forever"?
LOW Norah Jones looked almost as happy to be on stage as Kristen Stewart. For a while, it looked like only two of the five nominated Best Song contenders might be performed live—but there was Jones, literally at the last minute, to croon MacFarlane's own "Everybody Needs A Best Friend," from Ted. One problem: The song feels like a jazzier retread of Randy Newman's "You've Got A Friend In Me," with a surprising lack of the satiric bite you'd expect from MacFarlane's pen. She was as good a choice as any to sing the tune, if sung it must be, but it looked like her heart was only half in it, at best. And we don't really blame her.
HIGH Jennifer Hudson: still not going, thank you. You just know Hudson had been waiting for a chance to sing her former signature song in front of the world again, this time as a skinny b****. Shoehorning it into a musicals-themed medley required her to go from zero to sixty in close to seconds flat. The unsublety of the song ensured that it wouldn't overshadow her reading of "I Will Always Love You" at last year's Grammys. But are we gonna love her? Sure, and you can't blame a girl for wanting to prove that, among all the things she shed on Weight Watchers, lung capacity was not among them.
LOW Self-serving Chicago revivalism resulted in another lip-synch "scandal." This year's Oscar producers, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, produced the Chicago film adaptation a decade ago, and didn't seem to want anyone to forget it. When it came to Catherine Zeta-Jones's revival of "All That Jazz," all we could think about was how good she looked a couple of children later—and that we wish the hyperactively overedited movie had been half as well shot and cut as this live version was. But a lot of commenters thought that Zeta-Jones's vocals were too good to be true, which is a big no-no in the wake of the Beyonce inauguration fail.
The full cast of Les Miserables came out to show that the "[Expletive] it, we'll do it live" mentality didn't end when filming did. And bravo to Russell Crowe for being a good sport and showing up to sing a few lines, full well knowing the flak he'd take for not being Hugh Jackman or Anne Hathaway as a vocalist. The whole thing did seem Tonys-ish enough that you expected to see Neil Patrick Harris in the wings. But wasn't it nice to see some of these folks warble without the fish-eye lens?
HIGH Barbra, we like you just "The Way You Were"/are. Streisand distracted everyone from how angry they were that [fill-in-the-blank] had just been left out of the In Memorium segment with her first live performance on the Oscars in decades. It gave Marvin Hamlisch his due... but given her distaste for most things irreverent, what we really would have liked to hear was her review of MacFarlane's hosting duties.
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