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Oscar's Musical Numbers Fly Among the Stars

Dancin' Dan here, and I am thrilled to say that after years of mostly rather dully staged performances, the great Oscar musical numbers of the past are back.

We had planned a ranking of this year's performances, but they were all of such high quality that, feeling magnaminous, I'm unwilling to declare one better than the other.  Instead, a review of the musical numbers as they happened during the ceremony, in all their glory.

Starting the evening with Justin Timberlake's massive pop hit "Can't Stop the Feeling!" was a smart choice, setting a celebratory tone for the evening and letting everyone dance out their nerves for a few minutes. The dancers in formal wear hiding in the audience and joining Timberlake as he entered the auditorium made it feel a bit more like the Grammys than the Oscars, but it was a clever way to get the audience in the spirit of the number. The gif opportunities from all the celebs singing and dancing along were worth Timberlake's overly affected shout-outs. When even Isabelle Huppert approves, how can we mere mortals not do so as well?

Ladies and gentlemen, witness the birth of Auli'i Cravalho, STAR. The 16 year-old voice of Moana shined in a dramatic red gown and displayed true professionalism singing her big 'I want' Disney number, the Lin-Manuel Miranda contribution "How Far I'll Go". Girl did not miss a beat even when getting whacked in the head by one of the giant pieces of fabric the dancers used to simulate the waves of the water. She sang beautifully, and when it was all over, basked in the glow of the warm reception for a bit before letting out an adorable sigh of relief. The Lin-Manuel inro rap was entirely unnecessary, a shameless bid on the producers' part to get some cool cred by having him perform. But when the whole number was as beautifully performed, designed, and choreographed as this, begrudge them this indulgence. Brava, little diva!

When you're a legend, all you need is your instrument and a spotlight to create a moment. And that's exactly what Sting did with his performance of "The Empty Chair". This was the best-shot number of the night, the camera opting for still shots and very slow push-ins, making sure not to let the light overwhelm the performer. For a song as sobering as this, it was the perfect treatment. Sting sounded (and looked) as great as he always does. Simplicity done oh so very right.



The "In Memoriam" segment usually isn't included in the round-up of Oscar musical performances, but Sara Bareilles (soon to make her Broadway debut in the musical Waitress, for which she received a Tony nomination for her beautiful score) graced us with such a lovely, aching rendition of Joni Mitchell's classic "Both Sides Now" that I can't help but mention it. Her pure, emotive voice, one of the best in the business, is built for things like this, and the direction struck just the right balance between showing her and showing those the industry lost last year. Tears.

I'm a bit torn about the La La Land montage performed by John Legend. Not that the staging wasn't wonderful, but "Audition" just doesn't sound the same coming from as strong a singer as Legend. It gains so much from Emma Stone's performance, especially how her fragile softness opens up with full confidence on the "...and that's why they need us" bit. But all in all, this was another beautifully-choreographed number (thanks to Mandy Moore, who also choreographed the film), with some of the most ethereal dancing I've seen onstage. I must admit I gasped with shock and delight when the dancers came back towards the end and two started dancing among the stars, referencing the film's most romantic scene. All in all, this medley was a beautiful capper to Oscar night's musical performances, capturing the beauty of the film and its soon-to-be Oscar winning score. 

What was your favorite performance this year?

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Reader Comments (24)

The " La La Land" sequence was lovely and Timberlake should star in his own big screen musical.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjaragon

The songs and dances were all quite well done.. It is too bad the the horrible ( least of the 5 nominated songs ) City of Stars won the Oscar ... the otherr 4 were quite superior to it. Sounded like an 8th grader could have written it.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMax

Yes, yes, all professional and polished performances but ARE YOU SHITTING ME ABOUT SARA BAREILLES taking the lead role in Waitress? We *just* saw that in January! Jessie Mueller was great, but if I'd known Sara was stepping into the role I'd have held off.

Sorry...back to our regularly scheduled programming.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

City of Stars is truly lame. I felt bad for Gosling and Stone as I watched this sixteen year old girl face the stage alone and sing the shit out of this song while they couldn't do the same for the songs in their own movie even thought a huge part of their campaign was that they sang-badly. Never mind the sixteen year old girl's song was a thousand times more challenging than theirs.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Can't keep track of all the backlashes going on in America these days, so I was very confused when I started reading mean tweets on Timberlake. Isn't he cool anymore? I think he nailed it, despite the frantic camera movements.

Cravalho sang beautifully that super boring song.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

It's worth noting that Barielles's rendition of "Both Sides Now" is based on Joni Mitchell's own cover of the song for an album she did around 2000. It's an amazing reinvention of the song, and Mitchell should get credit for it.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRV

When was the last time the Oscars opened with a musical number? Isn't usually a montage of some sort?

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSoSue

In order of performance (not song) quality:

Legend (but what Amanda said)
Timberlake (lip syncing at the Oscars? Shame!)

@ RV
The fact that this orchestral arrangement of "Both Sides Now" was Joni's 2000 version of her song has been credited, as a matter of fact.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Whoever suggested "Both Sides Now" as the In Memorium song deserves a raise

February 27, 2017 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

And yes, the singing and dancing in the musical number highlighted how horrendous and awful the singing and dancing in the actual movie by the actual leads were.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

SoSue -- i mean the host usually does a kind of musical number but not one of the nominated songs so in one way it's traditional in another it's very different. kind of like everything in this strange Oscar year.

I personally LOVED Justin's performance. My favorite of the night. so fun and so much energy and did you see Javier Bardem get *into* it. That surprised me.

February 27, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Aulhi'i Carvalho was lovely, beautiful voice, completely poised, and you can tell that she was a bit overwhelmed - but only after she had performed.

Did anyone else notice famous movie songs in the orchestral intros? Most famous in my mind was "Do You Know Where You're Going To?" by Diana Ross from Mahogany, and "Call Me" by Blondie from American Gigolo.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

All I have to say is Sara Bareilles is a gift. Her voice is good at emoting and I swear the In Memoriam sections always make me cry no matter who is singing or what is sung, but I straight up ugly cried this time.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

lylee - YES, this is actually happening when Jessie Mueller is done at the end of March:

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

That voice!!! Bareilles is truly a goddess. A touching tribute, a beautiful song n a wonderful rendition. 😢 😢 😢

I hope they will mention Paxton next yr

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

I thought Cravahlo was Best In Show for her age, grace, and pure talent.

Next up was John Legend. A bit weird to hear him sing the songs as I'm so used to hearing Gosling and Stone with those songs. But he did good and the choreography, staging, and the set was probably the best of all the performances.

Opening up with Timberlake was smart as was putting Sting right after Farhadi's win. Overall, good stuff.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

I thought "City of Stars" sounded great coming from Legend; "Audition", on the other hand, really wasn't written to be sung the way he handled it, and it didn't come off nearly as well.

Cravalho was great. The word just broke that she's been cast in an NBC TV pilot, so evidently she's going to be trying to make a go of it in Hollywood starting now.

February 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSean C.

Legend is wonderful
But CITY OF STARS is so boring. Oscar should go to Audition instead.

February 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

DEFINITELY JUSTIN. The opening of the show was wonderful. Justin should have won the Oscar for that performance alone. And Aulil'i was lovely too. Lin-Manuel, Sting and John Legend just didn't do anything for me. Sorry guys.

February 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBette Streep

Justin's really got the crowd going. It's a great way to start the show even if the song is a big hunk of cheese. The Moana number was great too and great for Aulil'i to not let a little head whack slow her down.

I liked "City of Stars" as a melody, but I'm annoyed it won when it's barely a complete song. It has like one verse. I'm still annoyed Sing Street was not nominated in this category.

February 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

The performances were all quite good. Sara should not have been smiling while singing though--bad form. I love Justin, but that song is crap. It did, however, get the crowd going, so there was that. All in all, well-done.

February 28, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I like City of Stars but Audition is the better song.

February 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

Aula'i Cravalho. SHE WAS EVERYTHING.

I loved the Justin opening and the Legend mash-up and the whopper of a quote at the end of Sting's number and Sarah B's beautiful rendition of Both Sides Now.

But Aula'i Carvalho. Man. What a poised, engaging, presence she was. And that voice.

February 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

@ brookesboy

I once had a singing teacher who was an opera teacher and her very traditional technique required you to smile most of time (when singing certain vowels). Ever since then, when I see smiling opera and Broadway vocalists, I cut them some slack. It does makes the sound better.

February 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

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