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?