BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
With a record-tying 14 nominations, we knew we’d see plenty of “La La Land” at the 89th Annual Academy Awards – and how fitting that a musical scooped up both music awards at Sunday’s ceremony.
John Legend, who co-stars in the movie, performed both of its nominated songs (“City of Stars” and “Audition [The Fools Who Dream)”] while dancers on a set resembling the most familiar scenic backdrop from “La La Land” – as well as its mid-air dance – swooped around him.
Justin Hurwitz picked up his first Oscar for best original score for the movie before returning to the stage with lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul to accept the best original song trophy for “City of Stars.”
During his acceptance speech, Paul gave a shout-out to his musical education.
“I was educated in public schools where arts and culture were valued; I’m so grateful to all of my teachers who gave so much to us,” he said.
As for the rest of the musical proceedings during Sunday’s event, we’re used to seeing musical numbers open, well, music-themed awards shows, but the Oscars usually rely on cutesy pre-taped numbers featuring the sure-to-be-criticized hosts digitally inserted into clips of movies they probably never watched.
This year’s Oscars instead delved into Grammys territory by enlisting Renaissance Man Justin Timberlake to launch the show with his teeth-achingly chipper “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” nominated for best original song (it originates on the soundtrack to the animated “Trolls”).
Timberlake, in his snappy tux, effortlessly bopped through the audience of Hollywood’s most luminous, gliding on air as he melded his pop tune with the Bill Withers’ classic, “Lovely Day.”
Can someone give this guy a hosting gig soon?
The real host of the Oscars, a pitch-perfect Jimmy Kimmel, remarked to JT, “I really hope the other guys from ‘N Sync were watching that performance because if they were, I really think they’re going to let you back into the band,” to which Timberlake responded with a classic eyebrow raise to the camera.
All of the performances captivated while striking varying tones.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, as if he isn’t busy enough, made a cameo at the start of the performance for “How Far I’ll Go,” the song he wrote for “Moana,” and unveiled the type of melodic rap stanza that earned him a trove of awards for “Hamilton.”
But this served as an introduction to the performance of “How Far…” by 16-year-old Auli’i Cravalho, who performed the soaring ballad with Broadway aplomb and poise, despite getting whacked on the head by one of the flags swirling behind her on stage.
Sting, who likely hopped a plane shortly after his performance to head to Atlanta for his Monday night concert at the Tabernacle, coated his wrenching ballad, “The Empty Chair,” from the documentary “Jim: The James Foley Story,” with respect and empathy. Performing alone on stage with his acoustic guitar resting on his knee, Sting honored the memory of slain journalist Foley with the sparse, haunting song.
Sara Bareilles, soon headed to Broadway, inspired chills with her tender rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” during the In Memorium segment which ended, fittingly, with the beloved Carrie Fisher – as General Leia – telling us one more time, “The Force will be with you.”