Mr. Stephen Colbert himself was the emcee for this year’s Kennedy Center Honoree celebration (slash jamboree), which were headlined by the musical vibes of Sting and Al Green.
Mr. Tom Hanks, an actor best known for his roles as Woody in the Toy Story films and as astronaut Jim Lovell in Ron Howard’s beloved 1995 space epic Apollo 13, was also the recipient of an award.
Rounding out this year’s Kennedy Five were actress Lily Tomlin–who played secretary Deborah Fiderer to President Bartlet on latter seasons of The West Wing–and ballerina Patricia McBride.
The Kennedy Center Honors are meant to “celebrate five extraordinary individuals who have spent their lives elevating the cultural vibrancy of our nation and the world,” says Kennedy Center chairman David M. Rubenstein. This year’s bill certainly hits those lofty high notes. (Though Sting is technically a Britisher, he owns a home in New York; in the words of the Honors committee, that’s “close enough.”)
The honorees never know in advance who will be honoring and / or celebrating them in song. Which means Sting had no idea that Lady Gaga would toast him with “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You,” nor that Esperanza Spalding and Herbie Hancock would perform a rendition of “Fragile,” nor that Mr. Bruce Springsteen–for whom Sting performed when The Boss was inducted in 2009–would return the favor by doing his take on “I Hung My Head.”
And, because that wouldn’t have been enough without it, Bruno Mars closed out the Sting portion of the evening with a medley of “So Lonely,” “Roxanne,” and “Message in a Bottle.”
Al Green got the celebrity songdown treatment, too: Earth, Wind, and Fire brought both rhythm and funk to Green’s “I Can’t Get Next To You” and “Love and Happiness.”
No one slow-acted Hanks’ climactic scene from Joe Versus the Volcano, or brought Tomlin’s bits from Laugh-In back to life, or attempted McBride’s classic double-heel pirouette from The Goldberg Variations. But good times were had, nonetheless.
(Come to think of it, no one tried to re-enact Sting’s death scene from Dune, either. Though that might have been for the best.)
The second-best part about this whole Kennedy Honors shebang? Anyone can nominate anyone else. It’s true: there’s a ballot on the official web site and everything. Which means it’s not too late to start a groundswell of support for James Franco as a 2015 honoree. Anybody who attends four graduate schools at the same time is contributing something to the American cultural landscape, whether or not it’s worthwhile.
The best part? CBS taped it all. You’ll be able to watch the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony in prime time on Tuesday, December 30.