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February 27, 2017
Oscar Music Swept Up in La La Land
Ceremony featured Best Song performances by Timberlake, Sting, Legend by Jon Burlingame
HOLLYWOOD—La La Land took home the 2016 Oscars for original song and original score at the 89th Academy Awards Sunday night at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
Composer Justin Hurwitz won both, while lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul joined him on stage for their joint win for "City of Stars," one of two nominated songs from the musical film that won six Oscars overall (including Damien Chazelle for directing, Emma Stone as best actress, plus awards for cinematography and production design).
Hurwitz, accepting his score award, thanked longtime friend Chazelle and "all the L.A. musicians who played on this score. I just put notes on a page, and they're the ones who made it beautiful and sound the way it does." Pasek dedicated his award "to all the kids who sing in the rain, and all the moms who let them," while Paul thanked his teachers "in public schools where arts and culture were valued and recognized."
The film itself was initially announced as the Best Picture winner, too, in a wrong-envelope snafu that Stone – backstage after the awards – declared "the craziest Oscar moment of all time." Moonlight was quickly declared the winner, but only after the La La Land troupe had taken the stage and the producers given acceptance speeches.
Unlike ceremonies past when the Oscars began with comedic set-ups by its hosts, this year Justin Timberlake and dancers threw open the show with a fun, upbeat performance of his wildly popular number from Trolls, "Can't Stop the Feeling!," staged throughout the Dolby by choreographer Marty Kudelka. Moana songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda created and performed an original rap prologue for "How Far I'll Go" sung by 16-year-old Auli'i Cravalho, who is the voice of Moana in the animated feature.
Sting on solo guitar gave a poignant rendition of "The Empty Chair," which he co-wrote with J. Ralph for the documentary Jim: The James Foley Story. Later in the ceremony, John Legend at the piano offered a medley of the two La La Land songs, "City of Stars" and "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)," while dancers waltzed around him – with choreography by Mandy Moore – amidst an atmosphere of street lamps and city lights, emulating the romantic fantasies of the film. The 39-musician Oscar orchestra was in the theater pit again this year, with music director Harold Wheeler conducting. Host Jimmy Kimmel pretended to conduct them during one of his many bits poking fun at Matt Damon.
Sara Bareilles performed Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" during the "in memoriam" segment, which included images of Prince and singer Marni Nixon.
Many of the music nominees also appeared at Saturday's annual Oscar music champagne reception sponsored by the Society of Composers & Lyricists at The Eveleigh in West Hollywood.
Academy music-branch senior governor Charles Bernstein called it a "happy, loud, raucous and rollicking moment... the last stop on the train to tomorrow," referring to Sunday's inevitably more nerve-wracking awards ceremony. Noting that 11 of the 14 nominees were first-timers, he found "a certain youthfulness and vitality" among the group.
SCL president Ashley Irwin agreed, calling this year's crop "a changing of the guard in some ways... very eclectic," and finding that "it augurs well for our profession." He presented ceremonial conducting batons to all the nominees, with Jackie composer Mica Levi drawing laughter from the crowd as she waved it and said "it's like Harry Potter!"
Songwriter Ralph said he believed his song was "for all families who have empty chairs" and introduced the parents of slain journalist Foley, who were here for the ceremony.
Miranda said that the baton was his first, and reminded the crowd of 275 that "writing songs can be really lonely work, late nights playing the piano until you find the exact right note, the exact right chord."
©2017 Jon Burlingame