Jill Scott's 'Happy,' 'Let it Go,' 'Gravity' blow the roof off first Oscars concert
The Academy held its first Oscars concert on Thursday night at Royce Hall at UCLA. It better not be the last.
Long overdue, the event featured live performances of every nominated score and original song nominee from this year's Academy Awards. Hosted by Common (who made it clear he was thrilled to be there), each composer spent a few minutes speaking to noted film critic Elvis Mitchell before conducting the Academy orchestra's performance of their work. Each original song was performed by a mix of different artists except, of course, the ones they are most associated with. Those stars are being saved for Sunday night.
Five-time nominee Alexandre Desplat was the first major performance as he conducted a selection from "Philomena." It's been awhile since I've heard his composition, but the live performance didn't sway me that it could (or should) be a potential upset spoiler in the category. Personally, I think Desplat's scores for "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "The Ghost Writer" and "The Tree of Life" are far superior.
Desplat was followed by the first song performance, "Let it Go" from "Frozen." As expected, this was a big hit with the crowd. It was also the only song performed by the songwriters themselves, the husband and wife team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. Anderson-Lopez warned the audience she wasn't Idina Menzel, but she needn't have worried. Her vocals were spot on. It didn't hurt that she wonderfully entertained the crowd beforehand with the story of how the song ended up changing the entire plot of the movie.
Thomas Newman got a big ovation as he walked on stage to speak with Mitchell. The crowd was a mix of Academy members, the general public and (it seemed) some UCLA students (dress up maybe next time?), but they absolutely knew what the 12-time nominee has contributed to movie music over the past 20 years. As for "Saving Mr. Banks," Newman discussed just how hard it was to score something where the legendary music from "Mary Poppins" is an integral part of the film's storyline. Like Desplat he conducted his own work. Unfortunately, something just wasn't quite right with the orchestra's rendition of his "Banks" suite. It appeared through much of the piece as though Newman was trying to pull the musicians to increase the tempo, but they couldn't match him or didn't understand that's what he was asking for. "Banks" got some extra love when legendary songwriter Richard Sherman came on stage to talk about "Poppins" for a bit with Mitchell. And, yes, a standing ovation appropriately took place (it wouldn't be the only one this night).
Steven Price, the presumptive favorite in the original score category, was up next and Mitchell quizzed him on how he found the heart in Alfonso Cuaron's space drama. Price revealed that he spent a year working on the score (a long time for a composer) and actually started backwards. He landed on the climactic finale first and then used that as a guide for the music throughout the rest of the film. Price was the only composer of the night not to conduct the Academy orchestra. Instead, a colleague stepped in and the result was arguably the most powerful performance of the show. The backup vocal may have been prerecorded, but the rest of the orchestra didn't care. They blew the Royce Hall crowd away and the suite ended up getting the loudest ovation of the night. Mitchell later remarked that Price told him he'd never heard his work with a complete live orchestra before.
The performance that blew the roof off Royce Hall, however, was Jill Scott stepping in for Pharrell Williams on "Happy." Anyone who doesn't think this medley is going to be around for a long time got a lesson with Scott's energetic and diva-like take on what is currently the no. 1 song in the nation. Scott was accompanied by backup singers and a group of young dancers (the return of Debbie Allen choreography to Oscar!) and boy did they do Pharrell proud. Hopefully the Academy will release any video they have of it sometime soon.