The first time I watched the Kennedy Center Honors was in December 2001. I’d heard of the prestigious honor but had never actually tuned into the telecast. When it was announced that Julie Andrews would be an honoree, I decided it was about time I checked out the evening, hosted by Walter Cronkite. It’s an evening of career testimonials with some sort of performance in recognition of the honoree’s achievements, and usually there is at least one representative from the world of theatre. Other honorees that particular year included Van Cliburn, Quincy Jones, Jack Nicholson and Luciano Pavarotti.
Andrews’ tribute was presented by her best friend Carol Burnett who spoke lovingly of the star, her career and even sang a few bars of Sondheim’s “Old Friend” (the camera cut to Andrews mouthing the lyrics with her). The retrospective included clips of Andrews as a child prodigy, singing for the royal family as well as clips from her various Broadway and film musicals including My Fair Lady, Camelot, Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music and Victor/Victoria. One correction to Ms. Burnett’s anecdote: Julie Andrews thanked Jack L. Warner at the Golden Globes. She was less cheeky in her Oscar acceptance speech.
The performance portion was tremendous. Patrick Wilson sang “On the Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady, Kristin Chenoweth amped up the coloratura for “A Spoonful of Sugar” from Mary Poppins and then Robert Goulet sang “If Ever I Would Leave You” to his former Camelot co-star. Audra McDonald sang a pristine “I Could Have Danced All Night” while Jeremy Irons sang “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” The segment’s finale was provided by Rebecca Luker singing “The Sound of Music,” who was joined by the others as well as a chorus for the obligatory big finish. The clip here is missing the second half of Audra’s song and the first part of “The Sound of Music” but it is still a remarkable musical theatre medley.
At the end of the evening, Renee Fleming delivered a stunning rendition of “Take Care of This House” from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in remembrance of the recent 9/11 attacks. My VHS has long since gone missing so I’ve not had the chance to revisit this particular performance since I discovered the lost Bernstein-Lerner score. If anybody might have it, I would love to see it again!