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Emma Lazarus, ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ Leonard Bernstein tribute—it was a big night for the Tribe at the music industry’s biggest award show

Rachel Shukert
January 29, 2018
Bono and The Edge from U2 stand on stage during the 60th Annual Grammy Awards show on January 28, 2018, in New York.TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
Bono and The Edge from U2 stand on stage during the 60th Annual Grammy Awards show on January 28, 2018, in New York.TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

The Grammys last night seemed to be about two things, Broadway and social justice, so basically they were also about Judaism, at least Judaism in the way I’ve always understood it.

Kesha, perhaps most famous for a judge forcing her to remain under contract to the music manager she alleged to have raped, harassed and tormented her, brought down the house with her rendition of “Praying,” accompanied by a backdrop of female superstars–including Janelle Monae and Cindy Lauper–dressed in symbolic pansuits of suffragette white. (Not to digress, but that fact that so many women are suddenly wearing pants on the red carpet, after so many years of Lady Gaga-esque enforced pantlessness–in New York, in January–seems like a statement in and of itself; Gaga herself, perhaps in a nod to the new pseudo-Victorian Age in which we unexpectedly have found ourselves, continued her recent habit of dressing like a John Singer Sargent painting and showed up in a high necked black lace bodice with a massive black silk train.)

Camila Cabello, the Cuban-American singer, spoke movingly of her own experience as an immigrant in a tribute to the Dreamers, the recipients of DACA whose fate and futures now rest in the hands of the hostile, GOP-controlled Congress, who I’m totally like so sure is going to do 100 percent right by them and their families, and quoted Emma Lazarus, the Jewish-American poet whose words are inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, the first thing so many of our grandparents and great-grandparents and aunts and cousins and uncles saw of America. They are no less moving for repetition, startlingly so in the current context, and hearing them used to introduce U2 achieved the impossible feat of actually making me excited to hear U2, so I’ll quote them here:

Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore/Send these, the hopeless, tempest-tossed to me/I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Crying yet? Well, on to Broadway, where Dear Evan Hansen, the perfect Jewish son your mother really wanted no matter what she tells you, serenaded the audience with a yearning rendition of “Somewhere” from West Side Story, as his half of a Leonard Bernstein/Andrew Lloyd Webber tribute (it’s hard to think of two composers with less in common musically than the high-minded, classically influenced and endlessly inventive Bernstein and Webber, who thinks of approximately two catchy melodies per show and repeats them on an endless loop). It’s always gratifying to see Broadway pros get up at the Grammys and show the AutoTuned zillionaires in the audience how live performance is really done, eight shows a week, for years on end and at a fraction of the compensation, and Platt, whose sensitivity and talent is immense, and who, as the writer Rachel Syme said on Twitter, seems poised to do a “full Groban” in the years to come, performed admirably.

But the main event was the Webber half of the presentation, in which Broadway legend Patti LuPone (who, as I pointed out to my editor, is not actually Jewish but may as well be) appeared on stage in an Evita-inspired ballgown, its strategically placed illusion netting the only nod to the passage of time, sang a full-throated “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” and made everyone in the audience go crazy. Like crazy, on their feet, losing their minds crazy. The olds went crazy, the youngs went crazy, and for the first time perhaps ever, #PattiLuPone started trending on Twitter.

It was a great performance, although if you’re a true Patti aficionado, nothing you haven’t seen before. Still, there’s something about Patti, that song, and her performance of it that seems perfect for these heightened, defiant, and angry times; it’s both a plea for love and a rejection of it, at once desperate cry for attention and validation from “the people” while imperiously transcending them into one’s own cult of personality. Which, basically, is the story of Evita. No wonder it’s Donald Trump’s favorite musical.

Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.