Review: ‘We Are Freestyle Love Supreme,’ starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, Anthony Veneziale, Christopher Jackson, Thomas Kail, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Bill Sherman and Chris Sullivan

July 17, 2020

by Carla Hay

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chris Sullivan, Anthony Veneziale, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Andrew Bancroft, Bill Sherman, Christopher Jackson and Arthur Lewis in “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

“We Are Freestyle Love Supreme”

Directed by Andrew Fried

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City and partially in the United Kingdom, the documentary “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” tells the story of the multiracial musical improvisational group Freestyle Love Supreme, whose most famous member is Tony-winning star Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Culture Clash: The members of Freestyle Love Supreme struggled for years to make a living from their craft, and then the group’s loyalty and work schedules were tested after Miranda and musical director Thomas Kail went on to mega-success with the Tony-winning musicals “In the Heights” and “Hamilton.”

Culture Audience: “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda and musical theater that includes hip-hop.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Christopher Jackson and Anthony Veneziale in the mid-2000s in “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

The feel-good documentary “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” shows what can happen when several tight-knit friends in a musical improvisational group manage to keep the group going for several years, despite the members’ individual careers and personal lives going on divergent paths. Directed by Andrew Fried, who began filming footage for the documentary in 2005, “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” is a breezy ride through the group’s story, even if it it feels like a lot of inevitable behind-the-scenes turmoil was deliberately left out of the film. The documentary includes exclusive interviews (everyone in the group is interviewed separately), as well as archival on-stage and off-stage footage, spanning from the mid-2000s to the group’s stint on Broadway in 2019.

Freestyle Love Supreme’s most famous member is Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Tony-winning star/creator of the stage musicals “In the Heights” and “Hamilton.” Miranda (whose nickname in the group is Lin-Man) is an original member of Freestyle Love Supreme, which was formed in New York City in 2004. But the documentary shows that the origins of Freestyle Love Supreme really began in 1999, during a road trip taken by group co-founder Anthony Veneziale (also known as Two-Touch) and Thomas “Tommy” Kail, the group’s musical director who went on to direct the original Broadway productions of “In the Heights” and “Hamilton,” as well as most of Freestyle Love Supreme’s stage shows.

According to what Kail says in the documentary, he and Veneziale (who met when they were students at Wesleyan University) went on a road trip from New York City to Iowa, to help a friend make an independent film. During the trip, the only way they could stay awake was by listening to the B-side of the Daft Punk song “Around the World.”

“Anthony freestyled for four straight hours,” says Kail of that road trip. “That, in some way, was the seed for Freestyle Love Supreme.” Freestyle Love Supreme then became a collective of friends who would get together at the Drama Book Shop, which was their creative “lab,” according to Kail. Although Kail isn’t an on-stage performer for Freestyle Love Supreme, he is credited with being the behind-the-scenes architect of the group’s career.

Freestyle Love Supreme then honed their improvisational skills so that their on-stage act became randomly choosing words volunteered by the show’s audience, and then making up hip-hop-infused, often-comedic stories about those words right there on the spot. Veneziale (who also co-founded the improv FLS Academy) is the group’s emcee, who interviews audience members during the show and brings some audience members on stage. This highly interactive format makes every Freestyle Love Supreme show truly unique, which is in contrast to the traditional theater format of doing the same show for every performance.

The other original members of Freestyle Love Supreme are Christopher Jackson (also known as C-Jack); Bill Sherman (also known as King Sherman); Chris Sullivan (also known as Shockwave); and Arthur Lewis (also known as Arthur the Geniuses). Miranda and Kail went on to collaborate on “In the Heights” (which went to Broadway in 2008) and “Hamilton” (which made its Broadway debut in 2015), with both musicals including Jackson (who is Miranda’s best friend) as a co-star.

After the success of “In the Heights” and “Hamilton” made Miranda, Jackson and Kail too busy for Freestyle Love Supreme on a regular basis, Freestyle Love Supreme added new members to the group. The documentary does a very good job of putting a spotlight on each member, so that people can know what their unique contributions are to Freestyle Love Supreme. (Freestyle Love Supreme has also had numerous guest performers, including Daveed Diggs and Wayne Brady.)

Miranda, who is a self-described “theater geek,” is shown to be an energetic optimist but also a perfectionist who can be very hard on himself. Jackson, who is more laid-back than Miranda, is described as the “dad” of the group, since he’s the oldest member and the first member of Freestyle Love Supreme to get married and have children.

Sherman, who plays keyboards and has a goofy sense of humor, used to be Kail’s roommate and remains very close to Kail. Sullivan, who does most of Freestyle Love Supreme’s beatboxing, is the “actual musical heartbeat of the group,” says Kail. Lewis, who plays keyboards, is described as the group’s most intellectually gifted member and “the ethereal one” of Freestyle Love Supreme, according to Kail.

Freestyle Love Supreme’s newer members are also given a spotlight: Utkarsh Ambudkar (also known as UTK The INC) is described by Miranda as “the best nuts-to-bolts rapper in the group.” James Monroe Iglehart (also known as J-Soul) is praised by multiple people as being the best singer in the group. Andrew Bancroft (also known as Jelly Donut) seems to be in awe of his group mates and says he still can’t believe that he’s in Freestyle Love Supreme.

And by the time that Freestyle Love Supreme began headlining on Broadway, the group had added its first permanent female member: Aneesa Folds (also known as Young Nees), who expresses how star-struck and honored she is to be in Freestyle Love Supreme. Why did it take so long to add a woman to the group? Probably because after the #MeToo movement happened, Freestyle Love Supreme wanted deflect any criticism that this group deliberately excludes people who aren’t of the male gender.

It probably never crossed their minds to invite women into their group before, because it’s clear from the archival footage that Freestyle Love Supreme operated very much like a fraternity, but not in a mean-spirited way. However, because of heightened awareness of how gender discrimination against people who aren’t cisgender males has been an ongoing problem in the entertainment industry (and society in general), it no doubt prompted Freestyle Love Supreme to take a hard look at their own decision making in whom they were inviting to be a part of their exclusive club.

The documentary doesn’t call attention to why Freestyle Love Supreme was a male-only group for about 15 years, probably because the male members of the group don’t want to address this issue on camera. Instead, the movie puts an emphasis on all the camaraderie they have—perhaps a little too much emphasis, to the point where it looks sugarcoated. There’s a lot of screen time devoted to soundbites where the members of Freestyle Love Supreme praise themselves and each other.

Jackson comments on how Freestyle Love Supreme is a privilege of being able to work with his closest friends: “If more people had this experience, truly, the world would be a better place.” Ambudkar says that he felt an instant connection to the members of Freestyle Love Supreme: “Whatever Freestyle was doing, it fit me like a well-worn hoodie.”

Miranda says that in the group’s early days, there was a real struggle to build a fan base, but the audience grew when the show improved and because Freestyle Love Supreme didn’t give up: “We had to work hard [for an audience]. The show worked.”

Some of the documentary’s best archival footage is of a pivotal point in the early career of Freestyle Love Supreme, when the group was invited to perform at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. No one knew at the time that Miranda was three years away from finding Broadway fame and acclaim with “In the Heights.” But during this trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the members of Freestyle Love Supreme considered it to be the highlight of their careers so far.

There’s a real infectious joy in this footage that shows their youthful optimism, as they roam the streets of Edinburgh and soak up Scottish culture. The documentary also includes footage of the group reading their first negative review together. And even that moment of the group getting some scathing criticism has a lot of humor and shows how closely bonded the group members are.

A present-day Miranda looks back on that time with a lot of fondness in the documentary. He says that even though all of the members of Freestyle Love Supreme were financially broke at the time, and their futures were uncertain, it was one of the happiest times of his life. “Everything was happening, but nothing was happening,” Miranda quips.

Some other great archival footage is of Miranda and Kail walking through New York City’s Times Square, not long before “In the Heights” was scheduled to begin previews on Broadway. Kail and Miranda look up in awe and excitement at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, which had the “In the Heights” billboard and marquee already prepared.

In this archival footage, Kail and Miranda joke about how people in Times Square might or might not recognize them. Kail, who resembles former “American Idol” finalist Justin Guarini, says that people probably think he’s “that guy from ‘American Idol.'” Kail also jokes that people will probably think that Miranda looks like a “Mexican Bud Bundy,” referring to Miranda’s slight resemblance to actor David Faustino, who had the role of bratty son Bud Bundy in the sitcom “Married With Children.” (Miranda’s heritage is actually Puerto Rican, not Mexican.)

All joking aside, a group of people working together this long can’t be immune to jealousies, rivalries and conflicts. Although the documentary acknowledges that Miranda is the most famous member of Freestyle Love Supreme (after his Broadway success, he became a star and a producer in movies and television), the other group members who talk about it for the documentary only express happiness for Miranda. If they have any envy that Miranda’s career has skyrocketed, compared to the careers of other group members, it’s not shown in this movie.

However, there is some acknowledgement that Freestyle Love Supreme did go through a less-than-smooth adjustment period when it became obvious that in order for the group to keep going, certain group members (namely Miranda, Jackson and Kail) would not be as available as they once were, due to their busy Broadway careers. Another big shift in the group’s dynamics occurred when Veneziale moved to San Francisco (because of his wife’s graduate studies) and started a family there.

As a result of that relocation to the other side of the United States, Veneziale and Kail, who used to be best friends, say they became estranged from each other, and their relationship hasn’t really been the same since. Veneziale describes Kail in the early days of Freestyle Love Supreme: “He was my co-conspirator in making things.” Kail says that Veneziale is the “guts and blood” and the “engine” of Freestyle Love Supreme. However, it’s obvious that there’s still tension between Kail and Veneziale, because they choose their words very carefully when talking about each other, while expressing regret that they aren’t close friends anymore.

The documentary doesn’t bring up personal problems in Freestyle Love Supreme until the last third of the movie. Ambudkar opens up about his alcoholism and how it affected him and his role in the group. Ambudkar says that the success of “Hamilton,” which made Miranda even less available to Freestyle Love Supreme than ever before, forced Ambudkar to take a hard look at where his life was headed, and it motivated Ambudkar to get clean and sober.

The clips of Freestyle Love Supreme performing on stage, especially on Broadway, are absolutely electric and elevate this documentary, which plays it very safe overall. “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” gives the impression that it doesn’t want to divulge a lot of the realistic behind-the-scenes ego clashes in the group, for fear that it would mess up the “lovefest” vibe that the documentary is trying to convey. It’s why viewers of this movie get a lot of effusively upbeat soundbites that are a lot like this one from Ambudkar when he describes Freestyle Love Supreme: “It’s truly about embracing and celebrating the human experience.”

Hulu premiered “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” on July 17, 2020.

Review: ‘Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado,’ starring Walter Mercado

July 8, 2020

by Carla Hay

Walter Mercado in “Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

“Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado” 

Directed by Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Puerto Rico and Miami, the documentary “Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado” interviews a predominantly Latino group group of people about famous astrologer Walter Mercado, including Mercado, his relatives, colleagues and fans.

Culture Clash: Mercado, who died in 2019, experienced homophobia and devastating lawsuits in his life.

Culture Audience: Aside from the obvious target audience of Mercado’s fans, “Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado” will appeal primarily to people who like documentaries about larger-than-life personalities.

A photo of Walter Mercado in the 1980s in “Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Famous astrologer Walter Mercado had a public persona of being effusive and upbeat in his long life (he died in 2019, at the age of 87), and that’s also the emotional tone of the documentary “Much Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado.” This biographical film, which has Mercado’s participation, definitely takes a “fan” perspective, without going overboard on being sycophantic worship, but also without any probing investigations either.

Directed by Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch, “Much Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado” doesn’t uncover much about Mercado that hasn’t already been reported elsewhere. However, the documentary is a fascinating look into the last months of his life, when he came out of seclusion after a decade out of the public spotlight.

Mercado is an icon to Latinos, but he also became world-famous in other cultures, thanks to his TV shows and psychic hotlines that gave him an international empire worth millions in the 1980s and 1990s. He dressed like Liberace and had a hairstyle like Joan Rivers, but his uplifting way of entertaining and motivational speaking was all his own.

Born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, on March 9, 1932 (that would make him a Pisces in Western astrology), Walter Mercado Salinas was one of three children of José María Mercado and Aída Salinas, who was a native of Spain. Mercado grew up in a rural area of Puerto Rico. And, as he says in the documentary, he knew he was “different” from an early age.

“I was a dreamer,” Mercado remembers. He also tells a story about how when he was a child, he helped heal a wounded bird and then began to have a reputation as a child prodigy who was a spiritual guru. He says that people came from all over Puerto Rico to visit him, and he was given the name “Walter of the Miracles.”

It’s unknown if all of that is really true or perhaps exaggerated, since this documentary’s filmmakers didn’t seem to make any attempt to verify Mercado’s stories about his childhood. However, several of Mercado’s nieces are interviewed in the documentary: Ivonne Benet Mercado, Betty Benet Mercado, Dannette Benet Mercado, Bibi Benet Mercado, Carmen Mercado and Charita Mercado. Not surprisingly, they all praise their uncle Walter, but none of the nieces really comments on what their parents told them about how Walter was in his childhood.

Walter, who describes himself as a mama’s boy, says that his mother was overprotective but very loving and supportive of her unique son. He remembers that his mother liked to tell him: “To be different is a gift.” At the University of Puerto Rico, he studied pedagogy, psychology and pharmacy, but he ended up having a career as an entertainer, first as a dancer and actor and later as a TV personality/astrologer.

Walter had been making a living doing stage plays and TV appearances (including lots of telenovelas) when he made a guest appearance on Elín Ortíz’s Telemundo show in 1969. Walter was on the show to promote his starring role in the stage play “Triptico Del Amor, Del Dolor y De La Muerte.” During a segment, Walter ad-libbed some horoscopes, and the response from the TV audience was so immediate and positive, that he ended up getting his own astrology show on Telemundo called “Walter, the Stars and You.”

He later starred in the TV series “Walter y Las Estrellas” (which is Spanish for “Walter and the Stars”) and had his own radio show that was syndicated around the world. His radio and TV empire eventually expanded to psychic hotlines, which had their peak popularity in the 1980s and 1990s.

Walter describes his type of horoscope predictions as a combination of astrology and various religious philosophies: “I realize that all religions have a point of convergence. I call it interfaith religion.”

Guillermo “Bill” Bakula, who was Walter’s manager during the height of Walter’s career, comments in the documentary about his role in Walter’s life: “I was the coach for one single purpose: Walter’s message to get out to as many people as possible.”

However, the documentary makes it clear that greed eventually became the driving force behind Bakula’s motivations. Through his company Bart Enterprises International, Bakula had Walter sign over the rights to the Walter Mercado name, as well as past, present and future rights to Walter’s work, in perpetuity. Walter claims that he was duped into signing the contract.

Walter severed ties with Bakula and Bart Enterprises in 2006, the last year that Walter starred in a TV series. The lawsuits and countersuits weren’t resolved until 2012. The final outcome of the lawsuits was covered in the media and is mentioned in the documentary, but won’t be revealed in this review, in case people want to see the documentary to find out what happened. Two days after the lawsuits were resolved, Walter had a heart attack.

Walter’s former publicist Jody Vialy explains what went wrong in the relationship between Walter and former manager Bakula: “Walter was not about business … Walter expected good things and ran into a world of trouble that he never saw coming.”

Vialy adds, “Bill almost became like a son to him … I do believe that Bill broke his heart. I do believe that in the beginning, Bill was his angel. And towards the end, Bill was his devil.”

In the documentary, Bakula has this to say about what happened: “I’ve never regretted anything in my life.” His arrogant and dismissive tone don’t make him look sympathetic at all. And, with pain and heartbreak still etched on his face, Walter describes the falling out with Bakula and subsequent lawsuits as “a nightmare.”

Bakula comments on Walter: “He never says anything negative. That’s probably the key ingredient to his success and his ability to communicate.” And true to that positive nature, Walter doesn’t have anything bad to say in this documentary about anyone who might have hurt him. All he will say in the documentary is: “I’ve had very, very difficult problems. I suffered a lot. I lost a lot.”

Some of the interviewees in the documentary hint that Walter’s people-pleasing ways made him too nice—almost to a fault. Univision’s “Primer Impacto” creator Maria Lopez Alvarez comments: “I don’t ever remember hearing Walter say no. He’s not that type of personality. Inside, he’s a little boy that wants to be loved and respected.”

And this documentary shows that Walter got an abundance of love and respect in return, since he gets no criticism or unflattering stories in this film. Some of the praise he gets is a little over-the-top: LGBTQ activist Karlo Karlo calls Walter a “superhero,” while singer Nydia Caro calls Walter a “warrior.” But considering that Walter was so nice—not just for the cameras, but in real life—it’s not surprising that he was so beloved and people only have good things to say about him.

“Mucho Mucho Amor” (which gets its title from Walter’s signature signoff) also prominently features Walter’s longtime personal assistant Willie Acosta, who is definitely the person who is closest to Walter. Acosta is sassy, funny and a joy to watch when he and Walter are together. It’s kind of sad to think about how lost Acosta must feel now that Walter is gone, but this documentary shows how vibrant Walter was and how special his relationship was with Acosta.

The documentary also mentions but doesn’t pry too much into Walter’s sexuality and love life, which he always avoided talking about in public. Because of his flamboyant and androgynous physical appearance, Walter (who never married and did not have children) was widely presumed to be somewhere on the “not heterosexual” spectrum. However, he never publicly confirmed or denied his sexual orientation. Some people have speculated that he was not “queer” but asexual.

When asked about his love life, Walter says coyly in the documentary: “I have sex with life.” If Walter had any past lovers, they have never gone public. As for Acosta, he says in the documentary that he knows that people assume that he’s Walter’s lover, but Acosta insists that he and Walter have a strictly platonic relationship that’s “like family.” Walter’s nieces don’t have much insight, except to say that they don’t really know the full truth of Walter’s love life because that’s the way he wanted it.

Regardless of what his true sexuality was, LGBTQ activist Karlo says that Mercado was a role model for queer people: “Growing up as a queer boy and watching Walter Mercado gave me hope … He broke barriers. It goes beyond coming out.”

Mercado’s flamboyant persona was parodied by many comedians (including Eugenio Derbez, who’s interviewed in the documentary), and many of those imitations were homophobic and hurt his feelings, say his confidants. “He was embraced and ‘othered’ at the same time,” Mireya Lacio, a self-described “witch” who’s a Walter Mercado fan, says of those parodies. But because Walter never declared his sexuality in a public manner, he wasn’t fully shunned by the Latino community, especially during the years when the Catholic Church had more restrictive policies about homosexuality than it does now.

As for his plastic surgery, Walter is also vague and coy, saying that he’s had “a little arrangement” and that he’s had “Botox, like Nicole Kidman.” He admits that looking glamorous and youthful has been an obsession for him, which is why he jokes, “I’m just like Dorian Gray.” (It’s no surprise then that Walter has a portrait of “Dorian Gray” author Oscar Wilde in his home, like one would display a portrait of a family member.)

The documentary, which has several interviews of Walter in his home, also has Walter giving a grand tour of his extensive wardrobe and memorabilia collection. Acosta opens up the kitchen cupboards to show all the vitamins that Walter takes. Walter also explains that his background as a dancer has helped him keep active and fit.

One of the highlights of the documentary is when Lin-Manuel Miranda goes with his father Luis Miranda to meet Walter. The mutual admiration between these two celebrities is very sweet and endearing to watch. And their meeting shows how someone as famous as Lin-Manuel Miranda can get star-struck.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, who’s been a Walter Mercado fan since childhood, is shown commenting at the beginning of the documentary: “Growing up with Walter Mercado, I remember thinking how dramatic he was, how fabulous he was. I can’t think of an English-language astrologer who could command the attention of millions of households … I think he’s this positive force.”

Other people interviewed in the documentary include radio producer Tony Hernandez; TV host Mauricio Zeilic; Wilma Torres (Walter’s secretary); Carlos Velazquez (Walter’s former attorney); and actor/influencer/fan Curly Velasquez.

And to demonstrate how Walter has permeated into pop culture, the documentary interviews Matt Kascher, owner of Stephen’s Deli in Hialeah, Florida, where the stalls in the ladies’ room are decorated with Walter Mercado images. Kascher says that sometimes male customers have to  be stopped from going into the ladies room because the men want to see the Walter Mercado decorations. Bobby Gilardi, the beverage director for Ariete Hospitality Group in Miami, says that they’ve crated a Walter Mercado drink that has a “smoky, floral note.”

The documentary culminates with Walter attending the 2019 opening of HistoryMiami Museum’s retrospective exhibit tribute to him. It’s a testament to his far-reaching popularity that a diverse group of fans attended the event. His entrance is every bit the over-the-top spectacle that you would expect it to be.

“Mucho Mucho Amor” might not have any surprises for longtime fans of Walter Mercado. And for people who know very little or nothing about him before seeing this film will come away with an appreciation for what kind of entertainer he was, in this day and age when nasty celebrity feuds on social media have become too common. The documentary is a true reflection of its subject, by accomplishing the intended goal of making people feel uplifted and entertained.

Netflix premiered “Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado” on July 8, 2020.

2018 Kennedy Center Honors: Cher, Reba McEntire, Philip Glass, Wayne Shorter, ‘Hamilton’ creators are the honorees

July 25, 2018

The following is a press release from the Kennedy Center:

The Kennedy Center Honors announced today that its honorees for 2018 will be actress Cher, composer and pianist Philip Glass, country music entertainer Reba McEntire and jazz saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter. Additionally, the co-creators of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “Hamilton” – writer and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Thomas Kail, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and music director Alex Lacamoire – will receive a unique Kennedy Center Honors as trailblazing creators of a transformative work that defies category. These artists will receive tributes during THE 41st ANNUAL KENNEDY CENTER HONORS, to be broadcast Wednesday, Dec. 26 (8:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. CBS has broadcast the special each year since its debut 41 years ago.

“The Kennedy Center Honors recognizes exceptional artists who have made enduring and indelible marks on our culture,” stated Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein. “Cher is the consummate star, wowing generations of fans with her distinctive voice, blockbuster albums and glittering on-screen presence; Philip Glass is a modern-day Mozart whose works across opera, symphony, chamber music and film define contemporary music and simply transfix us; country songstress Reba McEntire has inspired us over five decades with her powerhouse voice and music that conveys heartfelt, heartwarming honesty; Wayne Shorter is a seminal artist, defying categorization while carrying forward the mantle of jazz; and the creators of ‘Hamilton’ have literally and figuratively changed the face of American culture with daringly original, breathtakingly relevant work.”

“The world looks to America for its creative instincts and artistic courage. This year’s slate of Honorees represents the pinnacle of our nation’s originality and the rich mosaic of diverse perspectives and art forms that have come to define who we are as a people,” said Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter.

“As the national cultural center, the Kennedy Center is guided by its artistic mission to pay tribute to the past, to offer a platform for artists making transformative impact in the present, and to shepherd creative innovators as we look toward the future,” Ms. Rutter continued. “Historically, the Kennedy Center Honors have celebrated lifetime achievement. In recognizing ‘Hamilton’ and its co-creators, the Kennedy Center is making an unprecedented statement about an unprecedented work – a work that transcends cultural boundaries and tells America’s story in a powerful and contemporary way.”

In a star-studded celebration on the Kennedy Center Opera House stage on Dec. 2, the 2018 Honorees will be saluted by today’s leading performers from New York, Hollywood and the arts capitals of the world, accepting the recognition and gratitude of their peers through performances and tributes.

The Honors recipients are recognized for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts – whether in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures or television – and are confirmed by the executive committee of the Center’s board of trustees. The primary criterion in the selection process is excellence. The Honors are not designated by art form or category of artistic achievement; over the years, the selection process has produced a balance among the various arts and artistic disciplines.

Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss of White Cherry Entertainment will executive produce the special for the fourth consecutive year. Also, Weiss returns as director. The Kennedy Center Honors founding producer is George Stevens, Jr.

ABOUT THE HONOREES

Cher (Singer, Actress)

A worldwide superstar and household name for more than 50 years, Cher has conquered more challenges than a handful of other talents put together – recording, concerts, film and Broadway acting, television and directing. Along the way, she has been richly rewarded with an Academy Award®, a GRAMMY®, an Emmy®, three Golden Globes, a Cannes Film Festival Award and a People’s Choice Award.

Beginning as a studio backing singer in the 1960s, Cher met fledgling producer Sonny Bono, and they quickly became pop sensations with the worldwide smash “I Got You Babe.” Their attention-grabbing hair and clothes were an early hint of Cher’s subsequent profound influence on the world of fashion. The couple’s popularity peaked with “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour” television series until they split up in the mid-1970s. In 1982, Cher took a huge gamble to appear on Broadway in “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.” It worked, however, and prompted a hugely successful acting career, which included “Mask,” “Silkwood” and “Mermaids” and culminated in an Academy Award® for Best Actress in “Moonstruck.”

Cher stunned the music world with a complete musical reinvention in the mid-1980s, highlighted by her controversial hit video for “If I Could Turn Back Time.” But it would be her venture into the world of dance music with the GRAMMY® Award-winning “Believe” in 1998 that eclipsed it all. “Believe” made Cher the oldest woman (at 52) to have a #1 hit in the Hot 100 rock era. It made her the only female artist to have top 10 hits in every decade from the 1960s to 2000s. The subsequent three-year “Farewell Tour” played to more than three million fans, was captured in an Emmy®Award-winning TV special and is one of the most successful tours in history.

Cher remains very active as a stage performer, actress and recording artist with a starring role in the current movie “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” a new album scheduled for September release, and a stage musical about her life debuting on Broadway in December.

Philip Glass (Composer, Pianist)

Born in Baltimore, Md., Philip Glass is a graduate of the University of Chicago and the Juilliard School. In the early 1960s, Glass spent two years of intensive study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and, while there, earned money by transcribing Ravi Shankar’s Indian music into Western notation. By 1974, Glass had a number of innovative projects creating a large collection of new music for the Philip Glass Ensemble and for the Mabou Mines Theater Company. This period culminated in Music in Twelve Parts and the landmark opera “Einstein on the Beach,” for which he collaborated with Robert Wilson. Since then, Glass has expanded his repertoire to include music for opera, dance, theater, chamber ensemble, orchestra and film. His scores have received Academy Award nominations (“Kundun,” “The Hours,” “Notes on a Scandal”) and a Golden Globe (“The Truman Show”). In the past few years, several new works were unveiled, including an opera on the death of Walt Disney, “The Perfect American” (co-commissioned by Teatro Real, Madrid and the English National Opera); a new touring production of “Einstein”; the publication of Glass’ memoir, Words Without Music, by Liveright Books; and the premiere of the revised version of Glass’ opera “Appomattox,” in collaboration with librettist Christopher Hampton, at the Washington National Opera in November 2015.

Glass celebrated his 80th birthday on Jan. 31, 2017 with the world premiere of “Symphony No. 11” at Carnegie Hall. His 80th birthday season featured curated programming around the globe, including the U.S. premieres of operas “The Trial” and “The Perfect American,” and world premieres of several new works, including “Piano Concerto No. 3,” “String Quartet No. 8” and his first “Piano Quintet.”

Other recent accolades include the U.S. National Medal of the Arts, presented to Glass by President Barack Obama in 2015. In 2016, Glass was named the 11th recipient of the Glenn Gould Prize, a lifetime achievement award given to prominent musicians. Also, he was honored to hold Carnegie Hall’s Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair throughout the 2017-2018 season.

On Jan. 10, 2019, the Los Angeles Philharmonic will present the world premiere of Glass’ “Symphony No. 12,” based on David Bowie’s album Lodger, and a completion of three symphonies based on Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy. Glass continues to perform solo piano evenings, chamber music evenings with world renowned musicians and regularly appears with the Philip Glass Ensemble.

Reba McEntire (Country Music Entertainer)

Multi-media entertainment mogul Reba McEntire has become a household name through a flourishing career that spans music, television, film, theater and retail. Her album Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope topped both the Billboard Country and Christian/Gospel charts, bolstering McEntire’s successful record of 35 #1 singles and over 56 million albums sold worldwide across four decades. The double-disc collection earned McEntire her third GRAMMY®Award and first GMA Dove Award. The Country Music Hall of Fame, Grand Ole Opry and Hollywood Bowl member has also won 16 ACM Awards, 15 American Music Awards, nine People’s Choice Awards and six CMA Awards. Her leadership and philanthropic endeavors have been recognized with the Andrea Bocelli Foundation Humanitarian Award, Leadership Music Dale Franklin Award, the Music Biz Chairman’s Award, the National Artistic Achievement Award from the U.S. Congress, and joining the Horatio Alger Association.

McEntire returned for the 15th time to host the ACM Awards in April 2018 and led the 2017 ratings-high CMA Country Christmas television special. In 2005 she partnered with Dillard’s to launch her own lifestyle brand, and launched the REBA by Justin™ collection at select retailers nationwide for holiday 2017. The Oklahoma native is an acclaimed actress with 11 movie credits to her name, a lead on Broadway in “Annie Get Your Gun,” and starred in the six-season television sitcom “Reba.” As part of the longest-running country act in the Colosseum’s history, she will join with superstar pals for another round of “REBA, BROOKS & DUNN: Together in Vegas at Caesars.”

Wayne Shorter (Jazz Saxophonist, Composer)

Wayne Shorter has been called a genius, a trailblazer, a visionary and one of the world’s greatest composers. Born in Newark, N.J. in 1933, he grew up poring through comic books and imagining adventures in undiscovered universes. He studied music at New York University, and upon graduating, he was drafted into the U.S. Army.

In 1959 Shorter joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers as a saxophonist, eventually composing for the group and becoming its music director. After four years, Miles Davis invited him to join his second historical quintet, with Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams and Ron Carter. This marked the beginning of Shorter’s exploration of uncharted territories that led him to form, with pianist Joe Zawinul, the world’s first fusion band, Weather Report.

Over the next decade, Short produced a succession of jazz albums for the Columbia label. During this period, he became known for collaborations with greats across genres, including Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, Carlos Santana and Don Henley. In 1996 he released High Life, which received the GRAMMY® for best contemporary jazz album. Two years later, he reunited with longtime friend Herbie Hancock for an intimate duet recording entitled “1+1,” winning another GRAMMYfor their collaboration. In 2000 he formed his first acoustic group under his name, the Wayne Shorter Quartet, featuring Danilo Shorter, John Patitucci and Brian Blade, which still performs today. At the same time, Shorter began exploring the world of classical music. He paired with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Royal Concertgebouw, and the BBC Chamber Orchestra, unveiling his new symphonic repertoire.

Shorter is the recipient of the NEA Jazz Masters Award (1998), the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award (2015) and, most recently, the prestigious Polar Music Prize (2017). With a total of 11 GRAMMY Awards under his belt, Shorter refuses to slow down. Currently, in collaboration with Esperanza Spalding, he is composing his first opera, “Iphigenia,” his ultimate expression honoring the nobility of humanity – to awaken one’s inherent power. Wayne Shorter believes that there are no limits: “To me, jazz means: I dare you.”

The Co-Creators of “Hamilton”

Lin-Manuel Miranda (Writer and Actor)

Lin-Manuel Miranda is a Pulitzer Prize, GRAMMY®, Emmy® and Tony® Award-winning composer, lyricist and actor. He is the creator and original star of Broadway’s Tony Award-winning shows “Hamilton” and “In the Heights.” Additionally, his Broadway credits include “Bring It On: The Musical” (co-composer/co-lyricist, Tony nomination for Best Musical) and “West Side Story” (2009, Spanish translations). A 2015 MacArthur Foundation Award recipient, Miranda composed songs for Disney’s “Moana” (2017 Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Best Original Song). He has actively supported the relief efforts in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in September 2017, creating the benefit single “Almost Like Praying.” TV/film credits include “Saturday Night Live” (2017 Emmy nomination, Guest Actor), “Sesame Street,” “The Electric Company,” “House,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “DuckTales,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “200 Cartas,” “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” and the upcoming 2018 holiday movie “Mary Poppins Returns.” In addition to his work as an artist, Miranda has worked with the Hispanic Federation since Hurricane Maria to support the rebuilding of Puerto Rico, and most recently he announced the launch of the Flamboyan Arts Fund to provide grants for artists, cultural institutions and programs on the island. Miranda received his B.A. from Wesleyan University in 2002. He lives with his family in New York City.

Thomas Kail (Director)

Thomas Kail received the 2016 Tony Award® for his direction of the Broadway production of “Hamilton.” He received a Tony nomination for his direction of “In the Heights.” Additional Broadway credits include the new plays “Lombardi” and “Magic/Bird.” Other credits include the world premiere of “Hamilton,” “Kings,” “Tiny Beautiful Things” and “Dry Powder” at the Public Theater; the world premiere of “In the Heights,” “Broke-ology” and the world premiere of “When I Come to Die” at Lincoln Center Theater; the world premiere of “Daphne’s Dive” at the Signature Theatre; Randy Newman’s “Faust,” as well as “The Wiz” at New York City Center; the world premiere of “The Tutors” at Second Stage Uptown; the world premiere of “Broke-ology” at Williamstown Theater Festival; the world premiere of A.R. Gurney’s “Family Furniture” at The Flea; and the national tour of “In the Heights.” Kail is the co-creator and director of the Hip Hop improv group Freestyle Love Supreme. He won the 2016 Emmy® for his direction of “Grease Live.” Also, Kail is the recipient of a Drama Desk Award, an Obie, a Callaway Award, the Lucille Lortel Award and the Martin E. Segal Award from Lincoln Center. He is a graduate of Wesleyan University.

Andy Blankenbuehler (Choreographer)

Andy Blankenbuehler is a proud three-time Tony Award® winner for his choreography in the Broadway productions of “Hamilton,” “Bandstand” and “In The Heights.” The recent production of “Bandstand” (director/choreographer) also received the Drama Desk and Chita Rivera Award for Best Choreography. Additional Broadway credits include “Bring It On” (Tony nomination), “9 to 5” (Tony nomination), “The People in the Picture,” “The Apple Tree,” “Annie,” and the recent revival of “CATS.” Other theatrical work includes “Desperately Seeking Susan” (West End), the world premiere of the new musical “FLY” (Dallas Theatre Center), “The Wiz” (City Center Encores), “A Little Princess” (Andrew Lippa), and the recent international tour of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Upcoming projects include the new musical “Only Gold” with British singer/songwriter Kate Nash.

On television, Mr. Blankenbuehler’s work has appeared on “Dirty Dancing,” “America’s Got Talent,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” “The Sopranos,” MTV, “Sesame Street” featuring Janelle Monae, and many commercials. He has staged concert work for both Elton John and Bette Midler, and he conceived, directed and choreographed the hit Caesars Palace production “Nights on Broadway.” His work will be seen on the big screen next year in a yet-to-be-titled film with writer/director Adam McKay, starring Christian Bale and Steve Carell.

As a performer, Mr. Blankenbuehler danced on Broadway in “Fosse,” “Contact,” “Man of La Mancha,” “Saturday Night Fever,” “Steel Pier,” “Big” and “Guys and Dolls.” Originally from Cincinnati, Mr. Blankenbuehler resides in New York City with his wife, Elly, and two children, Luca and Sofia. He is a recipient of a special 2015 Drama Desk Award for his achievement in the theater.

Alex Lacamoire (Music Supervisor/Orchestrator/Co-Arranger)

Alex Lacamoire is a three-time Tony Award® and three-time GRAMMY® winner for his work on the Broadway musicals “Hamilton,” “Dear Evan Hansen” and “In The Heights.” His film credits include “The Greatest Showman” (executive music producer) and “Incredibles 2” (arranger/orchestrator). As music director, arranger and/or orchestrator on Broadway, he has worked on “Annie” (2011 Broadway revival), “Bring It On,” “The People In The Picture,” “9 to 5” (Drama Desk and Grammy nominations), “Legally Blonde,” “High Fidelity” and “Wicked.” Other theatrical credits include “Bat Boy: The Musical,” “Godspell” (2001 National Tour), orchestrations for the Rockettes and the Academy Awards. He is an Emmy-nominated composer for “Sesame Street.”

Hollywood Walk of Fame announces 2018 star recipients

June 22. 2017

The following is a press release from the Hollywood Walk of Fame:

A new group of entertainment professionals in the categories of Motion Pictures, Television, Live Theatre/Live Performance, Radio and Recording have been selected to receive stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, it was announced today, Thursday, June 22, 2017 by the Walk of Fame Selection Committee of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. These honorees were chosen from among hundreds of nominations to the committee at a meeting held in June and ratified by the Hollywood Chamber’s Board of Directors. Television Producer and Walk of Famer Vin Di Bona, Chair of the Walk of Fame Selection Committee for 2017, announced the new honorees with Leron Gubler, President & CEO for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce who is also the emcee of the Walk of Fame ceremonies.

The new selections were revealed to the world via live stream exclusively on the official website www.walkoffame.com. The live stream began at 2:15 p.m. PDT and was held at the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce offices.

“The Walk of Fame Selection Committee is pleased to announce our newest honorees to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Committee looked carefully at each nominee and we feel that we have selected an eclectic group of talent that will appeal to the tastes of many fans around the world,” said Di Bona. “As a Walk of Famer myself, I know these honorees will remember the dedication of their stars with great memories and will be proud that they are part of Hollywood’s history now and forever. We look forward to their big day as the Walk of Fame Class of 2018 becomes cemented one by one on the most famous sidewalk in the world!”

The Hollywood Walk of Fame Class of 2018 are:

In the category of MOTION PICTURES:   Jack Black, Kirsten Dunst, Jeff Goldblum, F. Gary Gray, Mark Hamill, Jennifer Lawrence, Gina Lollobrigida, Minnie Mouse, Nick Nolte and Zoe Saldana

In the category of TELEVISION:   Anthony Anderson, Gillian Anderson, Lynda Carter, Simon Cowell, RuPaul Charles, Taraji P. Henson, Eric McCormack, Ryan Murphy, Niecy Nash, Mandy Patinkin, Shonda Rhimes, and posthumous Steve Irwin

In the category of RECORDING:  Mary J. Blige, Sir Richard Branson, Petula Clark, Harry Connick, Jr., Ice T, Snoop Dogg, Carrie Underwood and “Weird Al” Yankovic

In the category of RADIO:   Steve Jones

In the category of LIVE THEATRE/LIVE PERFORMANCE:   Charles Aznavour, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and posthumous Bernie Mac

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and its Walk of Fame Selection Committee congratulate all the honorees. Dates have not been scheduled for these star ceremonies. Recipients have two years to schedule star ceremonies from the date of selection before they expire. Upcoming star ceremonies are usually announced ten days prior to dedication on the official website www.walkoffame.com.