Eyewitness reports were everywhere, but until you really sat down to watch Part One of Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular, there was no way to fully grasp its scale. Being the undisputed queen of talk for 25 years affords you access to the most capable hands in the TV business, and for their final hoorah, her crew flexed their mighty producing muscles and pulled off a doozy of a show: slick and spectacular when it needed to be, with plenty of well-place moments of sentimentality. And all of it in exalted service of the Great O.
Let’s run down the memorable moments of Part One:
Oprah was first on the stage, radiant in (the color) purple with her hair pulled back in a ponytail. She looked genuinely overwhelmed and humbled by the 20,000 ecstatic fans who’d gathered to bid her adieu in Chicago’s United Center. (Her studio typically has about 300 seats.) Tom Hanks emerged to deliver a warm, introductory speech, in which he told Oprah, “There was an English playwright who said, 'There's no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved.'” (The playwright’s name was Charles Morgan, and the rest of the quote continues, “It is God's finger on man's shoulder.”)
Then Tom Cruise appeared, looking...really good? His hair was flowing like Jennifer Aniston’s, his megawatt smile was turned to 11, and his off-putting energy had Oprah clenching her buttocks in nervous anticipation of what was in store. Would he recreate his infamous couch-jumping episode by having a 20-foot-tall couch cake rolled out, then swan diving into the massive dessert from the roof? No, as it turns out, he wouldn’t. But he would offer emotional support, saying, “We gotcha. We gotcha.”
Then Cruise quoted Glinda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz (which reminded me of the time he dressed up as Dorothy), and a little girl named Jackie Evancho -- who sounds disconcertingly like a middle-aged woman when she sings -- came out in ruby slippers. She was quickly swallowed whole by Miss Patti LaBelle, however, who proceeded to gobble up Josh Groban, too. Girl was hungry!
There was something kind in Madonna’s appearance. She was looking pretty good for an old broad, and delivered a heartfelt tribute to her one, living female hero. (Really? Just the one? There must be some other woman out there she looks up to? No? Okay, then.) There you had it: Madonna celebrating Oprah. The two most powerful women on Earth. If only Queen Elizabeth II had been there, it would have been a perfect hat trick.
Madonna didn’t perform, however. She just narrated this insane multimedia sequence in which Oprah fans from around the world were projected onto white cards held up by audience members. Eh. Not so much.
But you know what DID work? Beyonce worked! (As in worked it, mkay?) Standing behind a bedazzled podium dressed up like some kind of mythical being -- a half-bathing suit/half tuxedo-wearing satyr creature -- Ms. Knowles brought down the house with her army of background dancers. You too can be a Beyonce background dancer in glasses and a skirt cut to your crotch, young ladies of the world! By the end of it, she had me on my feet screaming, “I am a girl! I run the world!” Then I remembered neither was true, but whatever -- it was just nice being in the moment. The whole time, the guest of honor just sat there with her mouth open, wearing a face I’d describe as “OMGprah.”
Tomorrow I’ll be back with more of the best moments from Part Two. In the meantime, what did you think about Ms. Winfrey’s big retirement party?