The Academy Awards promised a special guest for its performance of Best Original Song nominee "The Place Where Lost Things Go," and the organization's pick definitely delivered. Mary Poppins Returns star Emily Blunt didn't fly in via umbrella for the song, but she had a practically perfect replacement. Bette Midler's Mary Poppins Oscar performance gave viewers chills, so I think even the sternest nanny would approve.
As one of many missteps that the Academy faced this year, only two of the five Best Song nominees were initially slated to perform during the 91st Academy Awards. Top 10 hits "Shallow" (A Star Is Born) and "All the Stars" (Black Panther) were originally the only performances fans could look forward to, but following public backlash, the Academy announced its Oscars broadcast would also feature performances of the three other nominated songs. Because of nominee Kendrick Lamar's scheduling, he and collaborator SZA ultimately did not appear to perform "All the Stars," but do you think the Academy has learned by now to just stick to tradition?
Meanwhile, Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson was pegged to perform RBG's "I'll Fight" and Gillian Welch and David Rawlings would sing "When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The Academy's cryptic clue about a surprise guest singing "The Place Where Lost Things Go" remained unsolved until Feb. 16, when Bette Midler was announced as the last performer. Although the Hocus Pocus and The Rose actress seemed like a random pick to some, she actually has a special connection to the nominated song.
Variety reported that the two-time Best Actress Oscar nominee is a longtime friend of Mary Poppins Returns composer Marc Shaiman. Alongside lyricist Scott Wittman, Shaiman penned "The Place Where Lost Things Go" and other Mary Poppins earworms like "A Cover Is Not the Book" and "Trip a Little Light Fantastic." Like the Tony Award-winning Midler, Shaiman has a history in theater, having composed songs from Hairspray and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the Musical.
It's unclear why Blunt didn't step back into Mary Poppins' sensible shoes for the Academy Awards performance, but Midler's personal tie to the song's creators is definitely a sweet reason for her takeover. It also isn't totally unusual for original artists not to sing their nominated songs at the Oscars. Remember when Amy Adams sang one of her recognized songs from Enchanted and Kristin Chenoweth performed the other? Given Blunt's snub from the Oscars' Best Actress lineup, maybe it would've been awkward for her to appear just for a vocal performance.
Seeing as the song was now performed by an American songstress rather than England's most beloved nanny, how did Midler's "The Place Where Lost Things Go" differ from the original?
Introduced by Keegan-Michael Key (who did swoop in via umbrella), Midler delivered a rendition of the tune while Shaiman accompanied her on piano. While this version gave her room to show off her golden pipes, the song matched the movie's sweet yet somber tone. I'm not crying, you're crying.
Judging by Twitter's glowing response to the Feb. 24th performance, Midler was a divine replacement for Blunt's original vocals. Though you may have to resort to watching Mary Poppins Returns on repeat for a taste of Blunt's magic, the spoonful of sugar Midler delivered at the Oscars is more than welcomed.