After seven months and $70 million spent on a basement-to-ceiling makeover, New York’s 67-year-old art-deco Radio City Music Hall reopened for business last night — show business, that is. Performers for the gala celebration (which will air on NBC Dec. 1 and which benefited research for pancreatic cancer) included Billy Crystal, Mary J. Blige, Sting, Lou Bega, Tony Bennett, 98 Degrees, Raquel Welch and the Rockettes. Among the highlights:

  • Irrepressible Billy Crystal began his ascent to the great stage from the basement, which was visible to the nearly 6,000 members of the audience in the Hall via live camera. He compared the building’s extensive renovations to Cher’s. Next came the stage elevator (so old it needs Viagra to go up, quipped Billy). He entered the stage, announcing, “There’s only one way to come on . . . with class and dignity. Without that, you have nothing.” By then, Billy’s complete outfit was revealed: tuxedo shirt and jacket — and, below the waist, a Rockette’s black panties, stockings and heels.
  • Ann-Margret spoke of coming to the Hall when she was 19 and her movie “Bye, Bye Birdie” premiered there. Christian Slater, on hand to introduce Sting (who sang “Brand New Day”), recalled playing Tiny Tim in the Radio City Christmas pageant when he was 12.
  • MGM’s great tap star, Ann Miller, performed (appropriately) Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here” and drew the longest and loudest applause of the evening. Beforehand she told PEOPLE that her first visit to the Hall was in 1938. “When I was 14 I starred in a picture called ‘Radio City Rebels,’ and it premiered here. I’ve never forgotten it. I’ve had about six shows premiere here all together — ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ and pictures like that. It’s so tremendously nostalgic for me to be back here.”