Review: The 2010 Nightlife Awards

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BWW Reviews: The 2010 Nightlife Awards
by Jena Tesse Fox

It’s a highlight of every winter, a celebration of the best entertainment in New York’s nightlife scene. Combining jazz, comedy and cabaret, the annual Nightlife Awards famously eschew acceptance speeches in favor of performances, becoming a sampler of numerous artforms and introducing new artists to fans of different genres. Last Monday, some of the most gifted entertainers in all of these different subsets of nightlife took to the Town Hall stage for the seventh annual Nightlife Awards, with winners both past and present (and some other assorted guests) making some amazing music.

Directed by Scott Thompson and music directed by Tedd Firth, the evening was not as intense as other Nightlife Awards have been, and with as many performances by presenters as winners, the more than three-hour program didn’t fly by as it has in years past.

But still, there is always plenty to love about the Nightlife Awards, and this year was no different. Given that each of the performers was selected by entertainment writers (including-full disclosure-yours truly), it can be taken for granted that each of them sang (and played, and joked) wonderfully. Here, in no particular order, are just a few of the notable highlights of the evening (and believe me, there were many more, but this recap is weeks overdue as it is!):

* Bruce Vilanch served as an affable and amiable host for the second time, telling ribald jokes and ripping on the audience. (“This crowd looks like Mabel Mercer’s Facebook page!”) On the other hand, his anecdotes made the long evening even longer, and didn’t always land as well as they had two years ago.
* Ebersole x 2: Christine Ebersole, who won Outstanding Cabaret Vocalist in a Major Engagement, opened and closed the show with two songs-“I’ve Got Five Dollars” and “The Music That Makes Me Dance,” respectively.
* Two brilliant husband-and-wife duos sang songs that they’ve reinvented and made fresh and
exciting. Jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli and Jessica “I thought about changing my name when I got married, but decided it would be a lateral move” Molaskey sang first a sweet “Dream Your Troubles Away” and then their signature mash-up (remember when they were called medleys?) of “Sometimes I’m Happy” and “I Want to Be Happy.” (Violinist Aaron Weinstein did some beautiful backing work, and earned a quip from Vilanch: “They picked Aaron Weinstein up at the Tavern on the Green auction.”) Later on, Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano, who won for Outstanding Cabaret Duo, sang their signature duet, “As Long as I Live,” flirting adorably throughout.
* Kurt Elling, winner for Outstanding Jazz Vicalist in a Major Engagement, began his song selection a cappella, without even a grace note to give him a hint. Fearlessly leaping into a wonderfully Sinatra-esque “When Somebody Loves You,”he conjured the days of singers who could truly croon a song without letting it sound shmaltzy.

* Likewise, Martin Vidnovic crooned the Sinatra standard “It Was a Very Good Year,” singing it directly to the song’s composer, Ervin Drake, who was in the audience.
* David Rasche sang a twistedly hilarious “I Wish I Was Married to Your Wife,” nicely mixing barely-controlled mania with the darkest of comedy.
* Gretchen Reinhagen, winner for Outstanding Cabaret Comedy or Characterization, sang a very funny and dryly witty “I’m Here” that commented nicely on the modern world and the state of the arts.
* In a somewhat surprising turn, young singer (and Theatre World Award winner for her turn in the 2006 Threepenny Opera revival) Nellie McKay sang “Toto Dies” from her debut album. The song didn’t really fit the rest of the evening, but McKay’s quips before she sang were quite refreshing: “I’ve had a bad week. My boyfriend left me. For his wife. Because she has health insurance.”
* Cheyenne Jackson, winner (with Michael Feinstein) for Outstanding Cabaret Duo, sang a
soulful and poignant “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” You never knew that song had so much emotion in it, did you?
* Noah Racey and the New York Tap Ensemble hoofed their way through an amazingly fierce (there’s just no other word for it) “Sunny Side of the Street.” Why is this group not on every TV special and stage in the country? Seriously.
* Tovah Feldshuh started to sing a lovely “Lucky to be Me”… and then launched into a borscht-belt nightclub act as Golda Meir. It was either avant-garde or just plain weird, and there’s always a thin line between the two. In any case, it was certainly memorable…
* Eric Slovin and Leo Allen, otherwise known as the duo Slovin And Allen, winners for Outstanding Comic Duo or Group, pretended to read from both Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village and President Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope. Y’know, I didn’t realize until the guys started reading just how often our commander-in-chief uses the words “audacity” and “hope,” but apparently, he does…
* Jim Caruso started to croon a delightfully old-school “Side by Side” before being interrupted by Miranda Sings, who offered him her own unique brand of vocal coaching. The gag might have gone over better if more than 25% of the audience knew who Miranda is and got her style of comedy. (I’m convinced at least half the crowd thought she was serious.) Ah, well. We’ll always have Cast Party…and After Party…and YouTube…

* Jay Leonhart sang one of his most popular numbers-“Me and Lennie”-with equal measures of wit and poignancy, aurally recreating a cherished memory and sharing its emotion with the audience.