At the 2005 Nightlife Awards…
by Jena Tesse Fox
Quick, how do you make a four-hour-long concert zing by in a flash? Get the best performers of cabaret, jazz, and comedy all on one stage, and give them each five minutes (or thereabouts) to do their thing. At Monday’s Nightlife Awards, a veritable bevy of New York’s finest performers got to strut their stuff and make time fly. Presented by Scott Siegel and hosted by Bruce Vilanch, the evening celebrated the many forms of entertainment in the city. We laughed (did I mention Bruce Vilanch hosted?), we cried (we lost Cy Coleman, Dick Gallagher, and Jackie Paris in one year!), we kvelled, we cheered. A great year of entertainment gave us a great evening to honor the artists.
Some of the highlights of the evening:
*Andrea McArdle sang a haunting and lovely “Over the Rainbow” that would have made Judy proud.
*Lennie Watts, representing Unique Cabaret Event winner “Under the Covers,” performed a deadpan cover (geddit? Geddit? Under the… oh, never mind!) of the Supremes’ “Keep Me Hanging On,” finding a witty new meaning in the lyrics.
*Liz and Ann Hampton Callaway, winners of the Outstanding Duo/Group Cabaret Performance award, created some fantastic harmonies with their duet of “Stormy Weather” and “When The Sun Comes Out.”
*Allan Harris, stepping in for the late Outstanding Male Jazz Vocalist Jackie Paris, played Paris’ signature song “Skylark” with wonderful emotion.
*Peter Yawitz, winner for Outstanding Cabaret Musical Comedy/Characterization Performance, sang the hilarious “Talk Like a Guy,” which he wrote with the late Dick Gallagher…
*…And it was a moving and memorable surprise when Patti LuPone offered a tearful tribute to Gallagher, fondly honoring a man who made many contributions to New York’s Nightlife.
*Patrice O’Neal and Laurie Kilmartin’s award-winning comedy bordered on shocking, with topical commentaries on the President, Islam, racism, abortion, and suicide bombings… but the best comedy usually is shocking, and like Lennie Bruce before them, O’Neal and Kilmartin’s quips and barbs provoked as many thoughts as laughs.
*Outstanding Cabaret Piano Bar Performer Leslie Anderson worked some magic with a trombone and a swinging new take on Bizet’s “HabaZara” from Carmen.
*Outstanding Jazz Soloist Bill Charlap played a gentle “Some Other Time” from On The Town without a one of Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s beautiful lyrics, and was so good I didn’t miss them.
*Cabaret legend Karen Akers, co-winner of the Outstanding Cabaret Female Vocalist award, sat on the grand piano and filled the enormous Town Hall with her commanding presence and crystal voice as she sang “Falling in Love With Love” and “I Fall in Love Too Easily.”
*Tony Danza introduced the legendary cabaret star Keely Smith (co-winner, with Karen Akers, of the Outstanding Cabaret Female Vocalist award), who performed “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” and then brought (really, dragged) Mr. Danza back onstage for an impromptu duet of “That Old Black Magic,” which certainly was magical.
*Jeff McCarthy “knocked down the one remaining wall of the Henry Miller” (to quote the ever-quotable Vilanch) when he performed “Once Upon A Time.”
*Phillip Officer, Outstanding Cabaret Male Vocalist award winner, sang Cole Porter’s “In The Still of the Night” and a medley of “Time After Time” and “Go To Sleep.”
*Barbara Carol played a medley of Cy Coleman songs, paying a wonderful homage to a brilliant composer and contributor to the American Songbook.
*Outstanding Female Jazz Vocalist winner Paula West sang a slow and haunting “If I Only Had A Brain,” and even if she didn’t rhyme “deserve you” and “be worthy ‘erv’ you,” her emotional rendition and soulful voice made the song lovely and memorable.
And then there was the finale, in which a full “Cabaret Choir” of some of Nightlife’s up-and-coming and established stars performed David Friedman’s anthem “As Long As I Can Sing.” The moment was breathtaking, and certainly inspired much hope in the future of cabaret. The art form is quite safe in all of these loving hands.
Jena Tesse Fox is a lifelong theatre addict who has worked as an actress, a singer, a playwright, a director, a lyricist, a librettist, and a stage manager. While a student at Wells College, she also wrote for and edited the student newspaper, reviewing books, movies, and local theatre. By the time she graduated, Tesse knew that she was destined to be a theatre journalist, and so she is very excited to join the team of BroadwayWorld.com.