Cabaret Stars of the Present and Future Are Highlights of 2013 Nightlife Awards at The Town Hall
Cabaret Review by Stephen Hanks
When it comes to the number of award shows staged in a given season, the film, TV and recording industry no longer leave New York Cabaret in the stardust.
Kicking off a 10-week period during which the Big Apple cabaret scene will now feature four award ceremonies (including the first-ever BroadwayWorld.com Awards on February 21, the 28th annual Bistro Awards on March 4, and the 27th annual MAC Awards on March 21), the 11th annual Nightlife Awards (voted on by a select group of cabaret and nightlife writers and critics) was staged at The Town Hall on January 14 and, for the most part, was a pleasantly entertaining event. Co-produced by Max Weintraub and nightlife impresario Scott Siegel (Broadway by the Year, 11 O'Clock Numbers at 11 O'Clock, Broadway Ballyhoo, et al), this year's show featured the usual mix of nightclub singing legends, budding cabaret stars, solid veterans of musical theater, outstanding jazz vocalists, stellar instrumentalists, and quirky comedians, almost all delivering the goods under the smooth direction of Scott Coulter.
Holding the three-hour show together was the always amusing overgrown teddy bear Bruce Vilanch, who was hosting his fourth Nightlife Awards show. Vilanch is probably one of the few hosts in the world who can get away with wearing a t-shirt that reads "My Pen Is Huge," with the image of a writing implement conveniently separating the middle two words, lest Mayor Michael Bloomberg send in the thought police. Of course, the audience got the joke immediately, but with the podium covering the lower half of Vilanch's ample body, the actual size of his, er, pen could not be determined.
What could be determined almost immediately is that Nightlife Legend honoree Leslie Uggams is a savvy choice to play the legendary Lena Horne in the upcoming Broadway show about the late singing goddess. With the accomplished Don Rebic at the piano, Uggams--whose elegant hair style made her look like a beautiful Egyptian Queen on an ancient hieroglyph--opened both the show and Act II with stylish takes on the Horne standards, "Love" and "Anyplace I Hang My Hat Is Home."
The dapper Mark Nadler (Outstanding Cabaret Performer)-as he did at the October at the Cabaret Convention-performed his rousing Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht beer hall anthem, "The Bilbao Song" (from the musical Happy End), which was part of his recent 54 Below show, I'm a Stranger Here Myself. Nadler announced that the highly-praised show will be getting another life at the York Theater in April. Emily Bergl was up next and while she looked hot in a smoking red dress, it was difficult to discern what attitude she was trying to convey on the Gus Kahn lyric "It Had to Be You." Awarded as "Outstanding Musical Comedy Performer," Bergl seemed to be going for a combination of cute and snarky, but the bit fell flat. I admit I didn't catch Bergl's well-received Cafe Carlyle show NY, I Love You, but from what I've seen so far in variety show snippets her appeal among other critics is a bit of a mystery. The jury is still out for me, but I'm willing to be convinced. (Please click on Page 2 below to continue.)
The Nightlife Award voters, however, totally nailed the Jazz category, naming the wonderful Kate McGarry, Catherine Russell and Jane Monheit as "Outstanding Jazz Performer," and Bill Charlap as "Outstanding Jazz Instrumentalist." McGarry was joined by husband and guitarist Keith Ganz for a jazzy folkified version of "We Kiss in a Shadow" (from The King and I), Russell and her guitarist Matt Munisteri were awesomely sensual on Lillian Green's "Romancing In the Dark," and Monheit was seductively celestial on a mesmerizing version of Hoagy Carmichael's classic "Stardust." For a nice change of pace, Charlap's caressing of the keyboard was both understated and restrained on Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Field's "On the Sunny Side of the Street."
Vilanch wasn't the only one getting the laughs on this night as he and special guest Jim Caruso kvelled over female comedians they love. The BroadwayWorld.com Award-winning host of Birdland's "Cast Party," Caruso is both a crazed fan and a close friend of "Outstanding Comedy Performer" Julie Halston, the self-proclaimed Italian-Irish girl from Commack, LI, which gives her "gravitas." Halson broke up the Town Hall audience reading an actual gay male wedding notice from the New York Times, which was hilarious in its innane absurdity and for Halston's incredulous reactions. In the second act, Vilanch could be seen stage right almost doubled over with laughter as "Outstanding Standup Comedy Performer" Jessica Kirson riffed on old Jewish women playing mahjong and dozing front-row audience members.
One of the evening's highlights was seeing Faith Prince and Jason Graae ("Outstanding Musical Comedy Duo or Group") perform some wonderful bits from their recent 54 Below show The Prince and the Showboy. With John Boswell on piano, Jason serenaded Faith with a few bars of "One Day My Prince Will Come" with her offering him "One Boy, One Special Showboy." Graae was then endearingly creepy on the Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond song about an obsessive/compulsive/voyeuristic stalker, "(Guilty of Loving You) To Excess" and Prince was pitch and accent perfect on the Stephen Sondheim/Mary Rodgers parody of "The Girl from Ipanema."
It wouldn't be a surprise if Lauren Fox and Carole J. Bufford, the two young women awarded as "Outstanding Cabaret Performer," were watching very closely from the wings when this year's other "Nightlife Legend," the ageless and indefatigable Marilyn Maye (photo left) took over the stage with pianist Tedd Firth. Once again Ms. Maye (who seems to be doing a standout show in New York almost every day lately--she did a doubleheader on New Year's Eve at the Metropolitan Room) showed cabaret singers of every age how it's done, ending Act I by effortlessly polishing off a New York song medley, including Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind," Cy Coleman's "My Personal Property," and Kander and Ebb's "New York, New York."
In Act II, those two female cabaret stars of the future (if not the present) proved they learned well from the legendary Ms. Maye. Fox was an angelic flower child with an etheral voice on Jackson Browne's "Before the Deluge," from her current Metropolitan Room show about the music that came out of California in the late '60s-early-'70s, Canyon Folkies, while Bufford (photo right) was a soaringly dramatic, torch-singing throwback to the chanteuses of old on "Cry Me A River" (featured in her new show Body and Soul, also at the Metropolitan Room).
Having Fox and Bufford's fellow "Outstanding Cabaret Performer" James Barbour close the show with his booming tenor on Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy's "Measure of a Man" (from the musical Rudolf) was almost anti-climatic. But Barbour can be enthralling on this kind of pop aria and he provided an appropriate coda on a fine evening of song, comedy and cabaret.
Photos by Stephen Sorokoff