In years past, the Nightlife Awards at Town Hall were massive four-hour affairs filled with celebrity cameos and lots of bright bouncy music. Unlike just about every other awards show, after all, the Nightlife Awards does not allow speeches, but has winners (and presenters, and random guests) perform to show off why they won. It's a brilliant concept that lets the audience see how much New York has to offer in terms of nightlife offerings, with cabaret, jazz and comedy all represented.
This past week's ceremony, directed by Scott Coulter, was both much shorter and much more sedate than in recent years. Hosted for the third time by the ever-reliable Bruce Vilanch, the evening felt in many ways like a repeat of years past, with several winners (and presenters, and random guests) returning to the Town Hall stage. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but it did make for fewer unexpected moments. (Perhaps all the celebs that frequently appear as surprise guests at the Nightlife Awards were saving their energy for next week's Cast Party at Town Hall? Seriously, get tickets now. That lineup is sick!)
Among the evening's highlights (in no particular order):
* Bruce Vilanch made his entrance in a Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark t-shirt...and bloody head bandage. At this point, the jokes about the show are becoming stale, but damn if that sight gag didn't crack me up.
* As did Vilanch's list of (fictional) injuries the cast of the show had suffered during rehearsals. (One doesn't need to feel guilty for laughing at imaginary injuries, does one?)
* Nellie McKay, fast becoming a Town Hall regular, accommpanied herself on ukulele as she sang Loretta Lynn's "One's on the Way" with a blend of angelic sweetness and wry irony--exactly what the song needs. She did Lynn proud.
* Christine Ebersole, winner for Outstanding Cabaret Vocalist in a Major Engagement, sang both a surprisingly poignant "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" and a heartfelt "How Can I Keep From Singing."
* The Rescignos (otherwise known as Paul and Robbie Rescigno) an identical-twin-brother act who won for Outstanding Cabaret Duo or Group, sang their quirky and very funny theme song. Haven't seen their show, but now I have to. (And see, this is what's wonderful about the Nightlife Awards. I almost never go to see comedy shows, but because of this one night, I now know about several talented people I would have missed otherwise.)
* Outstanding Jazz Soloist Harry Allen crooned "Cottage for Sale" and "Young and Foolish"...
* ...And Outstanding Jazz Vocalist Karen Oberlin crooned "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year." Both sounded fine and classy and just lovely.
* Billy Stritch also crooned a gentle and sweet "A Nightengale Sang in Berkeley Square," focusing on the emotion behind the lyrics and taking his time with each musical moment. (Memo to self: Request more ballads from him next time I'm at Cast Party.)
* Jessica Molaskey, sans husband and partner John Pizzarelli, with whom she shares the award for Outstanding Cabaret Duo or Group in a Major Engagement, was accompanied by young jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein on a lovely combo of "Dream Your Troubles Away" and "It's a Good Day."
* Weinstein, himself awarded the Special Award for Outstanding Debut, later performed on his own following a fun (and utterly random, which made it even more fun) monologue about meeting George Gershwin at a party. Random, but very funny.
* Liz Lark Brown, who won the MetroStar Talent Challenge in 2009, was this year's Outstanding Cabaret Vocalist, and sang a dark and twisty and stalker-y "I Think I Love You" that was funny enough, but didn't show off enough of her skills as a cabaret chanteuse.
* Outstanding Comedian Hannibal Burkes joked about his name, the audience, and people who repeat themselves...though not necessarily in that order. (Again, another artist I have to catch on his home turf.)