The first annual Noël Coward Cabaret Award, presented by the Mabel Mercer Foundation in association with the Noël Coward Foundation, was won by singer Jennifer Sheehan in a performance contest held on May 27, 2010 at the National Arts Club in New York. Contestants sang numbers written by Coward, which presented the special challenge of capturing the sophistication inherent in his witty lyrics as well as doing justice to his music. The award included a cash prize of $5000.
Two runners-up were also chosen, with their awards being spots in the Mabel Mercer Cabaret Convention to be held next fall. Second place went to an 18-year-old newcomer to the cabaret scene, Nicolas King. Third place went to already notable cabaret performer Sidney Myer.
Sheehan was impressive with her selections, “Mad About the Boy” and “Here and Now.” She did one without a mike, thus demonstrating her appealing voice in its natural state. The attractive, dark-haired singer exhibited an effervescent style that connected well with her audience and was skillful in use of body language to indicate how comfortable she was with her outpouring of enthusiasm. Sheehan was a bit excessive with some of such abandonment, but her genuineness hit a mark with the judges as well as the audience
As a young man, King is far from the Coward era and his singing of “A Room With a View” was in a pop style at odds with the wistfulness one associates with Coward. But his “You Were There” was more attuned and pensive. One thing is clear. King has a strong voice, a striking personality and bids to have a rising career.
Sidney Myer is in a class by himself. He has great comic timing with lyrics and can charm with a whimsical attitude that brings hilarity to his interpretations. His “Men About Town,” was a gem of wry sophistication, and his “The Bar on the Piccolo Marina” was a superbly amusing rendition of a well-known Coward piece about a woman who kicks up her heels after her husband dies.
Other highpoints included Lumiri Tubo giving her modern but nonetheless respectful interpretation of “You Were There.” (A number of those performing duplicated songs; there were no restrictions on what they could choose.) Tubo also gave an entertainingly rousing take on “Why Do the Wrong People Travel?” A strong emotional impact came with Kevin Dozier reaching deep into his feelings to convey the beauty of the meaningful “Matelot.”
Others vying were Joyce Breach, Judy Butterfield, Anne Steele, Stearns Mathews, Sarah Rice and Carole Bufford. Donald Smith, Executive Director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation, introduced each performer.
The judges were Elizabeth Ahlfors, Alyce Finell, Mark Hummel, Andrea Marcovicci, Steve Ross, Marian Seldes, Frank Skillern and Midge Woolsey. They took close to an hour of deliberation before returning to announce the winners.