In this period when awards are being given out ad infinitum, and recipients are thanking everyone except their dogs and cats, it is refreshing to attend an award show in which nobody makes thank you speeches. Instead, as was the case with the 2011 Nightlife Awards on Monday, January 31, at The Town Hall, the winners give thanks by performing. Therefore the quality of the evening depends on the range of the talent, which is reflected in the choices of the jury consisting of those who review and report on the nightlife scene for various publications. This awards edition was once again conceived and produced by Scott Siegel, with Scott Coulter directing and Tedd Firth as musical director.
The outrageous Bruce Vilanch was back as host, and he got immediate laughs by showing up with a blood-stained bandage on his head and introducing himself as one of the injured from “Spider Man.” The performer and writer peppered the show with assorted “in” jokes geared to a knowing audience, including reading off satirical titles spoofing the high number of books that Siegel and his wife Barbara have written.
As for the level of talent, it varied. How could anything go wrong with the renowned Christine Ebersole performing in appreciation of being judged Outstanding Cabaret Vocalist in a Major Engagement? She gave thanks with a smashing rendition of “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine,” followed by the upbeat “How Can I Keep From Singing?”
Although John Pizzarelli was away, Jessica Molaskey, who along with John won in the category of Outstanding Cabaret Duo or Group in a Major Engagement, did the thank you honors showing her expertise singing “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” and “It’s a Good Day.” She also introduced young Aaron Weinstein, winner of the Special Award for Outstanding Debut, a terrific jazz violinist who dazzled with “Somebody Loves Me.”
Karen Oberlin, chosen Outstanding Jazz Vocalist, showed why, tenderly singing “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year.” She couldn’t have chosen a more timely number, given the lousy weather New Yorkers have been enduring. In the comedy department, Hannibal Buress, chosen Outstanding Comedian, was very funny providing a sample of his off-beat style. Liz Lark Brown, looking great poured into a figure- friendly dress, hit it off with her oddball rendition of “I Think I Love You.” She won for Outstanding Cabaret Vocalist.
A weird set of winners were the performers constituting the group known as The Harvard Sailing Team, chosen Outstanding Comedy Duo or Group. They spoofed the reaction of protest about their names said to have come from someone from Harvard. I found the comedy rather lame and sophomoric. A little of it went a long way.
Some of the most enjoyable performances came from entertainers who were not among this year’s winners, but turned up to participate. Billy Stritch, at the piano, sang “A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square.” Jim Caruso was hilarious singing the novelty number “Tone Deaf.” Nellie McKay adopted an amusing hillbilly demeanor with “One’s on the Way.” Mellow Allan Harris sang “A Cottage for Sale.” Steve Ross, the height of sophistication as usual, accompanied himself on piano while singing “Manhattan Moon.” The ever-effective and delightful Karen Akers took part singing “It’s All Right With Me.”
The list of award winners included: Colin Quinn, Outstanding Comedian in a Major Engagement; The Rescignos, Outstanding Cabaret Duo or Group: Mark McCombs Outstanding Comedy or Characterization; Harry Allen, Outstanding Jazz Soloist, and Microscopic Septet, Outstanding Jazz Combo or Big Band. Reviewed at The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street.