No speeches, just performances. And when there is an array of winners such as those flaunting the talent that netted them prizes assembled in one evening, the result is a luxurious boon for those who love the excitement of the New York nightlife scene. Double down with the hilarious Bruce Vilanch as host, and plenty of laughs are guaranteed as well, as was the case Monday night, January 14, at The Town Hall, when the 2013 Nightlife Awards, created by Scott Siegel, co-producer of the show with Max Weintraub, unfolded under the sharp direction of Scott Coulter.
After an opening number by Leslie Uggams giving a sizzling interpretation of “Love” in return for being named a Nightlife Legend Winner, Vilanch came on as host wearing a t-shirt proclaiming “My Pen is Huge.” That set a tone for his interspersed comedy lines, such as ”I’ve just returned from a gay cruise on the Crystal Meth.” He got laughs from recalling the heavily accented speech of Lawrence Welk and reading a New York Post story about a lone gunman firing in an empty subway car and identified by eyewitnesses.
Vilanch’s gag about a gay cruise brings to mind the hilarious turn by Julie Halston, named Outstanding Comedy Performer, who saluted gay marriage by reading from a New York Times society section a report on the elaborately recounted marriage of two men. Halston dissected the details line by line, with comic twists to what built up to the wedding. Her inflections and expressions rendered the piece an uproarious send-up of gay romance and its new place on the society pages.
Also in the comedy department, Jessica Kirson, named Outstanding Standup Comedy Performer, launched into a loud routine marked by her ability to mold outlandish facial expressions and high-decibel vocal impressions with life-experience narrative into comic mayhem. Faith Prince and Jason Graae, who won for Outstanding Musical Comedy Duo or Group, teamed in a joint number and then soloed. I found them more effective doing their individual numbers than as a combo with their cutesy “The Prince and the Showboy Medley” accompanied by their we-love-each-other banter that grew a bit tiresome. On his own, Graae was very funny with his put-down number “Excess,” as was Prince singing “The Boy From,” a jaw-breaker satire of “The Girl From Ipanema.”
Other humor emerged from assorted song turns, as by the delightful Emily Bergl, who as Outstanding Musical Comedy Performer, rendered her own version of “It Had to Be You,” a look at the guy it had to be as someone she disappointedly settles for instead of an exalted object of true love. Jim Caruso, marking the shows he does regularly at Birdland, delivered “A Song for My Friends,” warning those who hope to go into show business but won’t make it to “get a job!”
In the more serious singing department, Mark Nadler, one of the winners as Outstanding Cabaret Performer, gave his exciting interpretation of the Brecht-Weill “Bilbao Song,” tearing into it on piano and vocally in a way that demonstrated how dramatically he really longed for the days described and turning the number into a sensational tour-de-force.
Three women who won for Outstanding Jazz Performer gave knockout individual performances exemplifying their individual styles--Jane Monheit enthralling with her superb, inventive jazz riff on “Stardust;” Catherine Russell, accompanied on the guitar by Matt Munisteri, impressively singing “Romance in the Dark,” and the wonderful Kate McGarry, in total sync with her husband and guitarist Keith Ganz, singing “We Kiss in a Shadow.” As Outstanding Jazz Instrumentalist, Bill Charlap sat at he piano and played a spellbinding, ultra quiet and delicate jazz version of “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”
Lauren Fox , Outstanding Cabaret Performer, stood out as very different from anyone else on the program, singing the contemplative “Before the Deluge,” an extract from her show recalling the Laurel Canyon days when a generation of songwriters and performers congregated in an unusual concentration of talent.
In the realm of performing power, Marilyn Maye, named along with Uggams as Nightlife Legend Winner, showed why she is a legend. Maye gave the crowd a medley of songs extolling New York with her trademark zest to close the first act. Uggams returned to open the second act with a rousing “Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home.”
I’ve reserved my last but not least account for two powerful singers, one female, one male, who at the close of the program reached special heights, each designated Outstanding Cabaret Performer. Carole J. Bufford, stunning in a fuschia gown, sang “Cry Me a River” with a vocal strength that made the number soar with the pain of rejection. And James Barbour demonstrated thrillingly his leading-man power as he sang “Measure of a Man” to end the three-hour foray into the world of nightlife. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed January 15, 2013.