The entertaining 12th annual Nightlife Awards show at The Town Hall on January 27th, 2014, treated the audience to performances by veterans as presenters and award recipients and newcomer winners. It was a lively mix, and the show upheld a unique tradition. Winners don’t make speeches. They give thanks by performing examples of their work. The show’s producer was creator Scott Siegel, with Scott Coulter as director, Ian Herman as musical director and the perennially funny Bruce Vilanch as host.
Vilanch regaled audiences with droll anecdotes culled from his years of writing Oscar shows and observing celebrities, and also provided gags of his own, such as “Governor Christie threw me under a bus. Fortunately it was at the George Washington Bridge.”
A highlight of the event was the presentation of the Nightlife Legend Award to Dee Dee Bridgewater, who returned the favor with her Billie Holiday-styled “Good Morning Heartache,” and in her own style, a rousing interpretation of “A Foggy Day.” It was an exciting demonstration of why she has been revered. Backing her were Edsel Gomez on piano, Eric Wheeler on bass, Kassa Overall on drums and Theo Croker on trumpet. Distinguished Irvin Drake, one of the song writers of “Good Morning Heartache,” was in the audience and took a bow.
Among the special guest stars of the evening, Bill Irwin did a consistently hilarious clown routine. Getting into a succession of ever-widening baggy pants layered over each other, Irwin amazingly demonstrated how many postures he could assume in a flowing style that amazed. His body seemed to be made of elastic.
Vocally amazing was another special guest, Carole J. Bufford, whose artistry was brilliantly displayed with her dynamic rendition of Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je ne regrette rien,” abetted by Ian Herman on piano.
Other highlights included composer Jason Robert Brown, who has written the music and lyrics for the forthcoming Broadway production “The Bridges of Madison County,” playing piano and singing “It All Fades Away” from the new show. Nellie McKay mischievously imitated Eydie Gorme, singing “Fly Me to the Moon” and “I’ll Take Romance,” with a hefty wig helping to establish the look.
A surprise appearance by veteran TV notable Charles Osgood drew fan-like applause, and he read a poem he had composed for the occasion, then introduced comic Jimmy Failla, winner of the Outstanding Male Standup Comedian Award. Another TV notable, dating to her past as the star of the 1960s “Get Smart," was presenter Barbara Feldon, who introduced Gina Brillon for the Outstanding Female Standup Comedian Award.
Attractive and impressive, Stacy Sullivan, honored as Outstanding Female Cabaret Vocalist, sang a commanding version of “Old Black Magic,” with Jon Weber on piano and Steve Doyle on bass. Broadway star Stephanie J. Block gave a warm introduction to William Blake, winner as Outstanding Male Jazz Vocalist, who in his striking upper-register style sang “Chasing Strange,’ with Michael Murray on piano, Zachary Eldridge on bass and Jerry DeVore on drums.
Further examples of participating musical talent included Maxine Linehan singing “Anthem” from “Chess,” Liam Forde, Outstanding Male Cabaret Vocalist, singing “Jubilee Time” and Gretchen Parlato, Outstanding Female Jazz Vocalist, singing “Alo Alo,” with Mark Guiliana on guitar.
Are there funny new comedians around today? You bet, judging by the performances by this year’s Nightlife standup winners. Jimmy Failla has a sharp delivery style reminiscent of a combined Rodney Dangerfield and Alan King, but reveling in being politically incorrect. He noted that as a cab driver he had no problems with black passengers because he didn’t pick them up. He quipped that if Chinese weren’t around to deliver food in 15 minutes, New Yorkers would starve. Failla has the ability to quickly grasp an audience in comic control.
Winner Gina Brillon plays the Latino card. She milks coming from the Bronx and makes fun of the way some Latinos may talk. She conjures up a dim-witted woman who says she’s a nurse and, as if that were unusual, announces that she works in a hospital. Brillon builds the routine asking whether you would want your life depending on that nurse.
Other winners include: Ben Allison and Darcy James Argue, tied for Outstanding Jazz Instrumentalist, and Laura Benanti, Oustanding Major Cabaret Vocalist. The awards were decided by a group of critics and journalists who cover the cabaret scene. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed January 29, 2014.