The third annual Nightlife Awards celebrated Gotham’s after-dark entertainment in the jazz and comedy clubs and the posh supper clubs now familiarly tagged as cabaret venues. Winners expressed their appreciation by doing what they do best: playing, singing and cracking jokes, summoning a sea of smiles and laughter from a capacity Town Hall aud.
Keely Smith, introduced by Tony Danza as “the epitome of the golden era,” was the jewel in the evening’s crown, sailing through trademark hits “Just a Gigolo” and “I Wish You Love.” Smith, 76, even grabbed Danza from the wings to fill the old Louis Prima role in a swinging duet of “That Old Black Magic.” Smith tied with classy diva Karen Akers as female vocalist of the year.
Akers, all silky sophistication, offered a waltzing medley of “Falling in Love With Love” and “I Fall in Love Too Easily” that defined a class act.
Pianist Barbara Carroll toasted the late composer Cy Coleman with a bountiful medley of showtunes, bringing a beautiful blend of piano grace and swing to “Witchcraft,” “Real Live Girl” and “The Best Is Yet to Come.”
Broadway diva Patti LuPone paid tribute to Dick Gallagher, who died Jan. 20, noting she learned a great deal about nuance and pace from the revered piano accompanist.
Posthumous recognition also went to legendary jazz singer Jackie Paris, who scored the jazz vocalist prize. Guitarist Allan Harris offered a clean and subtle reading of the Paris trademark ballad “Skylark” in tribute to the hip vocalist who died last summer.
Soulful Andy Bey sang “Good Morning, Heartache” with a knowing sense of required heartbreak. Ervin Drake, composer of that durable standard recorded by Billie Holiday in 1946, was on hand to take a bow.
A sweetly poised Alice Ripley praised home turf with a crawling arrangement of “New York, New York” that seemed a bit strident, but it served to pave the way for Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.”
Laugh acts did not fare as well, with the possible exception of winning piano bar performer Leslie Anderson, who mixed witty vocalizing of “O Mio Babbino Caro” and “The Toreador Song” into a madcap medley alternating with trombone breaks. Laurie Kilmartin, who nabbed the comic standup nod, offered a tasteless diatribe focusing on sex and politics that even dared to include a 9/11 quip that drew more than a few boos from the audience.
A rousing finale found more than 50 cabaret artists assembled for a choral performance of David Friedman’s hymn to the nightlife community, “As Long as I Can Sing.” It perhaps outsized the intimacy of cabaret, but the sentiment was heartfelt and the who’s who onstage was a joy to behold.
Producer Scott Siegel will launch his 2005 “Broadway by the Year” four-concert series at Town Hall on March 7 with showtunes from 1927 by Cole Porter, Noel Coward and Rodgers & Hart.