The big surprise at the 2007 Nightlife Awards was the unbilled lady in black who turned out to be a glam Liza Minnelli, lookin’ good and proclaiming the event to be “the best damn party in town!” Minnelli, who presented an award to Jim Caruso, host of the Monday night “Cast Party” series at Birdland, topped a heady all-star lineup saluting the year’s best in Gotham cabaret, jazz and comedy.
The fifth annual fete, produced and hosted by Scott Siegel, is unique among awards ceremonies. Barred from making the customary “thank you” speeches hailing maiden aunts and third-grade teachers, the winners instead do what they do best: They perform.
Dan Foster staged a tight three-hour concert, with Siegel adding a few well-placed theatrical bon mots.
Terrence McNally, who balked (tongue-in-cheek) at the hefty cover charges at Cafe Carlyle and Feinstein’s at the Regency, praised the cabaret community. The playwright introduced cabaret’s first family, John Pizzarelli (“the prime interpreter of American song”) and his wife, Jessica Molaskey (“gorgeous, sexy and talented!”). Honored as outstanding cabaret vocalists, the pair will make a Cafe Carlyle debut in May. They followed a simmering bossa nova medley with a daring bit of Sondheim’s tongue-twisting declaration “(I’m Not) Getting Married Today,” sung in counterpoint by Molaskey with Pizzarelli romping to John Hendricks’ “Cloudburst.”
The Nightlife Legend honor went to Maureen McGovern, introduced by choreographer Susan Schulman as “the ultimate diva.” The singer capped the eve with a Richard Rodgers couplet of “My Favorite Things” and a regally appropriate “With a Song in My Heart.”
Freddie Cole, who took the male jazz vocal honor, offered a beautifully subtle perf. Not only posing an ardent question, Cole found a dash of seductive humor in “What Are You Afraid Of?,” from his new Hi Note CD. While several performers came out swinging, Cole proved less is more with a cunning demonstration of class and taste.
Femme jazz vocal award went to Paula West, who phrased the old operetta classic “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” with a keen awareness of its sweeping musical structure and stunning, picturesque lyric.
For cabaret duo, Broadway’s Christine Ebersole and piano partner Billy Stritch offered a delightful buggy ride with “Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” and Ebersole reprised the poignant query “Will You?” from “Grey Gardens.”
Composer Rupert Holmes, primed for the Broadway opening of “Curtains,” the new tuner whose book he co-authored, remembered late singers Nancy LaMott and Susannah McCorkle, who featured his composition ‘The People That You Never Get to Know” in their repertoires.
Some 30 Manhattan reviewers serve as judges for the annual affair. Additional kudos went to vocalists Lisa Asher and Scott Coulter, pianist Cedar Walton and the jazz combo Ben Riley’s Monk Legacy Septet. Demetri Martin and Sarah Silverman topped comedy honors, along with TJ & Dave.
For revue, plaques were awarded to Tom Andersen, Tim Di Pasqua and Coulter, and David Colbert received the nod for that Big Apple staple, the piano bar. Gotham’s cozy new downtown performance space, the Metropolitan Room, also was cited.
Siegel kicks off the Town Hall Broadway by the Year series Feb. 26 with the musicals of 1928.