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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Back to the Bistro Awards with Buddy Beaverhausen

A chance encounter, on the street after show, with Ben Vereen
"The butcher, the baker the grocer, the clerk/Get paid for what they do but no applause." There's No Business Like Show Business seemed to be the theme of last night's 29th annual Bistro Awards, certainly, saluting some of cabaret's most outstanding artists  It might have been Fat Tuesday in New Orleans, but in New York City, it was once again a parade of incredible performances reminding us what a vital and special art form our city's cabaret is.

Despite the night's frigid weather, Manhattan's glitterati once more filled Chelsea's Gotham Comedy Club to be entertained and emotionally moved by the city's hardest working, tireless, most dedicated singers and comics. Shellen Lubin, who directed last year's unforgettable triumph, returned to helm the event produced by Sherry Eaker who has been doing this show every year since 1990. She took to the stage, early in the program, to talk about its beginnings at the legendary but sadly long-defunct Eighty-Eights in Greenwich Village.

Kevin Scott Hall, in tux, interviews William Blake on the red carpet
I came in from the frigid, arctic temperatures and onto the red carpet, in the warmth of the klieg lights to be interviewed by my good friend and Bistro Committee member, Kevin Scott Hall. We'll soon see if I made the final edit, in the video, at the Awards' website.

Then, it was downstairs to mix and mingle with the cabaret community congregated there at the complementary champagne and hors d'oeuvres lounge. I had a glass of the bubbly, and was mostly in the company of friend, singer/actor Ron Giles. Cabaret legend Julie Wilson was there as were several of the night's perormer/recipients.

Upstairs, it was showtime. I bumped into 2012 Bistro winner Amy Beth Williams on the way. Acts were introduced by host Jeff Harnar, the Bistro Committe members Sidney Myer (NYC's Mr Cabaret himself and booking manager of Don't Tell Mama), the riotously funny and outrageous comedian Jim David and, of course, Ms Eaker, glam in a striking red ensemble.

But the Bistros are really about the talent and this year was exceptional; a pyrotechnic display of brassy barnstormers. Highlights included cabaret circuit veteran Vickie Phillips (Song Interpretation Award) in crimson hair and basic black, crooning Jacques Brel's "Marieke;" William Blake's hair-raising gospel rendition of "Take It to the Limit" (Best Vocalist); Amy Wolk's comic grammar correction of pop and show tunes (appropriately Best Musical Comedy Performance); Jazz Artist Bria Skonberg's Depression-era singing (as if possessed by Bessie Smith) with trumpet; Karen Wyman, (Acclaimed Return to Cabaret winner) and Sharon (pronounced Sharown) Clark (also Best Vocalist) jazzy redo of "Give a Little Whistle" from Disney's Pinocchio.

Anita Gillette, photo by S. Sorokoff
The evening's penultimate performance was given by Anita Gillette, introduced by the Bistros' Robert Windeler. Ms Gillette is a familiar face from stage, screen and television. She is a Tony nominee for Chapter Two and probably best known by audiences worldwide for her co-starring role in the movie, Moonstruck. The perennial ingenue, she gave an ebullient acceptance speech for the evening's Major Engagement Award. "They created an Award just for me," Gillette gushed. "I actually knew I was was going to get it!"

Pert and bubbly at 77, Anita Gillette discussed, before singing, her professional relationship to Irving Berlin and explained that her critically acclaimed cabaret debut, "After All," was a very recent development in her long career. She has performed it, in NYC, at the now defunct Feinstein's, at Birdland and at 54 Below.

Finally, Ira Eaker Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Ben Vereen, made his acceptance. The Tony Award winner (for Pippin) repeated his phone number to the crowd. "Hire me," he insisted. "Because I have not played all the clubs in New York!"

Quite the raconteur, Mr Vereen talked about his truly fascinating career in theater before launching into a survivor's rendition of "Here's to Life." Last year, Lifetime Achievement winner, Lainie Kazan, also touched our souls with her rendition of this song. Maybe this is becoming the Bistro Awards official sign-off number!
Amy Beth Williams, 2012 Bistro Award winner

Toward the end of the ceremony, Sherry Eaker thanked the band (Daryl Kojak again marvelous as musical director), the Committee, the Bistro Awards recipients and the audience. She also gave a poignant farewell to Erv Raible, Bistro Committee member and iconic NYC cabaret impresario.

The Gotham Comedy Club staff was, once more, nothing less than gracious and attentive without exception. As this year's show ran slightly over its intended time, we were given the bum's rush out the door by management (there was a comedy act coming up), so I immediately went to the coat room, grabbed up my parka and was out the door, back into the bitter cold but with such warm feelings from my Bistros evening. As I got ready to hail a cab, who did I spot on the street but Ben Vereen! Kind of hard to miss as he was wearing a top hat.
Buddy B at Bistros with friend Ron Giles

I introduced myself, shook hands, told him I was reporting for Queens Our City Radio and asked if I could take his picture. (He gracefully agreed to that. See photo at top.) Mr Vereen is an absolute gentleman; surprisingly demure and even shy offstage.

We shook hands and said goodnight, then I was off in a cab, plotzed from a long day. But what a wonderful night in Wonderland with the Bistro Awards once more. One of NYC's glistening treasures or, as Sherry Eaker says in her program notes, a "BISTRO-tique" of entertainment.

Bless you, Bistros! We look forward to your big, milestone 30th next March.

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