Music of the Nightlife
Scott & Barbara report on exactly what was happening behind the scenes at the 2004 Nightlife Awards
The Back Story
Let's begin 38 hours before the curtain time. It's 5am Sunday morning. Scott has just woken up from a 45-minute nap in terrible pain. Over the next 11 hours, the pain gets increasingly worse to the point where he is doubled over in agony. Unable to sleep or work, he is desperately searching for a solution to his troubles. A pediatrician friend on Long Island comes through with a prescription, but by 4pm the drugs have not yet kicked in. Barbara begs him to go to the Emergency Room. Scott stalls. At 4:20pm, the medicine starts to work. The pain slowly begins to subside to a level that barely allows work to continue -- and a lot of work is yet to be done.
While Barbara rides the phone, taking care of crucial communications (she had already been doing this day and night for a solid week), Scott finally emails the various pieces of the script to Kinko's. The script was created by a variety of generous and talented writers from the worlds of jazz, comedy, cabaret, and film; Scott himself wrote relatively little of the script but edited it together. At 7am on Monday, our film critic friend helps by going to Kinko's and printing out 17 copies of the script that he brings to Town Hall.
Later in the morning, Scott receives a phone call: Due to circumstances beyond her control, Betty Buckley has missed her flight from Dallas to New York. Uh oh. But not to worry -- yet. She's on standby for the next flight. If she gets on that plane, she'll arrive in time to close the show as planned. Now she will have no opportunity for a sound check; but her co-winner as Cabaret Legend, Kenny Werner, has arrived from South America and he'll look after the details on our end. The audience would miss her terribly if she didn't make it...
The Tech Rehearsal
Andrea Marcovicci arrives at Town Hall at 10:15am and becomes the soul of the show, meeting and greeting all of the performers during the course of the grueling tech rehearsal that runs all day long. Coming off a one-week period of vocal rest, she warmly speaks with the cast and crew throughout the day. She is the one who makes all of the entertainers understand that they are under one nightlife umbrella. Marcovicci has long been admired for her sparkling stage personality, but let it be known that she shines just as bright offstage.
Throughout the morning, we receive news that may require the program to be adjusted. We already knew that the distinguished actor Brian Murray has a terrible cold and won't be able to attend. Douglas Sills, who had been fighting a cold for two weeks, is checking with his doctor to find out if he'll be able to sing. Tovah Feldshuh is shooting an episode of Law and Order and probably won't arrive until after 10:30pm. (Of course, we don't know exactly how long the show is going to run.) Ute Lemper, although still performing, isn't going to be presenting. At this point, concerned that we might lose others as the day progresses, Scott gets on the phone. Nightlife legend Julie Wilson agrees to present; ironically, she'll end up introducing Ute Lemper. We tell Lea DeLaria of our concern about being short on presenters and she pulls out her cell phone and makes a spate of calls, ultimately reaching Tony Award winner Cady Huffman (The Producers). The leggy blonde graciously agrees and rushes over to The Town Hall to step in. DeLaria's efforts pay off for all concerned: We get a delightful surprise presenter and Lea is able to report from the stage, "I just saw Cady Huffman naked."
During The Show
Scott goes backstage and is greeted by the sight of an extraordinary array of talent jam-packed into the small stage left space. It's like being in an elevator with Robert Altman, David Brown, Helen Gurley Brown, Andrea Marcovicci, Alan King, Tammy Grimes, and Annie Ross. Next floor: Nirvana.
Having set aside a box in the loge for Alan King and his family, Scott says to the comedy legend, "You're not on until the beginning of the second act. Why don't you watch the first act; you've got a great seat with your wife and grandson." King shakes his head: "I never watch the show." And he stays backstage for the entire first act with his coat on, making hilarious comments to the cast and crew until he finally takes the stage -- by storm.
At two points during the show, Scott briefly goes out on stage. Barbara and sponsor Edythe Kenner are both concerned about the way he looks. It's not just his faltering health and obvious exhaustion, it's also his Madman of Manhattan hairstyle; four times before the show, he had cancelled haircut appointments because he was too busy to get away. At least his doctor, who returned from his vacation on Monday afternoon and is sitting watchfully in the orchestra, likes Scott's hair. He calls it "artistic."
Although the audience doesn't know it, director Jamie McGonnigal keeps juggling the order of the show as it progresses. Performers such as Judy Gold and Christine Andreas have to be moved up in the program order so that they'll have time to get to their next gigs. Production stage manager Laura Kravets and her crew do an exceptional job in keeping track of the changes and getting everyone out on stage at the right time.
Douglas Sills's cold symptoms don't matter a damn when weighed against his affection for Margaret Whiting, so he decides to sing -- but he doesn't have a piano player. Barbara suggests that he get together with Steven Ray Watkins, a finalist in the Male Cabaret Vocalist category who is also a great accompanist. Watkins steps in at the 11th hour, rehearses in the basement with Sills right before they go on -- and the result is stupendous. Barbara also suggests that Watkins step in to play the piano for Darius de Haas, who was added to the cast at the last minute, and Watkins -- a quick study and a really good sport -- rehearses with Darius in the basement during intermission. You'd never know they had so little time to rehearse from what was heard on stage.
When Tovah Feldshuh arrives at about 10:30pm, as promised, director McGonnigal tells her that it's Andrea's birthday. He thinks it would be a sweet surprise if Tovah could lead the audience in singing "Happy Birthday" to our host. Except that it ISN'T Andrea's birthday; McGonnigal hadn't realized she was joking when she told him that during the tech. As the audience begins singing, Andrea rushes out on stage to stop the chorus. It could have been an awkward situation in lesser hands, but Tovah and Andrea banter gracefully and turn it into the kind of funny, spontaneous moment that one can only experience in live entertainment.
The evening's most memorable entrance comes when Movin' Out's John Selya is introduced and crossed the stage to the music of Billy Joel over the sound system. It was Andrea's plan to get Selya to dance with her, come hell or high water; somehow, she also manages to get her leg up over Selya's shoulder. When Andrea returns back stage, Scott asks her if she had stretched in anticipation of her dramatic leg extension. She says "No," cringing in expectation of the pain she'll be in on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the male and female volunteers are swooning over Selya. (Earlier in the afternoon, when Selya was checking in, Barbara decided at that moment to take dance lessons. She also managed to speak two sentences to Selya, though she's not sure if they were coherent.)
Finally, Betty Buckley has shown up, having gotten on that standby flight. She closes the show with grace and style. At one point she put her microphone down while singing "Send in the Clowns" and her voice rings out pure and clear without the aid of any amplification. The effect is thrilling.
A cross-fertilization of genres continued at the post show party in the downstairs "Secret Garden" at Trattoria Dopo Teatro. Jazz winners Paula West, Allan Harris, and Eric Reed were spotted there along with comedy choices Greg Giraldo and Demetri Martin, plus cabaret winners Jeanne MacDonald, Jenifer Kruskamp, Phillip Officer, and Sharon McNight -- to name just a few. There was no shortage of nightlife superstars, either: Betty Buckley, Kenny Werner, Maureen McGovern, Lea DeLaria, and Ute Lemper joined the merrymaking, as did cabaret icons Julie Wilson and Steve Ross. The party, complete with pizza and biscotti, continued till almost 2am.
The show was long, but there were no acceptance speeches -- just introductions by a constellation of stars. It was four hours of virtually non-stop entertainment. If a cabaret enthusiast discovered a comedian, if a jazz patron fell in love with a cabaret artist, or if a standup comedy fan found a jazz singer he adored, then the show was doing its job. (The well-known cabaret variety show producer Jamie deRoy has already contacted us to get the number of one of the Nightlife Award comedy winners so that he might appear in her show.)
This was an expensive show to produce; the ad in The New York Times alone cost $18,000. Many thanks to ASCAP, BMI, Trattoria Dopo Teatro, Edythe Kenner, Thoroughbred Records, and TheaterMania.com for their sponsorship of the event. To help out further, several of the winners flew themselves in. Then there were the celebrity presenters, some of whom also performed; they were magnanimous in the giving of their time and artistry to help the show draw a crowd.
Scott will have to be on an antibiotic for one month and a second drug equally as long to be sure he's free of the illness that nearly felled him the night before the show. Nonetheless, he's feeling pretty good right now, and not just because he saw the awardees recognized. Our greatest satisfaction came from working with volunteers who supported this event because they realize the importance of promoting New York's nightlife. They flyered, emailed, helped to create the show's program and award plaques, put tickets in envelopes, wrangled the talent, and so on.
One of this year's finalists spent her Sunday afternoon buying stationery on behalf of the production. A boyfriend of a cabaret singer showed up at the VIP tables during the afternoon and gave the beleaguered Barbara a zippered plastic bag that said, "In Case of Emergency, Break Plastic"; the bag contained chocolates in the shape of liquor bottles, with genuine hooch inside! Performers involved in APAP shows over the weekend put flyers out for the visiting bookers. One of the judges stayed up long into the night to help put the party list together. A singer who not long ago performed on The Town Hall stage pitched in by steaming clothes backstage and buying coffee and tea. The man who provided cash prizes for the two standup comedians also supported the show by going around to various hotels and informing concierges of the event.
Finally, in a gesture of extraordinary generosity, a songwriting team sent a message to their huge e-mail list urging them to come to the Nightlife Awards -- this despite the fact that they were putting on their own show that evening! Truly, it was the people of the night who made the 2004 Nightlife Awards a reality.