This review of The 1998 Back Stage Bistro Awards at The Supper Club was written by Andrew Martin and appeared in Volume III, Issue 1 (April, 1998) of Applause! Applause! published by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens.
The 1998 Back Stage Bistro Awards
The Supper Club (240 West 47th Street, NYC)
Reviewed 3/9/98 at 7:00 p.m.
If the MAC Awards are the Tony Awards of cabaret, the Bistro Awards are undeniably the Golden Globes. Ever since the late cabaret critic Bob Harrington launched the first list of Bistro Award winners in the theater trade publication thirteen years ago, the Bistros have continued to gain momentum as one of the cabaret medium's most eagerly-anticipated annual events.
For those of us who've been on the cabaret scene in New York since the 1980s, the list of Back Stage Bistro Award winners reads for us like a surreal trip down memory lane, just to realize the wide number of artists who've passed through cabaret's portals and gone on to greater glory. Winners from before 1990 include Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney, Linda Wallem, Emo Phillips, Rita Rudner, Judy Tenuta, Michael Feinstein, Jenifer Lewis, Faith Prince, Maxine Lapiduss, Vicki Lewis, Colin Quinn, Brett Butler, Rockapella, and Hazelle Goodman. In 1990, the Bistros were officially set forth as a live performance event at Eighty Eight's, with memorable performances by BETTY, Sara Zahn, Karen Saunders, Wiseguys, Rainie Cole, and Craig Carnelia and Maureen Silliman topping the bill, not to mention speeches by Sylvia Syms, Carol Lawrence, and Julius LaRosa among others.
Since that time, several changes have taken place. A committee of five now oversee the awards selection process (this includes Editor-In-Chief Sherry Eaker, cabaret critics Roy Sander and John Hoglund, and comedy columnists Donna Coe and Amelia David being called upon for consultation in the standup comedy categories), and the ceremony has shifted homes from the Ballroom (now the home of Catch A Rising Star on West 28th Street) to the Supper Club (at the old Edison Theater). However, the Bistros have retained Bob Harrington's tradition of never awarding an individual in the same category more than once. (Artists may receive awards in several different categories over the course of their career).
And as usual, not every spectator agreed with every choice on the part of the selection committee. There were, of course, those for whom all present could be ecstatically happy; Jeff Macauley was a shoe-in for his delectable "MWAH! The Dinah Shore Show" (Outstanding Theme Show) at Eighty Eight's last season. Jane A. Johnston (Outstanding Vocalist), who was nothing less than a total wow at Danny's last autumn, continued her history of outstanding performance on stage at the Supper Club. And, in turns too marvelous to mention in detail, Audrey Morris (Outstanding Singer/Instrumentalist), Christian Nova (Outstanding Recording), Elena Bennett (Outstanding Vocalist), Joyce Breach (Outstanding Recording), Jim David (Outstanding Comedy Performer), and a newly-slim (and AMAZING-looking) Jeanne MacDonald were nothing short of splendid. None of these, however, measured up to the genius that IS vocal group Minimum Wage (Outstanding Musical Comedy), featuring Jeff LaGreca, Charlie LaGreca, Sean Harris and the superb Brian Chenoweth, or the show's crowning highlight, an appearance by Georga Osborne (Outstanding Musical Comedy).
Then, of course, were those individuals whose selection for award receipt was simply baffling. At the indisputable top of this list is the cast (and all others involved) with "Heartbeat It's A Lovebeat", who presented the bubblegum anthems "Sugar, Sugar" and "Make Your Own Kind Of Music" along with choreography so unsyncopated that one more flub might have qualified it for performance art...barely. Rob Maitner did a fine performance job, and Mark Cannistraro provided visibly perfect direction, on "I Don't Want To Be The President", tho' Eric Lane Barnes' music and lyrics frequently missed the mark in the presentation from "Fairy Tales" at the Duplex. But one of the most miserable moments of the evening came in the unfortunate guise of Richard Skipper as Carol Channing (Dolly, won't you ever go away, again?). One might forgive Skipper, and then only might, if he didn't use his talents to make a name impersonating the singularly most imitatable personality the entertainment world has ever produced. The other was Mark Nadler's vomitously deliberate upstaging of the divine KT Sullivan while accompanying the lady. In addition, though a video portion showing the formidable talents of Tommy Femia (Outstanding Impersonation) went off without a hitch, clips of Judi Connelli and David Campbell weren't quite so lucky, and made all the more painful by a microphone through which we could barely hear Portia Nelson's lovely speech about both artists.
Comedian Jeff Ross MC'd in a style for which not enough superlatives can ever exist (and, in fact, the presenters of the Bistro Awards absolutely have the consummate permanent MC in Ross should they decide to keep him in a position for which he could have been born), and Marcia Lewis' receipt of the Bob Harrington Lifetime Achievement Award provided a perfect climax to the festivities (even if it meant having to gaze upon the regrettable countenance of Donald Smith, who brought the Broadway legend on stage with the dullest speech this side of a wake).
In any case, the Back Stage Bistro Awards continue to be one of THE reasons to venture out during a cabaret season, if simply to see some of the very best of today's popular artists in the medium. I know I'll be there for ceremony number fourteen, next spring. See you there!