@ the 2010 Bistro Awards

by Kevin Scott Hall

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday April 15, 2010

The 25th annual Bistro Awards were handed out in a long, raucous sold-out celebration at Gotham Comedy Club on April 13.

Founded in 1985 by Back Stage editor Sherry Eaker and Back Stage's Bistro Bits columnist at that time, Bob Harrington, the first few years consisted of Harrington naming the "best of" the year in various categories in his column. The show began in 1990. Harrington died in 1992 and the Bistro Awards were then awarded by a small committee of influential critics and industry professionals.

"The Bistro Award can only be won once in any particular category," Eaker (now Back Stage Editor-at-Large) explained to EDGE in a pre-show interview. "It can be created from year to year as they best fit the recipients, but the object is not to choose the best anything or anyone of the year, but to recognize and congratulate the accomplishments of those who have done something special during that year."

Eaker recalled some of the highlights of past shows, some of which were shown in film clips during this year's show: Chita Rivera presenting Bobby Short with his Lifetime Achievement Award; George Shearing presenting to Dame Cleo Laine; and Liza Minnelli presenting to Charles Aznavour.

Stars shine in acceptance speeches

In fact, the Bistros have a good track record of getting the big winners to appear, and this year was no exception: Elaine Stritch (Extraordinary Cabaret Artist) and Mitzi Gaynor (Bob Harrington Lifetime Achievement Award) both took to the stage and thrilled the audience with their showbiz anecdotes.

Graciously introduced by Donna McKechnie (who appeared with her in the original cast of Company), Stritch took to the stage in a diva-esque black ensemble (including cloche hat) and long white scarf.

Known for her tell-it-like-it-is remarks, Stritch recalled "Company" as "the coldest show I've ever been in and it had nothing to do with the temperature," but singled McKechnie out for her kindness.

She talked of her fear of doing cabaret, but closed by saying, "I didn't want to come down here tonight but I'm awfully glad I did. I got this lovely award and I'll find out what the hell it is when I get home."

Gaynor (who will open with a new show at Feinstein's in May) was introduced by Rex Reed, who basically read an entire column about her in his over-the-top, florid prose, which befit the legendary star.

Resplendent in black with blue earrings and necklace and upswept blonde 'do, Gaynor told hilarious stories, dishing her friend Shirley MacLaine and telling a ribald tale of visiting a handsome foot doctor for an injury. "I took everything off for the foot doctor except my earrings, eyelashes and heels."

Silver Anniversary Awards were given to actress Tovah Feldshuh, pianist Paul Trueblood and pianist Ronny Whyte. Feldshuh performed an up-to-date special song parody ("Everything's Coming up Bistro") with her characteristic verve and good humor.

Other highlights included young Danielle Grabianowski, who had the unenviable position of following Stritch. She made the most of it with her '30s-era vocals yet contemporary appeal. A complete original, she wowed the crowd.

Star of stage, screen and television, Alan Cumming sang from his debut CD, "I Bought a Blue Car Today," which he said celebrated his becoming an American citizen in 2008.

Raissa Katonah Bennett, feted for bringing outdoor cabaret concerts to Tudor City Greens, sang "Come to the Garden" and was joined by singers who had performed there, who stood at various places in the audience and created heavenly harmony.

Comic Jim David made the most of his short gig as one of the co-hosts, irreverently chiding (absent) winner Michael Feinstein by saying, "I think he's in hiding." (Feinstein's Broadway show with Dame Edna unexpectedly closed recently.) Then, after dashing Cheyenne Jackson performed one of his solos from "The Power of Two" show and CD (a collaboration with Feinstein), David quipped, "I look like that on the inside."

As these awards ceremonies often do, the show ran for over four hours, taxing the patience of most audience members, many of whom started leaving at the three-hour mark, despite the formidable talent on stage.

Those who stayed were treated to a get-down performance by Anne Steele, and a tour-de-force by Gretchen Reinhagen from her tribute show to Kaye Ballard.

Even so, it might be wise for future directors to limit winners (other than Lifetime Achievement recipients) to five minutes total time, inclusive of song, patter and thank-yous. A shortened show might allow more performers to be seen by more people.

The Winners

The winners of the 2010 Bistro Awards are as follows:

Bob Harrington Lifetime Achievement Award: Mitzi Gaynor

Extraordinary Cabaret Artist: Elaine Stritch

Silver Anniversary Awards: Tovah Feldshuh, Paul Trueblood, Ronny Whyte

Major Engagement: Liz Calloway

Comedy Series: Celebrity Autobiography: In Their Own Words

Special Award: The Concerts at Tudor Green/Producer: Raissa Katona Bennett

Recording: Alan Cumming: "I Bought a Blue Car Today"

Recording: Julie Reyburn: "Live at Feinstein's"

ASCAP Great American Songbook Award - Duo Show: Christine Ebersole, Michael Feinstein, Cheyenne Jackson, David Hyde Pierce

Special Material: Richard Eisenberg: "Two Again"

Ira Eaker Special Achievement Award: Danielle Grabianowski

Jazz Vocalist: Nicole Henry

Special Award: I've Got a Little Twist

Special Award: The Salon, created by Mark Janas

Songwriter: Brett Kristofferson

Entertainer: Loli Marquez-Sterling

Entertainer: Lee Summers

BMI Award/Director: Peter Napolitano

Tribute Show: Gretchen Reinhagen: "Special Kaye: A Tribute to the Incomparable Kaye Ballard"

Theme Show: Sarah Rice: "Screen Gems: Songs of Old Hollywood"

Vocalist: Anne Steele

Kevin Scott Hall is the author of Off the Charts! (2010, iUniverse) and the memoir, A Quarter Inch from My Heart (2014, Wisdom Moon).