Presented by Patricia Watt, the Producer of the Astaire Awards and The Douglas Watt Family Fund for the Performing Arts, as well as The Fred Astaire International Dance Studios, the event began with a VIP cocktail reception followed by the show and awards presentation. For the first time, the awards were live-streamed across the United States.
The ceremony began with a performance of “New York, New York” from the three-time Astaire Award nominated musical On The Town. Proceeding, actress and impressionist Christina Bianco channeled Kristen Chenowith and Bernadette Peters in a rousing duet of sorts to “Shall We Dance.” She brought some of her other impersonations into the performance including Barbara Streisand, Julie Andrews, Liza Minelli, Sutton Foster and Patti Lupone. Following that performance, Astaire Awards Executive Producer Patricia Watt and Director Joe Lanteri took the stage to welcome the crowd to the awards ceremony.
She thanked the audience for coming and listed a few names in particular including nominee Warren Carlyle saying, “If everyone were like Warren Carlyle, the world would be a better place.” She then shared that part of the proceeds from the event benefit The Douglas Watt Foundation, and brought Executive Director of the foundation Jessica Zippin to share more about its mission.
The foundation works with children, usually on the autism spectrum, to help develop social skills and communication through dance. “For children who are nonverbal, it’s important to learn to communicate through their bodies”
She commended him for his commitment to dance in his movies despite not being “a guy who started at the ballet bar.”
“There’s a reason why Harvey Weinstein is thanked more than God,” she said adding that it is because, “He believes in us, he believes in artists.”
Proceeding her introduction, performers Jonathan Ritter and Astaire Award Nominee Melanie Moore took to the stage to perform a rendition of “Neverland” from the musical Finding Neverland, which he produces. This was then followed by a video tribute of dance sequences from his movies including Shakespeare in Love and Pulp Fiction.
Finding Neverland choreographer and Astaire Awards nominee Mia Michaels presented the award to Weinstein. “Not only was he the father of Finding Neverland,” she said, “he was my teacher and my bad ass big brother.”
“[Harvey] You make the world and the arts a better place,” she shared before welcoming Weinstein to the stage,
Harvey Weinstein opened up his speech by stating, “I am not leader of Finding Neverland, that’s Diane Paulus. I’m just the bad ass big brother.”
He pointed out that Finding Neverland was not nominated for any Tony Awards, yet still makes $1 million per week. He stressed, “We need new voices on Broadway. We need new guys like me on Broadway.”
“I told my girlfriend, I’m going to make that into a movie,” he said.
Honorary Chair Countess LuAnn DeLesseps and Actor Holt McCallany introduced Jack Rothweiler, President of the Fred Astaire International Dance Studios. Jack discussed the company and introduced the performance choreographed by Steven Powell.
Following the dance performance actress Alysia Reiner and David Alan Basche presented the award for Outstanding Choreography in a Feature Film, which went to Akram Khan (Desert Dancer). Not able to attend the awards, Desert Dancer’s director Richard Raymond accepted the award on his behalf.
The movie, which is about a dancer’s pursuit to dance in Iran, where it is illegal, was a passion project for Raymond. When he initially approached Khan, he was too busy. Then through Raymond’s persistence, Khan joined onboard. Khan, via an email read by Raymond, said,” Raymond made his dream into our dream.”
Host Christina Bianco then took to the stage to introduce a performance of “Life Is Like A Train” from On The Twentieth Century with the show’s porters Philip Attmore, Rick Faugno, Drew King and Richard Riaz Yoder. At the conclusion of the performance, the men were surprised with an Astaire Award for Outstanding Dance Ensemble.
Actor Richard Thomas discussed the legacy of Douglas Watt, the namesake of the Astaire Award’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Founder of the Drama Desk and Drama Critics circle as well as the Astaire Awards, Thomas said, “He always made it his business to highlight the extraordinary,” adding, “he would be thrilled that it’s being given to extraordinary song and dance man Joel Grey.”
“Joel Grey is an artist. He is an artist when he sings, when he acts, when he dances,” she said adding, “He in his singular voice expresses the truth.” Proceeding was a musical medley of some of Grey’s most famous performances including Cabaret and Chicago performed by Leeds Hill, Scott Wise, Ryan Silverman and Lee Roy Reams followed by a video tribute showcasing his dancing.
His daughter Jennifer Grey, wiping away tears, took to the stage to pay tribute to her dad. “I didn’t expect to feel like that,” she said, “I feel like Liza [Minelli] all gaspy and stuff.”
Grey said she remembers that when she was six, she was sitting in the dressing room watching her father put on his face makeup to become The Emcee. She noticed that as he was applying more and more of the makeup, the less of her father she saw and more he became the character.
However more than being a performer, she said that his bigger accomplishment is how he lives his life and his “gigantic” heart. “This world is just markedly better for him being here,” she said.
When accepting his award, Joel Grey opened by saying, “I’m reminded that I’ve always been in love with dance and always will.
His path to dance was a rough one, he said sharing stories of his childhood dance teacher yelling at him for having a tough time breaking into dance. His first paid performance was in a Jones Beach Dance show called Mardi Gras. After nearly giving up, Hal Prince gave him a call for a show he thought he’d be good for, which was Cabaret. To conclude, he thanked a litany of top Broadway choreographers for helping him with his career including Kathleen Marshall and Bob Fosse.
“My life was in their hands and they gave it to me,” he said.
Lee Roy Reams and Scott Wise presented the Astaire Award for Outstanding Female Dancer to Leanne Cope (An American In Paris). She shared that she first fell in love with dance by watching presenter Jennifer Grey in her movie Dirty Dancing.
Kathleen Marshall and Patricia Wilcox presented the award for Outstanding Choreography on Broadway to Joshua Bergasse (On The Town) and Christopher Wheeldon (An American In Paris). Bergasse shared that he started dancing when he was a 3-year-old in his mother’s basement and dedicated the award to her.
The award ceremony concluded with a performance by Studio Bleu Dance Center. VIP guests then enjoyed a special reception at the Richard Rosenthal Pavillion. Presenters were given special gift bags with items including: Happy Hankies from The Handkerchief Shop; Smooth & Repair thermal protecting balm and gift certificates for a cut and blow-dry or deep conditioning and blow-dry at the trendy new Salon Ziba on West 57th Street; a body-face-head razor from HeadBlade as seen in MoMA (and HeadSlick shave cream); a $200 gift certificate for cosmetic dentistry from Dr. Catrise Austin; pareos from Serena and Lily; arnica gel from Boiron; Pure Luxury Argan De-Frizz & Shine Mist by Rich; “Breaking Bad” Heisenberg action figures from Mezco; MIXIT silver car charger and Lightning to USB cable from Belkin; Pipsqueaks mini-grahams for kids; Still Standing pain-relieving foot spray (for red carpet fatigue); chocolate chip cookies from Tate’s Bake Shop; Green Garmento reusable dry cleaning bags (to help the planet), and Brownie Smidgens from Bake-tique 212, a high-end New York artisanal dessert caterer.
The nominees for Best Female Dancer were: Annaleigh Ashford (You Can’t Take It with You); Leanne Cope (An American In Paris); Jill Paice (An American In Paris); Megan Fairchild (On The Town); Erin Davie (Sideshow); Emily Padgett (Sideshow); XiaoChuan Xie (The King and I); Melanie Moore (Finding Neverland).
The nominees for Best Choreographer were: Christopher Wheeldon (An American In Paris); Joshua Bergasse (On The Town); Christopher Gattelli (The King and I); Warren Carlyle (On The Twentieth Century); Casey Nicholaw (Something Rotten); Scott Graham & Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly (The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time); Steven Hoggett (The Last Ship); Mia Michaels (Finding Neverland).
The nominees for Best Choreography in a Feature Film were: Longinus Fernandes (The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel); Aakomon Jones (Get On Up); Aakomon Jones (Pitch Perfect 2); Akram Khan (Desert Dancer); Alphonse Poulin (Match); Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys); Travis Wall (The Wedding Ringer).
Photography by Presley Ann/PatrickMcMullan.com