On the Town and An American in Paris Win Big at the Astaire Awards

The Fred & Adele Astaire Awards gala last night was a blast for dance lovers. Celebrating dance on Broadway, the program was both entertaining and edifying. It started with a burst of exuberance from On the Town’s opening number with Tony Yazbeck, Clyde Alves and Jay Armstrong Johnson. But equally entertaining, throughout the evening, was Christina Bianco, who imitated Broadway divas, from Liza Minnelli to Barbra Streisand and from Bernadette Peters to Kristen Chenoweth, with outrageous accuracy.

There were ties in two categories. For Best Choreographer, both Christopher Wheeldon for An American in Paris, and Josh Bergasse for On the Town won. And for Outstanding Male Dancer, Robert Fairchild of An American in Paris tied with Tony Yazbeck of On the Town. Tony mentioned that his love interest in the musical, Miss Turnstiles, was played by Robbie’s sister, Megan Fairchild.

The Outstanding Female Dancer went to Leanne Cope, who is sumptuous and gorgeous as Lise in An American in Paris, totally convincing as the love object of three men. Plus, she’s a Royal Ballet dancer who can sing with a full-throated Broadway voice.

Lending emotional heft to the evening was the Lifetime Achievement Award to Joel Grey, presented by his daughter Jennifer Grey (of Dirty Dancing fame), tearful after watching the montage of his spectacular six-decade career.  She praised him as a professional who taught her so much, but also as a dad who widened her world.

The witty Tovuh Feldshuh introduced Harvey Weinstein, who was honored for his Outstanding Contribution to Musical Theater and Film. After wise-cracking ("Can you imagine Harvey doing a plié?") she pointed out that he deployed dance in many of his major films. Then Mia Michaels, the choreographer who worked with him on Finding Neverland, presented the award, saying he was her “badass big brother” because he pushed everyone to be beyond good.

In the category of Outstanding Choreography in a Feature Film, Akram Khan won for his work in Desert Dancer, about a man in Iran who wants to dance even though dancing is illegal there. (The film clip shown made me want to go see the film immediately.)

To make it a real show, we were treated to an intriguing duet from Finding Neverland; the “Popularity” number from George M! (a musical associated with Joel Grey), performed by American Dance Machine for the 21st Century; and the super-snazzy four porters in Warren Carlyle’s “Life is Like a Train” number from On the Twentieth Century—who were told before they left the stage that they won a special ensemble award. The program, directed by Joe Lanteri, also included performances by members of the Fred Astaire Dance Studios and Studio Bleu in Ashburn, Virginia.

For more on the winners and the amazing shape-shifting powers of Christina Bianco, click on this ShowBiz news story. For a list of the nominees and judging committee, of which I am a member, click here.

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Inside one of Interlochen's brand-new dance studios. Courtesy Interlochen Center for the Arts

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