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30th Fred & Adele Astaire Awards Soar: Liza Minnelli Accepts Douglas Watt Lifetime Achievement Award

Originally Posted: June 15, 2012

Edward Callaghan

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Tony Danza and Liza Minelli at the Astaire Awards. (Photo: Jonathan Ziegler/PatrickMcMullan.com)

The 30th Fred & Adele Astaire Awards would have made their namesakes proud as the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at NYU stage sparkled with elegant dance numbers, athletic jumps and soaring leaps thanks to an endless supply of brilliant dancers - both newbies and veterans.

Following red carpet arrivals and an elegant cocktail reception, guests filed in quickly to the handsome theater with its perfect sightlines from every seat. At once a video montage began reminding one and all of the great artistry of the legendary performers. Then a tiny boy - Luke Spring - walked onto the stage, put on his tap shoes and then dazzled the sophisticated crowd with his mesmerizing footwork comparable to Fred Astaire. "He would have been very pleased with that performance," Astaire's daughter Ava Astaire McKenzie said, as jaws dropped and the audience began a thunderous ovation.

Baryshnikov gives Liza a Russian bear hug while Tony Danza applauds. (Photo: Jonathan Ziegler/PatrickMcMullan.com)

Producer Patricia Watt and Ava Astaire McKenzie - daughters of the Astaire Awards co-founders Douglas Watt and Fred Astaire respectively - welcomed one and all and presented a special Founder's Award to three time Tony Award winning producer Kathleen Raitt.

Jessica Zippin who heads up the Dance & Movement Therapy Program for Autistic children, one of the evening's beneficiaries gave a moving speech on the power of dance to even reach, the sometimes unreachable.

Award winning filmmaker Albert Maysles and actor John Turtorro paired to present the award for Outstanding Director of a Dance Documentary to the director of "Pina". Tamara Tunie and Countess LuAnn de Lesseps presented the award for Excellence in Choreography in Film to "The Artist".

Joe Lanteri, Founder and Director of NYC Dance Alliance Foundation and director of the Astaire Awards show gave heartfelt testimony as to why dance lifts the mind, the soul and has its own healing abilities. He then introduced 18 year-old Shannen O'Neill who performed to a special arrangement of Gershwin's "S'Wonderful" that had the crowds cheering. Moments later, she accepted the 2nd Adele Astaire Scholarship from award-winning choreographer and director Rob Ashford.

Adding to the excitement was a group of 14-18 year old boys who charged to the stage to perform a high energy, athletic turn of the anthemic "Seize the Days" from the smash musical "Newsies" choreographed by Astaire Nominee Christopher Gatelli that left the crowd breathless. And all, this with only two days of training in the "Newsies Boot Camp".

As the evening promised, there was a special tribute to legendary dancer Gwen Verdon and the inimitable Bob Fosse with the original cast from "Fosse" re-creating their critically acclaimed performances in several Fosse numbers. The troupe wowed the audience who thought the evening could not get better - and then it did as presenter Chita Rivera, flashing lots of leg, strode to the stage.

Clearly thrilled to be there honoring her longtime pal, Chita shared stories of Liza Minnelli taking over the lead in "Chicago" from Gwen Verdon and feigned falling asleep as she read the seemingly endless credits of her pal Liza who was to receive The Douglas Watt Lifetime Achievement Award ending with "and last week she won the Indy 500." Liza laughed uproariously and was tickled when Marvin Hamlisch termed her Kander & Ebb's "muse" and Tony Danza said, "She's a standup, knock around broad," by way of tribute. The surprise was tripled when her old dancing partner - on and off stage - Mikhail Baryshnikov stepped out on the stage and led the group in presenting her the award. Misha had snuck into the theater after Liza and the guests were seated. Needless to say there were several standing ovations and Liza strode to stage center basking in the adulation.

Robert Hartwell, Kelli O'Hara, Carolyn Kendall Buchter, Matthew Broderick, and Matt Sandy. (Photo: Jonathan Ziegler/PatrickMcMullan.com)

But the evening did not end there. Tony Award winner Karen Ziemba presented the Award for Best Male Dancer on Broadway to Leslie Odom, Jr. (Leap of Faith); Lee Roy Reams and Melissa Errico presented the Award for Best Female Dancer on Broadway to Lisa Nicole Wilkerson (Porgy & Bess); and five time Astaire Award winning choreographer Susan Stroman and "Smash" choreographer Josh Bergasse presented the Excellence in Choreography on Broadway Award to Ronald K. Brown (Porgy & Bess).

Odom Jr. shared a telling story about fellow honoree Liza Minnelli and a middle of the night call he received from her after "Leap of Faith's" less-than-favorable reviews came in. "Leslie, you're fabulous!" Minnelli said. "And smile on your bows."

The show came to a rousing close with a group of some 40 young dancers from Steppin' Out, a small studio in Missouri, performed an electric, tear up the stage, number set to Barry Manilow's "New York City Rhythm" while Broadway vocalist Richard H. Blake sang.

Presenters Tamara Tunie and Countess LuAnn de Lesseps. (Photo: Jonathan Ziegler/PatrickMcMullan.com)

Following the show, guests including Liza and entourage moved up to the Fifth Floor Grand Hall with its dead-on views looking up Fifth Avenue to The Empire State Building. The stunning setting was the ideal location and brought the elegance of another era back for the likes of Hamptons regulars Elissa Stein, Caroline Lieberman, Dr. Penny Grant, Pamela Morgan, Lionel Casseroux, Jacquelin Murphy, Regina Kravitz, Randi Rahm, Andrew Wargo, Ronny Cohen, Edward Hummel, Jennifer Taylor, Antonio Nino Vendome, Kat Schaffer, Kathleen Marshall, Teri Gold, Ella Baff, Susan Burnside, Scarlett Pildes, Matt Sandy of sponsor Medea Vodka.

The extraordinary celebration of dance was presented by Ava Astaire McKenzie and The Douglas Watt Family Fund for the Performing Arts and benefited the Fund's Dance & Movement Therapy Program and The NYC Dance Alliance. Executive Producer, Patricia Watt. Producer, NYC Dance Alliance. Associate Producers Sarah Bierstock and Carolyn Kendall Buchter, Writer Jenny Lyn Bader, Stage Manager, Lionel A. Christian, Lighting Designer, Keith A. Truax, Assistant Lighting designer Simone Zwarenstein, Wardrobe Supervisor and Video, Website & Program Design, Kevin Harkins.

The Honorary Chairs Emeritus for The Astaire Awards were Jacques Azoulay, Countess LuAnn DeLesseps, and Wendy Federman. The Gala Chairs were Carolyn Kendall Buchter and Alix Michel and the Benefit Chair Sara Johnson Kaplan.

The glittering evening benefited the Douglas Watt Family Fund for the Performing Arts Dance & Movement Therapy Program for Autistic Children and the New York City Dance Alliance.

Sponsors included New York City Dance Alliance, Capezio, Studio Vendome and The Lambs Club.


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Guest (howard banks) from boca raton,fl says::
Liza,you are the cream,that rises to the top,the best to you always.
Jun 20, 2012 8:42 pm


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