By Byrne Harrison
Thanks to my day job and my theatre work, I go to a lot of benefits. Without a doubt, this weekend's American Songbook Project's "Name That Tune" Benefit at the Edison Ballroom was one of the best I've attended in quite a while.
Honoring singing legend Margaret Whiting and director Michael Mayer, the "Name That Tune" Benefit featured Broadway stars, eye-catching costumes based on the titles of popular songs, and some top-notch entertainment.
The evening began with a cocktail hour where guests perused an amazing silent auction and some marvelous raffle prizes, while a video played featuring performances from Michael Mayer's productions. This was followed by a juried costume contest. The Celebrity Judges Panel featured five-time Tony Award-winning costume designer William Ivy Long, NY1's Frank DiLella, Jujamcyn President Jordan Roth, casting director Tara Rubin, jazz vocalist Hilary Kole, Time Out NY's theatre and cabaret critic Adam Feldman, and arts patron Frank Skillern. The grand-prize winner (in a costume entitled "Cry Me A River") won a one-week vacation to Paris and the French Riviera courtesy of Radisson Blue Hotels, including round-trip airfare.
The event also included a live auction with hosted by Jim Caruso, the host of Jim Caruso's Cast Party every Monday at Birdland. Caruso proved an able auctioneer, bringing in thousands of dollars for prizes including a vacation to Vancouver's Westin Bayshore Hotel and an award-winning wilderness retreat on Vancouver Island, a nine-day vacation in Switzerland, and a private performance for the winner and 30 friends by Brooke Shields and John McDaniel. The bidding was spirited . . . very, very spirited.
Following the auction, actress Maureen Moore introduced the tribute Margaret Whiting which highlighted Whiting's many contributions to music during her decades-long recording career. The tribute featured a haunting interpretation of "My Foolish Heart" by Nellie McKay.
Honoree Michael Mayer was introduced by actress Jane Kaczmarek and Tony Award-winning librettist and lyricist Dick Scanlan (Scanlan's stories were priceless), and featured Kate Baldwin singing "Look What Happened to Mabel" and a beautiful mash-up (to use the current term) of "Look to the Rainbow" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
President of the board of directors of The American Songbook Project, Michael Putman Estwanik stated, "The evening's honorees, Margaret Whiting and Michael Mayer, emblemize the scope of our organization's cultural mission. It is our belief that American popular songs are our country's unique contribution to world culture. With so many music programs in our schools being drastically cut, our role is becoming essential if we want to foster an appreciation of American popular songs among the young."
Since its founding in 1999, The American Songbook Project has been bringing Broadway and top cabaret talent into New York City schools so that young people can hear great songs, both classic and contemporary, by American songwriters.
I offer the following photos as proof that, 1) there were some amazing costumes and 2) I am not a photographer. There was a professional photographer at the event; as soon as I find a link to those photos, I will pass it along.