By Andrew Poretz …
The entire world knows about the Oscars, the Tony Awards, and the Grammy Awards. On the island of Manhattan (which some people think IS the entire world), there is an award that means more to New York cabaret performers and directors than any of those awards: the MAC Awards, presented by the Manhattan Association of Cabarets at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side. A couple of hundred cabaret luminaries (and other people, as Jim Caruso might say) were on hand to celebrate the 37th MAC Awards presentation. The evening – as long as you’d expect for an awards show (quite long) – also featured a number of excellent performances.
The event was produced and directed by Michael Kirk Lane and Amy Wolk. Musical direction was provided by Nate Buccieri, with Joseph Wallace on bass and Jeremy Yaddaw on drums.
Lifetime achievement awards were presented to Ricky Ritzel and Ken Page. Jillian Laurain received the Hanson Award, presented by the Board of Directors to a performer who has done excellent work over a sustained period of time and has not yet been recognized with a MAC Award nomination. A downloadable program can be found HERE.
Here are some notable highlights of the evening, followed by the full list of winners. (Click HERE for the complete list of nominees.) Notable presenters included K.T. Sullivan, Lee Roy Reams, Karen Mason, Eric Michael Gillett, Jim Caruso, Klea Blackhurst, and Adam Feldman,
The event, which also celebrated 50 years of New York cabaret (MAC was founded 40 years ago), kicked off with a delightful medley of songs from 1973, performed by Natalie Douglas, Elizabeth Ward Land, and Lorinda Lisitza.
When David Friedman and Lennie Watts came up to present the LaMott Friedman Award (for best recording), Mr. Friedman told the touching story of starting a record company just for the late Nancy LaMott, who died just before she could fully benefit from the growing sales of her albums after being discovered by the likes of Jonathan Schwartz.
The funny Todd Buonopane performed “Nobody Does it Like Me” from the 1973 Broadway show Seesaw, and André Jordan performed “Corner of the Sky” from 1972’s Pippin. Mr. Jordan, who has quite a set of pipes and terrific showmanship, electrified the house.
Jeff Harner, quite dapper in black tie, performed a powerful rendition of Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns,” from 1973’s A Little Night Music. Earlier, he was awarded the MAC for best album, his first in 17 years. He was thankful for an acquaintance, whom he hardly knew, for encouraging him to make this record.
Ray DeForest, also known as drag performer Doris Dear and wearing a long red cape and thigh-high boots like an amalgam of himself and his character, spoke powerfully about the recent anti-drag wave and the laws against drag performance in places like Tennessee. Ray presented MAC’s donation to the ACLU for the Drag Defense Fund, accepted by Donna Lieberman. Performers Carolyn Montgomery and Frank Dain of the American Songbook Association subsequently matched MAC’s $500 award.
Spider Saloff, a multiple MAC and Bistro Award-winning vocalist and comedian, was quite elegant with her long blue gloves. She presented Ricky Ritzel with a Lifetime Achievement award. Mr. Ritzel received a vigorous standing ovation. The star, dressed in a wild red suit and sporting his trademark long blond hair, followed his acceptance speech by performing “No Time at All” (Pippin). He called up Ms. Saloff to perform a duet of the Bob Hope classic, “Thanks for the Memories,” which garnered another standing ovation and ended the first half of the event.
Following a brief intermission, Tommy J. Dose, Aaron Lee Battle, and Lennie Watts came to the stage to celebrate more songs from 1973, with special lyrics written for “Piano Man.”
Interestingly, Tom Toce was the writer or co-writer for three of the songs nominated for Best Song, but the award went to Tracy Stark and Bob Levy.
Tears flowed throughout Symphony Space during the In Memoriam segment, which featured the beloved Jay Rogers. The poignant and bittersweet video showed local and national stars who have died in the past year.
Appropriately, Nikki M. James and Kelli Rabke followed with a Burt Bacharach medley of more 1973 songs. The legendary composer died this year at age 94.
K.T. Sullivan and Lee Roy Reams presented the best vocalist awards to Josephine Sanges and Rian Keating. The fact that Mr. Keating is a largely deaf man makes this quite an astounding achievement. Mr. Keating made an emotional acceptance speech. He has done much to overcome the challenges of heaing loss, so much so that one might not realize he’s deaf when listening to him speak.
Natalie Douglas returned with an emotional introduction to present the evening’s second Lifetime Achievement Award to Ken Page. The baritone singer, literally a giant of Broadway and cabaret at 6’8” tall, has been a star since his Broadway debut in The Wiz in 1975. Mr. Page gave a wonderful speech that recalled his earliest stays in Broadway and cabaret, and performed a blues song, “Betty and Dupree,” and an African song with which he closes his shows, “Shambhala.” The star received several sustained standing ovations.
In a somewhat anticlimactic finish, the awards for Best Duo/Group and Major Artist went to Those Girls and Sidney Myer, respectively.
The following is the full list of winners, by category:
Female Vocalist: Josephine Sanges
Male Vocalist: Rian Keating
Major Artist: Sidney Myer
New York Debut – Female: Ann Talman
New York Debut – Male: Danny Bolero
Celebrity Artist: Jeff Harnar
Duo/Group: Those Girls
Major Duo/Group: Liz Callaway & Ann Hampton Callaway
Piano Bar Instrumentalist: Nate Buccieri
Piano Bar/Restaurant Singing Entertainer – Female: Tara Martinez
Piano Bar/Restaurant Singing Entertainer – Male: Jon Satrom
Ensemble Instrumentalist: Matt Scharfglass, bass
Recurring Series: The Lineup with Susie Mosher
Emcee: Susie Mosher
Special Production: Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda – My (Almost) Life on the Wicked Stage: Written by and starring Mary Lahti
Director: Lennie Watts
Musical Director: Tracy Stark
Technical Director: Jean-Pierre Perreaux
Song: “You Should Have Been Kind” Music by Tracy Stark; Lyrics by Bob Levy
Comedy/Novelty Song: “The Zoom Song” Music & lyrics by John Forster
Recording (Lamott Friedman Award: Ann Kittredge for reIMAGINE
Major Recording: Jeff Harnar: I Know Things Now: My Life in Sondheim’s Words
The MAC Awards took place on April 4 in the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre at Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 94th Street (symphonyspace.org).
Photos: Maryann Lopinto