By Andrew Poretz . . .
The Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs (“MAC”) had their annual awards show on April 12, 2022 at Symphony Space. Here was a chance for the “community” — the performers, directors, writers, musicians and more — to recognize the talents and hard work that it takes to make a successful show with a long series of awards, presentations and performances. For the most part, these cabaret professionals well-known primarily in the New York cabaret scene, with a handful of bigger names who have made a name outside of that world, and several who were already stars, perhaps on Broadway, who brought that stardom to the city that never sleeps.
It’s quite an egalitarian world, cabaret. Here, authenticity and vulnerability are perhaps the most highly regarded attributes of the person at the mic, even more than musical talent. That said, the substantial Symphony Space audience was treated to some wonderful performances by both established and rising cabaret stars, along with several moving presentations and speeches. Presenters included Joe Iconis, Klea Blackhurst and Jim Caruso. There were big wins for Susie Mosher, David Sabella, Gabrielle Stravelli, Sean Patrick Murtagh, Aaron Lee Battle and newcomer Roderick Ferguson, among others. A handful of highlights from the nearly four-hour show appear below, followed by the complete list of winners.
Jeff Harnar’s opening presentation, after singing a lovely “Hey Old Friend,” was comically interrupted by Tovah Feldshuh, in some sort of character, storming the stage for a recreation of the Will Smith slap at the Oscars. Pianist Tedd Firth, with singer Nicolas King, performed a very moving tribute to the late Mike Renzi.
Lennie Watts, also the director of tonight’s event, was honored with a Board of Directors Award for his many accomplishments and contributions to the cabaret community with all he has done for MAC over many years. One of his students, Charlie Keirnan, flew in from Australia to perform an unusual and beautifully sung medley of Sondheim’s “Being Alive” and Harry Nilsson’s “One Is the Loneliest Number.”
Best Director Lina Koutrakos remarked in her acceptance speech, “I’m not everybody’s cup of tea. I am the luckiest singer in the world to get to direct.” Her song later in the show, “The Lies of Handsome Men,” was a reminder of her singing prowess.
The first of two Lifetime Achievement Awards was presented to Marta Sanders, who, with the marvelous Mark Nadler on piano, performed a showstopper of “Panache.” She received two long standing ovations, and this closed out the first half of the four-hour awards show.
A thoughtful “In Memoriam” video paid tribute to many major artists (Stephen Sondheim, Michael Nesmith, et al.) who passed since the last Awards, and more relevantly included performers known mainly to the New York cabaret community, including Peggy Eason (the “Chocolate Diva”) and Barbara Maier Gustern, who was tragically killed last month. Karen Mason followed this with a stunning rendition of “The Way We Were,” with only an acoustic guitar accompaniment.
Performer Linda Lavin, perhaps best known for the title role in the television sitcom “Alice, presented the Show of the Year Award to Jim Caruso for his pandemic Zoom show “Pajama Cast Party.” Linda revealed that it was Caruso who convinced the Broadway performer to do a nightclub act.
The always fabulous Sidney Myer of “Don’t Tell Mama” performed a slightly updated “Peel Me a Grape.” Sidney’s sly and slightly naughty persona, along with impeccable timing and delivery with a speaking voice like no other, makes literally every word out of his mouth a comedy gem.
“Internet sensation” Jonathan Hoover killed with a song parody of “Let Me Entertain You.”
Aaron Lee Battle, in a gold lame dinner jacket, brought the house down with his “Here’s to Life.” Mr. Battle received the Hanson Award, a special honor given to performers who have somehow never won a MAC award previously. With a rich baritone that could be described as “cinnamon butter,” he surely earned his award with this performance.
The late, great Nancy Lamott, gone now for 27 years, was celebrated with a very rare video of her performing at Don’t Tell Mama in 1988, reading a copy of the preposterous “Weekly World News” tabloid while singing “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” A big laugh came from an announcement on the video to limit one’s smoking, for the benefit of the performers. (For you youngsters, smoking was allowed in bars and restaurants until 2003!)
The second Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Chita Rivera, who was introduced by Jim Caruso. A black and white video of her singing Steve Allen’s “This Could Be the Start of Something Big” and then parts of her nightclub act were shown. The grateful star told the remarkable story of how, after Bob Fosse’s heart attack, the show Chicago was put on a long development break, and she was convinced to do a cabaret act by John Kander and Fred Ebb, who wrote the songs and the patter for her. The lively 89-year-old performs the act to this day. For a full list of winners visit: www.MACnyc.com
Music Director: Yusuhiko Fukuoka
Producer: Michael Kirk Lane
Stage Manager: Amy Wolk
Director: Lennie Watts
Photos: Maryann Lopinto
Lead Photo: Karen Mason – Goodnight!