A Rewarding Awarding Of The MAC Awards
April 25, 2005 at Symphony Space
Report by Rob Lester

Mark Nadler and KT Sullivan
The last time I was at Symphony Space was for last month's Wall To Wall Sondheim concert which lasted from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., so Monday's four-hour cabaret awards marathon show was like a quick stop. It was a very enjoyable stop, too: a songfest and lovefest with a generous serving of talent that makes New York what it is. The theatre was nearly filled with singers, musicians, publicists, songwriters, fans and friends of cabaret, jazz, and comedy. The annual awards show was jam-packed with classy entertainment (hooray!) which showed why some of those who were nominated or who had won in the past have received such recognition. There were the expected gleeful or gushing thank-yous, a few surprise laughs and some tears. The atmosphere was warm, things were generally kept light and well-paced, and there was a lot of well-deserved applause. And, of course, stars and sequins.

Hilary Kole

MAC, the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs has been around since 1983 and continues to grow and nourish the many who work in the nightlife entertainment world and its audience. Current President Barry Levitt made some graceful comments and also showed his own skill at the keyboard. The MAC Board of Directors includes such cabaret supporters as the gentlemanly David Kenney whose 9 pm Sunday night radio show on WBAI 99.5 FM, "Everything Old Is New Again," has for many years featured cabaret artists on recordings and sometimes live in the studio, singing and being interviewed. President Emeritus Jamie de Roy continues her delightful series of cable TV shows, recordings, and live variety shows featuring fine performers of song and comedy.

Jamie and singer Kim Cea, both looking glamourous and glittery, presented the awards for outstanding new songs. They weren't the first presented, but since the song is what cabaret is all about, let's start there. Ray Jessel won the special Musical Material Award for his hilarious song "The Short Term Memory Loss Blues." He was not present to accept - he didn't have a short term memory loss about when the awards were scheduled, it's just that he lives and works in California. It's too bad he couldn't be there, because he also won another award as Musical Comedy Performer and probably would have had one of the most amusing speeches of the night.

Ann Hampton Callaway
Meanwhile, the always glorious Ann Hampton Callaway was very present, appearing three times: to accept awards for Song Of The Year ("My Answered Prayer") and Recording of the Year (Slow), and also to sing "The Best Is Yet To Come." That rendition was in tribute to its composer, Cy Coleman, who passed away this last year. Other heartfelt farewells were given to those we lost: Julie Wilson and Steve Ross joining forces to lightly but lovingly sing "So Long, Baby" to the great Bobby Short, and Channel 13's Tom Stewart spoke about his TV colleague, MAC Board member Richard Kennedy, who died just last week. In a soulful salute to the late Dick Gallagher, a trio of his friends/lady singers gave out with his "My Jewel": Lina Koutrakos, Sally Mayes, and Karen Mason. That tribute was followed by the announcement that the Musical Director Award is now being named in honor of this man who won so many times in the category, and was much loved. The award was won this year by Alex Rybeck, who has been at the piano and written superb arrangements for many.

Sally Mayes, Lina Koutrakos, Karen Mason

Richard Skipper and Keely Smith
The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to music legend Keely Smith, who is currently in town at Feinstein's at the Regency. To say she was the highlight of the show would possibly win me a MAC Award for the Biggest Understatement of 2005 (however, it's only April, but it's an honor just to be nominated). Ending the first half of the show with a set of powerhouse numbers from her current show and CD Vegas '58 - Today, she was in great, strong voice. With her swinging nine-piece band, Ms. Smith brought down the house. She received four standing ovations. Funny, friendly, and fabulous, she regaled the crowd with her theme song hits "I Wish You Love" and "That Old Black Magic" and more. Every entertainer in the room was glad for the intermission, because no one would have wanted to follow her.

Mario Cantone
The special Excellence In Jazz Award was given to pianist Kenny Barron and sax man George Coleman who combined their talents on "The Days Of Wine And Roses," yet another highlight. The Comedy Award went to Mario Cantone who was his outrageous self, going off on tears and tangents, imitating Faye Dunaway and talking about his love for Bambi but an inability to give up eating venison, among other rants. He was introduced by his frequent director Joe Mantello who was quite funny himself in the tale of how they met.

Singer Lucille Carr-Kaffashan won the Hanson Award. The achievement award chosen by the magazine Time Out New York, typically presented to a longtime veteran, was bestowed upon Maude Maggart

Adam Feldman and Maude Maggart
(with a charming speech by the magazine's Adam Feldman with his right-on-target description of what makes this recipient special). Maude made her thanks and was back in the blink of an eye to receive the female New York Debut Award. For the uninitiated, she showed what the fuss was about with a dynamic medley of "42nd Street" and "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" (it's the same street, you see).

The male New York Debut Award went to Ritt Henn for his show "A Man And His Bass." Female Vocalist statue went to Natalie Douglas, who has quite a collection of them, and the Male Vocalist went to Brandon Cutrell, who has quite a presence and following at the Duplex. Director of his show there (and many others), Phil Geoffrey Bond, won the Director Award as well as the award with the longest title, Variety Production/ Recurring

Ritt Henn
Series Or Special Production, for the New Mondays series. The Revue prize went to The Johnny Mercer Birthday Show with Ricky Ritzel and Leslie Anderson, who were irrepressible presenters, too. Leslie also took home the Piano Bar/ Restaurant Entertainer award. For the Instrumental version of that category, veteran Jerry Scott, the gracious presence at Danny's at The Stonewall Bistro, was honored.

We're not done naming winners yet (you can see why it took four hours). Chuck Sweeney was feted for his Peggy Lee "Impersonation," Nancy Witter got the nod for Stand-Up Comedy and gave us a taste of it, Marcus Simeone and Eva Ladas were the choice for Vocal or Musical Comedy Duo/Group (they are not a group, they're a duo as their show titled 2 proves). Marcus serenaded the crowd with tunes by Billy Joel ("New York State Of Mind") and Janis Ian ("She Must Be Beautiful"); Eva was out of town. Thomas Honeck won in the Technical Director category. Last awarded, but certainly not least (she's terrific), the prestigious Major Engagement award went to Karen

Ricky Ritzel and Leslie Anderson

And there were still more performers!! A very skilled pianist "discovered" by MAC President Barry Levitt, Jon Weber, whose fingers flew furiously and fantastically over "Swanee" and a Fats Waller specialty "I'm Going To See My Ma," was a hit. There was Baby Jane Dexter with her "Everybody Hurts." Jeanne MacDonald offered "If You Go Away." We had a long medley of "dance" numbers from the talented trio in the long-running Singing Astaire (Eric Comstock, Hilary Kole, and Christopher Gines). KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler were there with a different and very effective version of "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from their show honoring composer Jule Styne's centennial. Speaking of composer's 100th birthday anniversaries, there were two very different Harold Arlen showstoppers: The Manhattan Rhythm Kings did a top-notch fun version of "The Jitterbug" (the big number cut from The Wizard Of Oz) and Sara Ramirez, currently appearing in the Broadway hit Spamalot won much applause with "The Man That Got Away." The evening was capped with a group vocal of "Sing, Sing, Sing" - and how they all did!! Wow and a half.

Hosting duties and many laughs were provided by Don't Tell Mama's Ron Poole and the incomparable Sidney Myer, who also sang one of his trademark numbers near the beginning. Substituting for announced co-host Angela LaGreca was Richard Skipper as Carol Channing. Strolling through the audience, "Carol" inspected and threw diamonds, chatted up MAC photographer and ubiquitous cabaretophile Maryann Lopinto and talented songwriter Francesca Blumenthal, among others. But nowhere to be found were Tony Danza or Patti Lupone who were originally advertised as performers. I guess you can't have everything. We got a lot. (I didn't get a diamond, however. Maybe next time.)

Jon Weber
Peter Flynn directed the evening and D. J. Bradley was musical director. Many other talented musicians appeared as accompanists. Congratulations from all of us at Talkin' Broadway to the nominees and winners. Now it's all over, except the hugging and the hangovers. And maybe a little hand cream for the callouses we got from applauding all that talent.

For more information on MAC and its programs and membership, visit www.macnyc.com. Click on our Sound Advice column for CD reviews by the aforementioned winners Natalie Douglas, Leslie Anderson & Ricky Ritzel as well as talented nominee Lisa Asher. This week's column will include reviews of albums by winners Maude Maggart, Ray Jessel and another worth-watching/listening-to nominee, Shawn Ryan.

Thanks to Maryann Lopinto for the photos
and to Linda K. at www.onstagewebworks.com

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