MAC Awards :: Most entertaining in quite some time

by Kevin Scott Hall

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday May 9, 2010

The general consensus among those in the sold-out audience at the 24th annual MAC Awards (the third and final awards ceremony honoring the best in New York nightclubs) on May 4 was that it was one of the most entertaining in quite some time.

Although these things always seem to exceed four hours, a positive sign was that few headed for the doors until the end, just before midnight.

MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets) membership decides the winners and what it lacks in major star power-the big guns may not show up for this one unless they are guaranteed to take home a trophy-it gains in suspense, as it is the only awards show of the three (Nightlife and Bistro being the other two) where, old school-style, nominees are announced and then an envelope is opened and a winner is revealed.

McKnight :: an inspired choice

As guests were being seated, Leon Hall tried to do the Joan Rivers bit, standing on stage (in jeans, no less) and inviting nominees up to discuss their clothing choices. It fell flat, namely because there was too much talking going on and-to no surprise-most New York cabaret artists don't have a Hollywood wardrobe budget. Only young Jenna Esposito was memorable, rocking a form fitting, galaxy blue, starlit dress with a ruffled fringe around the knees.

Julie Reyburn opened the show with the celebratory "Sing Happy," beaming with the confidence of one who has had a banner year in the nightclubs.

Theater and club star Sharon McKnight was the inspired choice to host the event. For her part, she kept things moving and had several great jokes, costume changes and even a dead-on Bette Davis (a la "All About Eve"), where she came on stage with oversized martini and cigarette and said, "Betcha never seen a woman do Bette Davis, have you?"

She got the proceedings under way by explaining the procedures during an instrumental break, saying, "For all you non-winners, remember carbohydrates can momentarily solve all your problems!"

McKnight then reminded the audience that they were missing "American Idol", where "five people under the age of thirty are tackling the Frank Sinatra songbook." The audience howled with her from then on.

Stars come out

An early presenter (and former MAC winner) was Mario Cantone of "Sex and the City" fame, who, naturally, presented awards to the best comics.

Other notable stars who appeared were Karen Mason, of Broadway and clubs, who presented the Board of Directors Award to Playbill; Broadway's Brian Stokes Mitchell, who presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Leslie Uggams; sassy Marilyn Maye, who presented and picked up an award; and presenter Lucie Arnaz, looking like a supermodel half her age in a sleeveless, slim black dress, who impressed the crowd with an energetic medley, perhaps more suited to Vegas but nonetheless entertaining.

The talent at all levels was astonishing: Chuck Sweeney as Peggy Lee had the audience in stitches; the Les Paul Trio performed in honor of Paul, who died last year, and was joined by smoldering vocalist Tony DeSare, who then sat down to do his own rousing version of "I Love a Piano"; Therese Genecco did a pared down blues version of "Heartbreak Hotel" accompanied by masterful guitarist Sean Harkness; cabaret vet Baby Jane Dexter proved she's still got it; and Hansen Award winner Angela Schultz wowed with Hector Coris' over-the-top "My American Idol Moment"-once again reminding all, side-splittingly, that good singing is not about dramatic riffs and key changes.

A surprising touch

A surprising touch was a performance by the behind-the-scenes bartenders and tech directors at the clubs, many of whom held their own against the veterans on stage.

Randy Lester, a longtime presence at Don't Tell Mama, ended the group medley with Streisand's "A Piece of Sky," ending on a note so long and glorious, it brought the audience to its feet.

The only other standing ovation of the night went to Uggams herself, who looked stunning in a gold, knee-length jacket over a sparkling black pantsuit. She regaled the audience with showbiz tales and when she did a song from her Tony-winning "Hallelujah Baby," the silent audience was rapt with attention. She recently finished a triumphant run at the Cafť Carlyle.

The only double winners of the night were Richard Skipper and Dana Lorge, both for producing "Wednesday Night at the Iguana" and for hosting, and Anne Steele, who got the triple crown this year-Nightlife and Bistro Awards, as well as MAC Awards for Female Vocalist and Piano Bar Entertainer. Skipper, long known for impersonating Carol Channing, quipped, "This is the first time I've won an award without wearing a dress!"

Musical director Tracy Stark led an all-female trio and managed to master all styles put before her.

The evening was dedicated to the son of beloved cabaret icon Ryan Ritzel, who tragically drowned in Hawaii in April.

Complete list of winners

Lifetime Achievement Award: Leslie Uggams
Board of Directors Award: Peter Leavy of Cabaret Scenes Magazine
Board of Directors Award:
Hansen Award: Angela Schultz
Time Out New York Award: Brandon Cutrell
Female Vocalist: Anne Steele
Male Vocalist: Hector Coris
Jazz Vocalist: Mary Foster Conklin
Major Artist: Baby Jane Dexter
New York Debut-Female: Danielle Grabianowski
New York Debut-Male: Tom Rocco
Celebrity Artist: Marilyn Maye
Stand-up Comic-Male: Danny Cohen
Stand-up Comic-Female: Mary Dimino
Musical Comedy: Gretchen Reinhagen
Vocal Duo/Group: Marquee Five
Special Production: Ricky Ritzel "Hysterical Blondness"
Variety Production/Recurring Series: Wednesday Night at the Iguana
Open Mic: Algonquin Salon
Host-Variety Show/Series or Open Mic: Richard Skipper & Dana Lorge
Piano Bar/Restaurant Singing Entertainer: Anne Steele
Piano Bar/Restaurant/Lounge Instrumentalist: Jerry Scott
Technical Director: Jean-Pierre Perreaux
Director: Lennie Watts
Musical Director: Tracy Stark
Major Recording: Daryl Sherman, "Johnny Mercer: A Centennial Tribute"
Recording: Susan Winter, "Love Rolls On . . . Live!"
Song: "Things That Haunt Me", Brett Kristofferson
Special Musical Material: "Identity Theft," Ray Jessel

Kevin Scott Hall is the author of Off the Charts! (2010, iUniverse) and the memoir, A Quarter Inch from My Heart (2014, Wisdom Moon).