Manhattan’s cabaret community turned out in legion to celebrate the 17th annual presentation of the MAC Awards. Sponsored by the Manhattan Assn. of Cabarets and Clubs, the fete drew a near-capacity crowd of performers, directors, writers and composers in often frenzied support of artists who display their talents in the city’s handful of intimate showcase rooms.
Upon receiving the lifetime achievement award, legendary piano jazz diva Barbara Carroll quipped, “I prefer to think of it as a half-time achievement honor!” Carroll played Hoagy Carmichael’s ode to springtime “One Morning in May” with her customary blend of rich chordal imagination and an infectious swinging spirit. The pianist, a regular Wednesday night feature at Birdland, encored with Bart Howard’s “You Are Not My First Love,” a wistful nod to cabaret’s grand doyenne Mabel Mercer.
Karen Akers welcomed the recipient of the board of directors kudo, Mary Cleere Haran. The chanteuse, who follows Akers into the Algonquin Oak Room on Sunday, sampled her new act, “My Shining Hour,” a nostalgic nod to romantic songs from 1940s screen tuners. She sang “But Beautiful,” a Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke ballad from the pic “Road to Rio.” The song’s very title defined Haran’s singing.
Mark Nadler, who joined 10-year-old clarinetist Avery Whitter, supplied another Carmichael turn for “The Old Music Master.” Nadler saluted the value of the MAC Outreach educational program that supports seminars at high schools and colleges. The youngster illustrated that the future of the Great American Songbook is being passed on to a new generation.
There was an excessive parade of drag stars putting their spin on the likes of Liza, Channing, Streisand and Peggy Lee. Tommy Femia’s award-winning take on Judy Garland was right on target, but a couple of classy femmes paid the warmest tribute to stars of yore. Rita Hayworth’s “Gilda” turn was evoked in a glossy perf by Quinn Lemley on “Put the Blame on Mame,” while Klea Blackhurst offered a big, belting salute to Ethel Merman.
An unkind parody of Bernadette Peters as Mama Rose drew big audience guffaws. It would seem to appear that before it even opens, there are satirists gunning for Peters’ turn in “Gypsy.”
The big finale, clocking in at midnight, was a board of directors honor to Stephen Schwartz, composer of “Godspell” and “Pippin.” A dapper Ben Vereen led off a medley by the full cast, with the classy conjuring allure of “Magic to Do.” Vereen started a tour Monday at New Jersey’s Paper Mill. Schwartz topped the eve with “Forgiveness’ Embrace,” a trenchant art song written for cabaret.
A filmed excerpt, beautifully accompanied by the voice of the late Nancy LaMott singing “We Live on Borrowed Time” by David Friedman, served as a remembrance to artists recently passed: Rosemary Clooney, Peggy Lee, Susannah McCorkle, Laurie Beechman and Nell Carter, among other artists, and N.Y Post cabaret scribes Bob Harrington and Curt Davis.
Hosts Colette Hawley and Jay Rogers helmed, adding some lengthy and often tasteless bits of shtick. Tech credits were reasonably smooth, with the exception of a hollow overmiked sound system.
The award winners, in the vocalist category, were Julie Reyburn, Karen Mason, Lorinda Lisitza, Lennie Watts, Peter Cincotti, Brandon Cutrell, Natalie Douglas, Georgia Osborne, Michael Vaccaro, Karen Mack, Michael Holland and Eric Pickering.
Bobby Peaco took the piano bar instrumentalist nod. Comedy or impersonation awards went to Tommy Femia, Christine Pedi, Kim Cea and Rock Albers. Recordings honored were “Everything the Traffic Will Allow” (Klea Blackhurst), “Scott Coulter,” “Signature” (Ann Hampton Callaway) and “With a Little Help From My Friends” (Jerry Scott).
Song of the year was “I Dream in Technicolor” by Carol Hall. Special material nod went to “The Heartbreak Diet” (Julie Gold). Best revue was “Mickey Writes It,” and variety production was “New Mondays.”
Lennie Watts was honored for direction, Dick Gallagher for musical direction and Michael Barbieri for technical direction.