The MAC Awards: My Personal History

Posted: March 28, 2012 in Cabaret, Entertainment, Music, Performance, Uncategorized

It seems apropos, on the eve of the twenty-sixth annual MAC Awards (presented by the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) for me to provide an overview of my MAC Awards experiences through the years. For those unfamiliar, the MAC Awards are more or less THE night of the year for the worldwide cabaret community; it’s the Oscars, the Emmys, the Grammys and the Tonys all rolled into one for some, in this most treasured little nation we all call our home that is cabaret. And although I’ve only been an active member of MAC on and off for over two decades and am not currently a card-carrying member (if no less enthusiastic), I still look forward to the evening with tremendous anticipation. This year holds some newer frontiers for me; I’ll be conducting a live radio broadcast outside the ceremony (which is being held at BB King’s. 237 West 42nd Street) on WTBQ-FM at 7 PM, and I’ve been asked to give an on-camera interview backstage for NiteLifeExchange. But I will most certainly be out front as always to cheer on the nominees, and have to remind them all as always that every one of them is a winner no matter who takes home the prize. I don’t want to use this article to predict who the winners will be (we all know how THAT turned out the last time I did so), but rather just to take a lovely little stroll down memory lane.

By the time I burst onto the cabaret scene as an adult in 1986 (after a few seasons in “Kiddie Kabaret” at various clubs around town), MAC was firmly established and the MAC Awards had their very first ceremony, at the old Village Gate on Bleecker and Thompson in the Village. I was not in fact present for that or the subsequent three ceremonies and wasn’t yet part of the gilded “inner sanctum” that MAC represented. But in 1990, when I first landed my post as a cabaret reviewer and journalist for Night & Day Magazine, the MAC Awards was my first assignment. By that point, the ceremony had relocated to Symphony Space, on 95th Street and Broadway, and it was a landmark event for me, not merely because it meant I’d really arrived but because it gave me a reason to purchase my first tuxedo. I was so gung-ho that I even hired a limousine, which first picked me up at my day job on 68th and Broadway, drove me home to Rego Park, then waited for me while I changed into my tux; I took my twin sister Barbara to her day job in the city (we laughed and laughed over Martinis in the car), then picked up Janet Sumner in Gramercy Park and her date for the evening, the lovely Kevin McMullan, and then stopped on Ninth Avenue to pick up Mark-Alan and his then-partner Bobby Belfry. Once they were all in the car and we all had a drink, I announced the news that I’d gotten the job with Night & Day and was officially the newest cabaret reviewer in town, which made everybody very happy. We got to the awards and sent the limo on its way, and the first people I ran into were Bobbie Horowitz and her songwriting partner Sharon Spector Schapow, who were literally jumping with joy when I gave them the news. They in turn made it a point to introduce me to Erv Raible, Jamie deRoy, Sidney Myer, Diana Templeton and a plethora of others. I think my biggest surprise of all, though, was learning that I was seated in the second row. And it was a wonderful ceremony; the highlights included Sylvia Syms telling us that a stagehand mistook her for Mabel Mercer moments earlier, and Julie Wilson presenting a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award to the late lamented Henry Luhrman. There was also Jimmy Luzar’s acceptance speech, which began with his inimitable grin and the words, “Hot damn, huh?” and when the final presentation of the evening, Best Female Vocalist, announced Lina Koutrakos as the winner, to which she said to the crowd, “All my friends said to me, ‘Lina, why do you care about a stupid MAC Award? It’s just a popularity contest.’ Well, all I ever wanted to be was popular.”

For the next several years, while the MAC Awards continued to be hosted at Symphony Space, there were some moments that I will never forget. In ’91, I was seated directly in front of Karen Saunders and her then-husband, and when Linda Hopkins came up to present the award for Best Debut (that was a TIGHT race, with Sharon Douglas, Wayne Hosford and The Tonics nominated besides Karen), the lady’s nails were literally digging into my shoulder while Hopkins dawdled over opening the envelope, until she finally announced, “The award goes to Karen Saunders!” and the place broke out into thunderous applause. I was never so happy for that moment to be over, and neither was my shoulder. In ’92, Annie Hughes (who was living at the time just three blocks from Symphony Space, and had been heavily touted as the winner of that year’s Best Female Vocalist) threw a huge pre-show party at her apartment (where I first got to meet Sidney J. Burgoyne and his partner Jack Batman), and I even brought my mom. Annie didn’t win, unfortunately, and it put a bit of a damper on the afterparty, but ultimately we were all very happy for the late Nancy LaMott.

In ’94, the location changed to the new Copa on 57th Street and 11th Avenue. What made this year special for me was because of my own nomination, for Outstanding Male Music/Comedy. My show Open to Criticism had run at Danny’s Skylight Room for seven perpetually sold-out months, and while I certainly never did the show with the intention of winning a MAC, I was definitely being touted as a shoe-in to win it, or so I was told at the time. My competition was extremely stiff, however; I was up against John O’Brien for his show The Night Larry Storch Kissed Me at Eighty Eights, and Rick Skye’s The Flip Side of Neil Sedaka at Don’t Tell Mama. It was also the first time I managed to get my parents in the same room together since my Bar Mitzvah; my dad drove up from Philly, and they both looked terrific. Mercifully, that award was the first of the evening to be presented. Sally Mayes came out of the wings, envelope in hand, made a brief joke about how much she missed all of us since she was busy co-starring in She Loves Me on Broadway, then read all of our names and the names of our shows and said, “And the MAC Award goes to…John O’Brien!” John looked absolutely stunned, he rose, stopped by my table to give me a hug, then walked to the stage to receive his award. At which point I grabbed a waitress and said, “Double Jack Daniels, please, straight up.” I remember little else of that evening, other than both Beatrice Arthur and Barry Manilow being presenters, a performance by Liliane Montevecchi, and a LOT of people thanking me in their acceptance speeches for things I’d said or done in the press, including Mario Cantone and Eddie Brill, which made me very happy. However, I also learned a very important lesson that night; people remember the nominees a lot more readily than they remember the winners. To this day, people come up to me and say, “I’ll never forget the night you won the MAC Award,” to which I usually reply, “Was I there?”

I actually didn’t attend again until 2009 for a variety of reasons, most of which had to do with professional commitments and the fact that I was wrapped up in a non-cabaretgoing marriage from 2001 until 2006. But the night of the 2009 Awards, at BB King’s, was spectacular. I had a wonderful talk before the show with Sue Simmons, had the joy of seeing my chum Laurie Krauz win Best Female Jazz Vocalist, and even had a little encounter with Gloria Lynne, who bumped my chair as she came offstage because she’s too blind to see where she’s going; she said, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” and I said, “Miss Lynne, PLEASE do not ever apologize for anything; you’re heaven-sent!” I brought my cherished friend Alice Kane with me that night and we had a blast, and loved the way Klea Blackhurst hosted the show, not to mention Lewis Black’s speech and a wonderful number by Luba Mason and Andrea McArdle.

For 2010, I brought my dear pal Shelley Bruce as my date. And we had a BALL; she of course knows everybody from the days when she was starring in Annie after replacing McArdle, so we got to spend time with Lucie Arnaz and Lee Roy Reams and the whole bunch. The other nice thing about that night was that my buddy Danny Cohen was nominated for Best Comedian, and he was out in LA doing a show at the Comedy Store, so he got a hold of me that day and said, “If I win, could you please accept for me?” So I said sure, if that would be OK with Lennie Watts and Julie Miller. Well, it was, and he did win, and I did accept for him. It was magical to finally, after being nominated all those years ago, be able to get on that stage and hold the award in my hand, even if it didn’t belong to me. And Danny was so grateful to me for accepting for him and the little speech I made that he even allowed me to keep the little MAC stickpin they gave him. I may even wear it tomorrow night!

Last year, the twenty-fifth anniversary, I brought my friend Eddie Lawrence, and we had a swell time. One of the nicest parts of the evening was the announcement of Best Female Vocalist. I was certain it would be Carole J. Bufford, who is spectacular, although I was also kind of hoping it would be my darling Sarah Rice, who I loved so very much in her show Screen Gems at the Laurie Beechman. Sure enough, it turned out to be Sarah and I was delighted. And Carole will most certainly continue to wow us for many a moon.

So, there you have it. I can’t believe this marks twenty-two years since first attending. And this season comes with a lot of sadness, of course; we’ve lost Barbara Lea, Bradshaw Smith, Paul Trueblood, Teri Lynn Paul, Alice Gallacher and so many others. But I will be there with bells on as always. In my same old wonderful tux. Which I’m happy to say still fits. See you there tomorrow night.

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