Manhattan Transfer
Manhattan Transfer
One of the primary purposes of the MAC Awards is to promote excellence, but this year's ceremony subverted that purpose as a number of questionable choices turned cabaret's most important night into mediocrity. We know how much talent there is in the New York cabaret community; the 18th Annual MACs honored many a worthy winner but the show at Symphony Space did not provide a true picture of that talent. This event should be a showcase of high quality entertainment and it was disappointing that it was not.

To begin, we took an informal poll at the after-parties, talking to several dozens of people who were in the show or in the audience or both. We talked to winners, losers, and folks with no apparent agenda at all. The word most often used to describe the event was "lackluster," followed closely by "boring." Many people made mention of the group numbers, noting that, with the exception of "Piano Bar Hell," everything else featured singers who seemed to have been thrown together with no regard to how well their voices blended.

On the plus side, virtually everyone thought that Manhattan Transfer was the evening's biggest asset despite the show's poor sound design. (There were moments when it seemed as the group's bass player was the evening's honoree -- that's how aggressively his instrument was amplified!) Director Gerry Geddes received high marks for the show's pacing; most of the awards were bestowed quickly and efficiently. The lack of a host, most people concurred, helped give the evening some zip even if it made the show seem somewhat impersonal. Make no mistake: Some of those whom we polled felt that the show was fine from top to bottom. For our part, we found this latest edition of the MAC Awards an uninspired production. We say this with full understanding that any three-and-a-half-hour awards show is bound to have major ups and downs and that, of course, one-time-only events have inevitable snafus because there is never enough rehearsal or tech time.

Eric Pickering
Eric Pickering
Things started off smartly with a cute admonition from three technical directors who came out on stage to tell us to turn off our cell phones. The show also was fortunate to have the playful and quick-witted Bobby Peaco as its musical director. (The moment that the winner of the musical comedy award, Eric Pickering, arrived at the podium to make the first acceptance speech of the night, Peaco began playing him off. This got a huge, well deserved laugh.) But the musical director could not overcome Gerry Geddes's baffling decision to open the show with four talented female vocalists -- Karen Mack, Audrey Lavine, Kristine Zbornik, and Julie Reyburn -- singing a string of songs about women. Was the evening intended to honor women specifically? No. The medley left the audience at sea, wondering what it was all about. Its saving grace was that the opening set of songs was Zbornik's moment in the spotlight; her considerable comic and vocal chops earned her an ovation.

The overall concept of the show was a good one: to have MAC Award-winning talent on stage singing MAC Award-winning songs. Unfortunately, time and again, performers were mismatched with songs inappropriate to their particular gifts. For instance, Jim Luzar, whom we know to be a skilled cabaret director, did not do justice to Tom Andersen's "Yard Sale." On the other hand, when Helen Baldassare performed a piece of special material written by George Winters, it stopped the show. (The number was already in her repertoire.) They say that 90 percent of a show's success lies in good casting, and having Baldassare sing this song was a case in point.

Another oft-heard complaint, one with which we agree, is that not enough MAC winners took part in the proceedings on stage; it seemed odd that some people who had a role in the show came back to either present or perform again. That sort of thing didn't happen last year in what was perhaps the most inclusive and expansive of all MAC Awards ceremonies; by comparison, this year's event seemed narrowly focused and far too insular. The most egregious example of this came at the finale when a group of performers sang Rick Jensen's "In Passing Years." It was intended as a poignant moment but, between the surprising return of so many singers to the stage and the poor blending of their voices, the number was a flop. (It was a big mistake to slot it soon after the brilliant harmonizing of Manhattan Transfer.)

Baby Jane Dexter
Baby Jane Dexter
Among the show's memorable moments was Baby Jane Dexter's grammar question, tossed out while she was presenting an award; the audience, bless their well-educated noggins, loudly called out the correct answer. Lennie Watts scored well in his solo spot and so did Peter Howard, who was given a special board of directors award. Perhaps most successful of all was comedian Jackie Hoffman. She was given her award by Time Out's Adam Feldman, who gamely conceded that the magazine was honoring Hoffman despite the fact her act premiered at Joe's Pub in January 2004. (This year's awards were for acts performed in 2003).

The awards themselves, voted by the MAC membership, are sometimes denigrated as just a popularity contest. One might reasonably assume, however, that a great many entertainers are popular precisely because they are very good at what they do -- and that's why they win. For a complete list of MAC Award nominees and winners, click here.

********************

[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegelentertainment@msn.com.]