The MAC Awards - This Time It's Personal

by Michael Barbieri
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 Last month, the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs held the 32nd annual MAC Awards, honoring the best in cabaret and live entertainment.  This was my first MAC Awards in nearly 10 years, having taken a break from the industry a while back. 

About a year ago, I began easing my way back into the cabaret community by creating the Cabaret Chronicles column for QLife Media, and the Bistro Bites column for  After a show one night, Lennie Watts, who directs the yearly awards, suggested I might cover the ceremony.  Later, he asked if I’d like to present an award as well.  I was thrilled.

So, on Tuesday, March 27th, I found myself sitting right smack up against the stage at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill for the MACs!  

I’ll start by stating the obvious: it was a long evening - I arrived a little after 6 pm, the show began at 7, and we didn’t get out till after 11.  But that’s nothing new; they’re long every year.  You just have to strap yourself in and go along for the ride, so here are a few of the highlights:

At the top of the show, MAC President Lennie Watts mentioned that the recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Awards, Mr Ruby Rims and Sharon McNight, had both won awards at the very first MAC Awards, which he joked were still going on!  Joseph Macchia - cabaret producer and this years Mr. Eagle NYC, presented an award, looking smashing in full leather.  Wingspan Arts winner, Matthew Duer, gave us a song from Dear Evan Hansen, and the fabulous Jinkx Monsoon, looking like a Victorian diva, presented Dan Ruth with the award for Spoken Word Artist, for his hilarious and heartbreaking show, A Life Behind Bars.  Vocal group Those Girls, winners of the Duo/Group award, brought the house down with the boisterous “Shanty Song,” Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano, who picked up the award for Major Duo/Group, brought a lovely elegance with “I Cannot Hear the City,” from The Sweet Smell of Success, and my old pal Ricky Ritzel, one of the winningest performers in MAC history, took the award for Recurring Series, for his monthly show, Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway.  We also got more drag glamour, when Doris Dear presented Robin Kradles with the award for Drag Artist.  

Just before I headed backstage to rendezvous with my fellow presenter, we experienced one of the most poignant moments in the ceremony; the Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Mr. Ruby Rims.  Ruby is a female impersonator who used to lip sync at The Anvil, a notorious gay bar in Greenwich Village.  He took a friend’s suggestion to sing live, and has now been a beloved presence on the cabaret scene since 1978.  A longtime AIDS survivor, Ruby created Teddy Care, which raised money for AIDS organizations and collected teddy bears for patients in NYC hospitals.  He’s received the NY1 New Yorker of the Week Award, as well as 5 MAC Awards, and as he thanked the friends who’d stood by him all these years, he proclaimed that his biggest lifetime achievement was staying alive to receive the award.  He then moved us all with Peter Allen’s anthemic “Just Ask Me I’ve Been There.”  I’ve been friends with Ruby since 1981, and worked with him many times.  Seeing him up there in his power and in all his drag glory, touched my heart.  The cabaret world loves Ruby Rims, and they showed it with a standing ovation!

Lorinda Lisitza, herself a nominee for Comedy/Novelty Song along with songwriting partner Amy Wolk, was my fabulous co-presenter in the Piano Bar categories.  Both of us have spent many hours working...and imbibing in the bars, and knew all of the nominees - Gerry Diffenbach won Piano Bar Instrumentalist, Tommy J. Dose took the award for Male Piano Bar entertainer and my old friend Elaine Brier was named best female Piano Bar singer.  Tommy then took us to church with a song called, appropriately, “Take Me To Church,” and Elaine slayed the room with her “You Light Up My Life” parody.

After a gospel-tinged “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” by students from the Marymount Manhattan cabaret class, Scott Barbarino and Carolyn Montgomery-Forant presented the newly renamed Barry Levitt Maestro Award for Musical Director, which went to Tracy Stark.  My friend and former colleague Jean-Pierre Perreaux won the award for Technical Director, and the phenomenal Jeff Harnar was awarded Best Director.

Sydney Myer next presented a Lifetime Achievement Award to one of cabaret’s supreme divas, Sharon McNight.  Sharon has played in nightclubs across the U.S. and Europe, received a Tony Award Nomination for her Broadway debut in Starmites, and because of her tireless fundraising for AIDS organizations in the ’80’s, was the first straight person named Grand Marshall of the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade in 1986.  She’s won a slew of awards, including a MAC Award, a Bistro Award, and the Nightlife Award.  I’ve also worked with Sharon over the years, and have to say, she simply does not age!  Looking fabulous, she took to the stage and belted out Randy Newman’s bluesy hit, “Guilty.”  After a pointed plea to add the name of MAC founder, the late Erv Raible, to the official MAC stationary, she gave us a wistful “I’ve Loved These Days,” by Billy Joel.  

The ceremony wound down with the awards in the major categories - Major Recording and Celebrity Artist went to Karen Mason, K.T. Sullivan and Lee Roy Reams presented Jeff Harnar with the award for Major Artist - Male, and the lovely Natalie Douglas took Major Artist - Female and Show of the Year.  The show wrapped up with Joshua Lance Dixon (Winner - Male Vocalist) performing a gorgeous “Birth of the Blues,” and Dawn Derow (Winner - Female Vocalist) who sang all about that woman who always made up her mind, in “The Saga of Jenny.”

Before Lorinda and I presented our awards, I told the crowd how the piano bar and cabaret community became my extended family, and while I wasn’t sure how I’d be accepted after such a long time away from the clubs, I found I had nothing to fear.  Everywhere I turned, I found friendly faces - from the performers onstage, to singer Meg Flather, MAC Press Rep Frank Dain, lovely singer and friend Cynthia Crane, Hanson Award winner Carol Shedlin, singer, pianist and songwriter John McMahon, MAC Board members Julie Miller and Stearns Matthews, and so many others, I felt embraced and accepted by my cabaret family, like I had never been away.  The entire evening felt very personal. to the after party at the Laurie Beechman Theatre for a drink, while Jinkx Monsoon sang the night away for us all!

Michael Barbieri

Food & Entertainment Writer