Monday, May 30, 2011

Are you on my team?

"For happiness one needs security, but joy can spring like a flower even from the cliffs of despair."
-Anne Morrow Lindbergh, American writer (1906-2001)

It's Memorial Day. A day of remembrance. It always seems odd to me to say "Happy Memorial Day".
I think most people forget about what this day is all about. It's about beach openings, barbeques, and the impending summer! At least that is what it is for MANY. For others, it is something completely different. Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War: a hymn published in 1867, "Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping" by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication "To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead" (Source: Duke University's Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920).
While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it's difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings; each of those towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860's tapped into the general human need to honor our dead, each contributed honorably to the growing movement that culminated in Gen Logan giving his official proclamation in 1868. It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.
For me, it is also our anniversary. I met Danny on this date in 1990. We've been together ever since! 21 years! It's been great! I'm looking forward to what the next 21 years will bring!
I'll be 71.
Danny will be 78!
God willing!!

After a blog last week, in which I mentioned a friend who began every meeting with, "Either you're on my team or not?", I received the following e-mail. I will post my responses in bold type.

How do you (we-I-any of us) process feedback?
I have a rule about criticism. If it's going to HELP me, I want to hear it. If it's not going to help me, it will go in one ear and out the other!If it's going to HURT me, please keep it to yourself. Who is “on our team”? Those who are supporting my dream on ANY level!
After all these years I can say that honestly I don’t know this answer. It is a constant struggle.

For instance, I watch American Idol, and I don’t get it. I don’t get the audience responses, I don’t get the judges responses….but I do get that some of those folk will end up rich.
Rich and famous.I don't watch American Idol. I am not a fan of competition shows. Where judges and audiences seek out cruelty for entertainment sake. But when I see a clip such as this one, I have to think their must be something POSITIVE about this show!

If you ever saw Charles Nelson Reilly’s magnificent one man show, you realize that if had listened to “people that knew” he never would have had a career. And yet we know of times when someone gave advice to a performer that was life changing.There are "experts" all over this business. Judy Garland, Susan Boyle, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Barbra Streisand would not have had careers IF they had listened to those "experts"!

Not long ago I worked with someone on a song. I tried as hard as possible to trust this person (a good guy, by the way). By the time I finished doing everything I was told, there was no more ME in the song. It was a song that, when I sang it before, made everyone cry. I sang from my heart. When I was done with all my "coachings", no one reacted. Again, Listen to your heart. Here are three versions of my favorite song. Is anyone better than the other two?You and I could go see a show together and come out with two completely different reactions to what we just experienced. That is the magic of entertainmentDo you believe your "coaches" were trying to sabotage you OR do you think they were bringing to the table where they are emotionally with the material you were performing? Did they say you were WRONG in your interpretation OR were there other ways of looking at the material. IF you have a very strong sense of who you are and they are trying to strip that away, you need to walk away from them IF you don't have a strong sense of who you are, perhaps they can help you on THAT path.

Then, on the other hand, we know that many great stars were inventions. We know that in Motown, the singers were trained how to walk, move, dance, sing and answer questions. We know that Hollywood starlets were coached to death on how to act, talk, etc. We know that eyebrows were plucked, and make up men came in, and diets were imposed…whatever. And we know that for some stars, it worked like crazy.

So, my dear Richard, how do we know whom to trust? My answer? You have to trust YOU! YOU know what works for YOU! What hasn't worked for YOU. What turns you on. What turns you off. Go with those instincts. The right people will gravitate to you. Trust me, the wrong ones will to. Carol Channing once told me that for every person who likes you, there are an equal number who don't. Hang on to your TRUTH!
If you were to open up the subject again one day, and could inspire people to respond, that would be very helpful. I posted this question yesterday. NO ONE responded!

After all, I know we have all had our share of terrible advice and we have all had people that tried to tell us to stop performing….and we all have had angels who kept us going.

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my blog. I hope I helped. If not, I hope I will!

I am posting the following review because I think it captures where MAC has been, where it is, and possible clues to where it needs to go. I feel like an outsider as far as where "MAC" is concerned. I hope to one day feel what I used to feel about MAC. There are those who get upset when you voice an OPINION on MAC. An opinion is not necessarily a slam on MAC. My actions prove over and over how much I support this cabaret community". My blogs, my posts, and my frequent cabaret going prove and will continue to do that. But as far as MAC is concerned, I feel like the kid with his nose pressed against the window.

25th anniversary of the Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs Awards (MAC.)
By: John Hoglund

It was not exactly Paris. It was not a starry, starry night. However, New York cabaret was blasted out of its lull like a bubbly bottle of Dom Perignon as the cabaret community honored its own. It all took place on Tuesday, May 10 at B. B. King's Blues Club where the Times Square nitery hosted the 25th anniversary of the Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs Awards (MAC.)
One naturally expected a celebrity lineup of past winners and supporters.
Not so.
Instead, a few hundred performers , friends of cabaret and past winners – among them beloved staples like Baby Jane Dexter, Sharon McNight, Julie Wilson and Jane Monheit who presented a lifetime achievement award to jazz legend Annie Ross, were on hand for the event which honored musical, jazz and comedy performers as well as directors and technicians in about 30 categories. The biggest star of the show was film clips from past shows provided by Applause Video's Bradshaw Smith (who won the first male vocalist award.)
Those nostalgia-laced clips stole the show which was directed by Lennie Watts.
The benign party-flavored evening was hosted with zeal by musical comedienne Christine Pedi, and produced by MAC veep Julie Miller.

Former officers and presidents were on hand to give speeches or present awards. Current president Lennie Watts
recalling his earliest impressions of cabaret, cited being blown away by the likes of Karen Mason, Sally Mayes and the Jenny Burton Experience
for starters.
Speaking about the ups and downs and naysayers of this ever delicate art form, he also noted that, in spite of what anybody says, “... Cabaret ain't going nowhere.”

One might say it was the best of times meets the worst of times (depending on who you ask.) It's cabaret. And, through the years, it has presented the best, and sometimes the worst.
A cliché ?
But cabaret is like a messy sundae dripping with nutty clichés in words and music – with a dollop of drama. Besides, all performers need a jumping off place. Too, cabaret has always been a close cousin to Broadway and inflated with more confusion and chaos than Spider Man; Turn Off the Dark. Like that show, which soared to instant infamy, few idioms in entertainment have gone through as many reinventions, transitions and panic attacks as cabaret. So, these awards, star-filled or not, mean a lot to the aspirations and dreams of a plethora of hopefuls who are serious about a future and fighting for recognition. The evening was a mixed bag of banality and greatness being rewarded for what they love most with one thing in common; dreams. Picking up an award about a decade ago, perhaps Baby Jane Dexter said it best, “ … we all have the same dream.” It may not be the golden days of the Blue Angel, the old Versailles or Reno Sweeney, but cabaret is thriving. Expensive, upscale rooms and mid-level clubs like The Duplex, Don't Tell Mama, Laurie Beechman Theatre and Metropolitan Room host numerous sold out shows.
Mr. Watts' point is well noted.
The MAC Awards started in a basement at the Village Vanguard

Now, twenty five years later, it's still in a basement (after all, that's basically what B.B. King's is!) Along the way, award galas were held at renowned venues like Symphony Space and The Town Hall as well as The Copacabana and Lincoln Center. The idea of having night club awards in a real nightclub jump-started a few years ago and it has worked well since (food and drink are mandatory when an evening runs three to four hours.)
It was a cause to celebrate.
However, one expected a tad more of a pizzazz to celebrate a milestone like a quarter of a century of an organization that has previously honored so many and had many now established stars emerge.
This year's awards were noticeably lower key in comparison to past years.
And, the dearth of celebrities not taking part in the festivities was conspicuous. For instance, past performers and presenters have included stars and industry high rollers like Betty Buckley, Barbara Cook, Kathie Lee Gifford, Ahmet Ehrtegun, Joan Rivers, Rosemary Clooney, Chita Rivera, Barry Manilow, Michael Feinstein, Liza Minnelli and Brian Stokes Mitchell who presented the lifetime achievement award to Leslie Uggams last year.

Christine Pedi recalled that when these awards began in 1987, gasoline was eighty nine cents, a subway token was a dollar, the laptop was invented, The Mystery of Edwin Drood was a smash on Broadway, Cagney & Lacey was a hit on television, Irving Berlin turned ninety eight, Harold Arlen and Benny Goodman died, greed was good, Lindsay Lohan and the Olsen twins were born, 42nd Street was a cacophony of hookers and pimps, and half the people in the audience were in grammar school.

The emphasis was on clubs and the creatures who inhabit them. Thanks to Applause Video's Bradshaw Smith (who won the first male vocalist award,) the night paid film homage to a litany of late, great performers. What the evening lacked in boffo celebrity artists on hand was made up for with zealous gaiety and a lot of heart from many friends.

Borrowing a note from the television hit Glee, a chorus of singers opened the show warbling Barry Manilow's One Voice sung in scattered harmonies in a sweet arrangement by musical director Steven Ray Watkins. Sounding as if it had been written just for the evening, it was sung by Ben Cherry, Natalie Douglas, Daryl Glenn, Danielle Grabianowski, Lorinda Lisitza, Karen Mack, Sue Matsuki and Miles Phillips. A collage of highlights from past shows followed showing clips of winners and performers that included the likes of: Betty Buckley, Barbara Cook, Jeff Harnar, Maureen McGovern

Barry Manilow, Phillip Officer and Liza Minnelli.

Scott Coulter, Lennie Watts and Watkins performed a campy medley paying silly tribute to the disco ball (1987) including eighties club hits one might have heard at Danceteria or The Roxy like: Turn The Beat Around, Lady Marmalade, I Will Survive and Enough Is Enough. Someone switched on a disco ball but, like the evening, it didn't glitter. Respected jazz singer and former MAC president Judy Barnett offered no apologies for suggesting that cabaret replace reality TV in her pithy remarks.

There was a friendly dichotomy between the first and current presidents' comments regarding MAC and cabaret in general. Erv Raible is the organization's co-founder along with late NY Post critic Curt Davis. He guided the group through endless milestones and was an integral part of nurturing performers and keeping MAC afloat in those early years. Lennie Watts is the current popular singer/director/performer who directs many newer artists today and is at the helm over the few years carrying this candle in the wind that often gets slammed by unknowledgeable journalists.

When the New York Times, which could do boundless wonders to support cabaret and a dangling nightlife, writes about the idiom, the focus is invariably on upscale rooms and well established artists. On these rare occasions, cabaret is thrown a bone. How are new and gifted talents supposed to get noticed today? Another reason MAC and these awards count for so much in a passive-aggressive age of Internet frauds who become overnight stars. But that's another column.

Watts optimistically addressed today's “new breed” of performers “... who inhabit clubs like flies at a picnic ... I got involved with cabaret in the late 80s and “they” were saying that cabaret was dying - then. I could never figure out what people were talking about. As far as I could see, things were thriving. I saw some of the most amazing shows! Does everybody remember their first cabaret show? I do. It was Karen Mason at Rainbow & Stars. I had never seen anything like it and I was hooked. I remember thinking that if this is what dying feels like, put me in the body bag and zip that sucker up!”

Raible's remarks about the beginnings in 1987 were a mix of humorous remembrance and cautious cynicism. He quoted encouraging words to beginners by a beloved, much-missed, late saloon singer at those first awards in a speech that made it into the mainstream press, “... That night, Sylvia Syms compared performing in cabaret to “being kissed by the greatest lover you will ever have – and that from there on there would be no turning back!”

Raible, who has owned The Duplex, opened Don't Tell Mama, Brandy's Piano and co-owned the fabled Eighty Eight's (with Karen Miller and Rochelle Seldin,) joked about the eighties era in his introduction to film clips of the first awards, recalling, “ … everyone had big hair then, and, it was their natural color! Everything from big curls, and spikes to curly mullets, and two-tone dye jobs emulating '57 Chevy's! And it’s amazing how many of them actually had hair!” He added sardonically, “And, you will be given valuable information on how to avoid homosexuals.” On a more serious note, he paid tribute to Curt Davis and his verbose successor, the late Bob Harrington, “who got cabaret on the front page of The Post.” In more didactic commentary, he also noted, “ … Awards are funny things. Over the years some have managed to manipulate categories in order to win, some have pulled strings, some started slanderous hate mail campaigns, some bought votes outright. And then, there are those who did deservedly win awards - because they are really good! After all, these awards were not designed to celebrate mediocrity and scorn quality!” Hopefully, the crowd was listening.

Watts wound up his comments assuring everyone “ … It keeps getting better . We make people feel something ... I don't think that will go out of style.”

Uniquely, the ceremony was peppered with award winners accepting and then performing. Julie Reyburn, who won in the major engagement category, sang a heartfelt There Is Love with Mark Janas on piano. Director Scott Barnes presented the annual Hanson Award to Marianne Challis whom he first spotted in 1987 when she was playing Nellie Forbish in South Pacific at the New York State Theater. He told of her being Broadway bound and then not being able to sing for ten years (due to throat problems) before deciding to return with a club act. She sang Julie Gold's What A Journey. Her beautifully nuanced performance created one of those intimate cabaret moments. More clips were shown that included Broadway's Karen Mason singing with the late Brian Lasser at the piano. Impersonator Ruby Rims, in full drag, remembered seeing musical comedienne Helen Baldassare at the long gone Mr. Chips. After her acceptance, newcomer Liz Lark Brown brought the house down singing a rousing “Kyrie” by eighties rock group Mr.Mister.

In a fun twist, the cleaning lady from Don't Tell Mama was on hand to help with the next award in broken English. Then, former president, Ricky Ritzel, presented veteran piano bar mainstay entertainer George Sanders with a special board of directors award as clips were shown of why he is such a popular crowd pleaser known for his off-color antics at the old Duplex and Don't Tell Mama replete with feathers – and a penchant for taking his pants down while serving drinks.
Song of the Year winners Marcus Simeone/Tracy Stark

Previous award winners Marcus Simeone and musical director/performer Tracy Stark won the song of the year award for Haunted. Both thanked the right people. Simeone dedicated his win to his longtime partner Gregory Kennell who was seated in a wheelchair after surviving a paralyzing coma last year. His personal note that was emotional earning a strong ovation. Over the past few months, the cabaret community lost three of its brightest lights. And they were respectfully remembered. In one of the evening's highlights, Johnny Rodgers sang a tender version of legendary Margaret Whiting's signature song, Moonlight In Vermont that was as good as the original. Klea Blackhurst offered a sincere reading of This Funny world honoring Mary Cleere Haran. And vocal group Uptown Express sang a moving Seasons Of Love in honor of their late colleague David Gurland.
With Rick Jensen
at the piano playing his original In Passing Years, clips showed other favorites who had passed including: Bobby Short, Claiborne Cary, Rosemary Clooney, Anne Fancine, Sylvia Syms, Portia Nelson, Leola Harlow, Howard Crabtree, Hildegarde, Buddy Barnes, John Wallowitch & Bertram Ross, Eartha Kitt, Judy Kreston, Marcia Lewis, Phoebe Snow, Mary Cleere Haran, Dorothy Loudon, David Gurland and Nancy LaMott among others.

Presenter and longtime board member Jamie deRoy told of starting in cabaret when they were still called nightclubs. She remembered The Living Room, Upstairs At the Downstairs and recalled seeing Lenny Bruce in a basement in Greenwich Village. More performers performed and talked about themselves. In the end, it was an evening of pastiche, memories and opening doors to that new breed that has taken over cabaret. While the awards were going on, KT Sullivan was starring at The Algonquin Tom Postilio was about to open at Feinstein's and Broadway's Marin Mazzie and Jason Daniely were having their opening night at Cafe' Carlyle. Their shows were mostly sold out. That's something to sing about.

So, 25 years later, in spite of some pros and cons, in the face of criticism, and a bag of dreams, MAC trudges on – and on. Good times and bad times; it's still here and, to reiterate Lennie Watts, “... it ain't going nowhere.”

Bobbie Horowitz writes in her book, "FINDING YOUR mini-Qs", "If we think we should be more muscular, we can't paint muscles on our reflection in the mirror and expect to walk outside into the street with more muscular arms!"

In NY tonight? Looking for something to do?SHAKESPEARE SOIREE






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Richard Skipper,


  1. Many thanks for your charming blog, Richard. I hope you'll catch our shows at Martuni's in San Francisco: June 11th through the 15th. We'll toast you!!! Peace & love, Houston Allred (since dropping out of law school in 1962 & going into "show biz" as a pianist-singer, I've used my middle name --- finding Houston Allred "more theatrical" than Sam Houston Allred -- 'cause everyone in Texas knows that "Sam" is a 2-syllable word....) 134 Kapahulu Ave., #412, Honolulu, HI 96815. (415) 816-9901 (my San Francisco cell 'phone's still active --- as am I, hopefully....)

  2. Houston,
    Wish I was going to be in SF, but I'm in NY! We miss you here! Richard Skipper