It’s that time of year again, and the 22nd New York Cabaret Convention (Oct. 20-22,), an important step in Donald Smith’s perpetual effort to help cabaret flourish under the auspices of the Mabel Mercer Foundation, showcased veterans of the cabaret circuit as well as relative newcomers on the rise. I chose to go to the performance on Friday, Oct. 21, 2011, at the Rose Theater, Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center. As expected, it was a mostly scintillating occasion, highlighted by the presentation of the first Margaret Whiting Award from the Johnny Mercer Foundation to Jennifer Sheehan, who has been getting more and more buzz as a rising new star.

However, there was one element missing from the event. Traditional host Donald Smith, Executive Director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation, sent greetings read by Rick Meadows, a Foundation director and production stage manager, explaining that Smith had a hip replacement and was still in rehab recovering. However, stepping in as sub hosts doing the honors as well as performing were gracious Andrea Marcovicci and the charming KT Sullivan.

There were running tributes to Whiting from various artists telling anecdotes about her and expressing admiration for her as a performer and as a person. Sheehan properly expressed her gratitude.

There was an impressive roster of entertainers gracing the stage, but for me the highlight was the pairing of Ann Hampton Callaway and Marilyn Maye. Callaway does a fabulous “Blues in the Night” and Maye puts new strength into “Come Rain or Come Shine.” Maye always makes it seem as if she could teach plenty to a younger generation.

Callaway also did a novelty presentation. She asked audience members to call out words that summed up what impressed them about Whiting, and then Callaway came back with an improvised song that worked in the plaudits. Very clever and lots of fun.

There were so many other pluses, including performances by Natalie Douglas, Karen Oberlin, Amanda McBroom, Ronny Whyte and Amy Beth Williams among others.

Smith may have been kept away, but his spirit soars over such occasions with the participating artists all attuned to his mission—keeping cabaret going as a cherished art form, as well as keeping the memory of Mabel Mercer alive. Reviewed at the Rose Theater, Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

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