Marilyn Maye is now 90! Honestly. The little girl who had her own radio show at 14, recorded, paid her dues, headlined nightclubs, acted in musicals and played The Tonight Show a record 79 times, has reached an age when entertainers who push on usually curb appearances, rely on lyric sheets, and crack long notes…not this spectacular broad.
The venerable Maye leads a professional life that would exhaust most vocalists, teaches a prestigious Master Class and finds time to mentor young hopefuls. She looks fabulous, rarely drops a word, remains musically distinctive, and sings with seemingly unfrayed power.
This year’s birthday features a robust 90 minute show sandwiched between standing ovations. Unfurling “The Song Is You” (Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II) with an excellent band lead by MD/pianist Tedd Firth, Maye greets her congregation with sincere warmth. The last “you” runs eight syllables. A Cole Porter Medley follows, each number differently framed, yet all of a piece. “I’ve Got you Under My Skin” is the kind of arrangement in which one wants to wrap oneself.
Who knows whether the vocalist can see past her glamorous eyelashes; she appears to look at us face by face. One can feel palpably touched. Maye expresses more with a flick of her fingers, a raised eyebrow, or pause than others exercising what looks like flag semaphore. “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” (Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields) arrives in long, seductive lines. Were I a man of a certain age…
One of her famous Happy Medleys encourages the audience to shout hallelujah! We do, of course. Few radiate joy like Maye. The performer seems as tickled as if she was hearing it for the first time….it’s so, ho, ho, ho peaceful…she sings…on the other side…Tom Hubbard leans in and bends low as if taking the bass in his arms like a woman Daniel Glass, manages to play with as much ease as control. Shoulders hunched (a la Bill Evans) Firth evokes “subtle, subtle” from the singer. A beautiful rendition of “My Romance” (Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart) begins almost classical and becomes swaying foxtrot.
From an album called Maye Sings Ray (Charles), we hear an innately hip interpretation of “Hallelujah I Love Her So” with a skillful verse by the artist herself. “Just for a Thrill” (Lil Hardon Armstrong/Don Raye) is a showcase for use of word repetition, sound punctuation, and lags, each and every one in service of the lyric, rather than injected for novelty. Maye bites her lower lip and closes her eyes. Effect is heady.
I’ve called out “Guess Who I Saw Today?” (Murray Grand/Elisse Boyd) in previous reviews. It’s apparently the most requested song in Maye’s extensive repertoire. Last time, as I recall, it was all the character could do to keep it together; this time she’s accusatory. A thesis might take the entertainer’s emotional temperature by gauging the song from show to show. The bubbly “My Personal Property” (Cy Coleman/ Dorothy Fields) is accompanied by the arrival of birthday cupcakes at every table.
The signature “Here’s to Life” (Artie Butler/Phyliss Molinary) is Maye’s “Thanks For the Memory” (Bob Hope), her “It Was a Very Good Year,” (Frank Sinatra), the pull on an ear (Carol Burnett.) It’s brave and wrenching, hungry and grateful- tonight exalted. The artist is an irrefutable knockout. Light the candles/Get the ice out/Roll the rug up/It’s today… (Jerry Herman)
Opening Photos, mid review photo Maryann Lopinto
Early publicity photo courtesy of the artist
Closing photo-Maye with Tom Hubbard, Jeff Harnar
Marilyn Maye: 90 At Last!
MD/Piano- Tedd Firth
Bass – Tom Hubbard; Drums – Daniel Glass
254 West 54th Street
More Shows! April 20, 21, 29