Marilyn Maye: Broadway the Maye Way

Filmed at Feinstein’s /54Below the week of the indomitable artist’s 93rd Birthday

If Cole Porter was still adding verses to “You’re the Top,” there’d be a call out to Marilyn Maye. Not only does she continue to make a daunting number of appearances, but the polish on well shined shows doesn’t keep them from affecting. Even with a camera between us, I’d bet everyone in the audience imagines she singing just to them. Nor does she drop a stitch. Maye is present.

Tedd Firth, Marilyn Maye, Tom Hubbard, Mark McLean

Tonight’s offering uses musicals in which she’s acted as a centerpiece, with warm welcome before and an optimistic medley to which resistance is futile after. “Did anyone tell you who I am? Was it announced? Patty Page…We thought this was a great idea to say hello to you…” An intimate, conversational rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s “Old Friends” – “Here’s to us, raise your glass- I hope you have a glass… morphs into a pumped up  “I Love Being Here with You” (Peggy Lee/Bill Schluger). For seven years, Maye has twice annually packed 54Below. She makes it seem cozier.

John Kander/Fred Ebb’s “Cabaret” enters easy and enticing with lightly tripling piano and a slight bounce. Maye’s palms pat her sequined thighs. “I was the first to record that song before the show or movie. This next one was also very good to me,” prefaces “Step to The Rear” (Elmer Bernstein/Carolyn Leigh from How Now Dow Jones) whose melody was used for a car commercial, “four wonderful, residual years,” as well as several political campaigns.

“I had the pleasure of playing Dolly (Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly!) three weeks at Starlight Theater in Kansas City. I love it when she comes down the steps of The Harmonia Gardens flanked by all those men.” It’s no effort to imagine Maye in the role. “Hello, Dolly!” replete with a well-placed growl, Irene Malloy’s “Ribbons Down My Back,” during which the years fall away to reveal a young, hopeful romantic, and Cornelius and Barney’s “Elegance”- a little march with jazz-tinted keyboard, conjure the musical.

“My favorite show after Hello, Dolly! and Mame is My Fair Lady.” Alan Jay Lerner/Frederick Lowe’s “I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face” arrives ruminative and credible. “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” sashays and a seriously swing “On the Street Where You Live,” with “oh-who-ver powering feeling” follow. “I don’t think it was done exactly that way.” Two selections from Herman’s Mame (Maye starred in Houston), are an understated rendition of the title song and “If He Walked Into My Life (Today).” The latter is so real, it seems as if she’s recollecting before our eyes.

Six, count’m, six “smile” songs follow. Maye is nothing if not, at least on stage, indefatigably optimistic. “When You’re Smiling” (Mark Fisher/Joe Goodwin/Larry Shay) gives way to “Pack Up Your Troubles” (in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile– Felix Powell/ George H. Powell), which morphs into Charles Chaplin’s “Smile.” “When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by,” she sings raising a finger. “…Light up your face with gladness/Hide every trace of sadness,” her palm comes forward; “…Although a tear…” hands  clasp…”May be ever so near…” in turn, yields to a bubbly “Your Smiling Face” (James Taylor). The medley closes with Randy Newman’s “I Love to See You Smile” and an epilogue of “Put on a Happy Face” (Lee Adams/Charles Strouse) during which the performer is so exuberant, her arm windmills.

At this point, one of Maye’s signature songs comes way out of left field. “Fifty Percent” (Marilyn Bergman/ Alan Bergman/Billy Goldenberg from Ballroom) is proud and heartbreaking. The artist’s wellspring of emotion unassailably rises. A great song, a great performance, but it doesn’t fit the show.

From Stephen Sondheim’s Company, a rendition of “I’m Still Here” (Maye played Sally in Houston and Carlotta in San Diego) is less clarion than an evocation of humility, surprise, and acceptance. Maye closes with Herman’s “It’s Today,” a song she calls her motto. After a jam-packed show, verve is undiminished.  She’s the top. As are these three superb musicians.

Photos by Kevin Alvey

Broadway the Maye Way
Directed by Cody Williams
Tedd Firth MD/Piano
Thomas Hubbard-bass, Mark McLean-drums
Adam Paul Verity- Director of Photography
Performed and recorded on Feinstein’s/54 Below’s iconic stage, with no public audience and following strict COVID guidelines to maintain a safe environment for all the artists and staff.

Saturday, May 8, 2021 at 7 p.m. Eastern Time  

On Demand May 9 to June 19, 2021

About Alix Cohen (1775 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.