Marilyn Maye could sell swampland in Florida. The veteran entertainer imbues her shows with so much warmth and sincerity that noting aloud she’s forgotten a gesture arrives as honest as the ache of Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Here’s That Rainy Day” and the chortling pleasure of James Taylor’s “Whenever I See Your Smiling Face.” (Yes, she chortles.)
This show is 98% positive, a feeling Maye likes to share despite being masterful with torch. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” (Bob Crewe/Bob Gaudio), opens a Smile Medley, sidling in with cha-cha. Even making the sixties rock ballad a country club dance, her investment in the lyric is unmistakable. By the time we get to a swingy “I Love to See You Smile” (Randy Newman), our own grins are wide.
“Old Friends” (Stephen Sondheim) and “I Love Being Here with You” (Peggy Lee) are filled with candor. Are we, are we unique?… Maye sings in the first song raising her eyebrows, offering two thumbs up. Here’s to us…she toasts – as do we – Who’s like us? she continues -“You say it.” Damn few! the club responds in unison. I love when you yell my name, the vocalist sings in the second song and the audience does just that… I love, uv, uv. uv bein’ here with you… oo…oo…LOVE bein’ here with you! she playfully freestyles.
“On a Clear Day” You Can See Forever (Burton Lane) is exhaled. Maye’s anticipation is palpable. Wrapped in images, she puposefully comes back in just past the beat. The vocalist and MD/pianist Tedd Firth are a musical Rogers and Astaire: she scats, he plays, she scats, he plays, she dips, he lifts, they twirl.
Irving Berlin’s “Count Your Blessings” carries a muted glow when the advice comes from experience. Maye’s rendition, bookending a chiffon “Dream” (Johnny Mercer), has gravitas and grace. The gracious artist tells us some of the people and things for which she’s thankful, not the least of which are songwriters who color her days and nights.
A longtime request from the performer’s “step-daddy” evokes the surprising “Midnight Choir” (Larry Gatlin/The Gatlin Brothers). Dropping her gs like a country girl, Maye points us toward lyrics projected on two screens: Will they have Mogen David in Heaven?/Dear Lord, we’d all like to know./Will they have Mogen David in Heaven?/ If they don’t, who the Hell wants to go?! we sing. (Mogen David is a wine.)
James Lipton’s unfussy “Sherry” (James Lipton/ Laurence Rosenthal): I swear champagne is overrated/I’m just plain intoxicated… erupts into jitterbug. The club claps in time. Maye pats the piano, raises a knee and launches into full-throated scat. Unfraying octaves climb high and wide. “Let’s all just breathe for awhile. You think it’s easy, don’t you?” Maye challenges. She makes it look easy.
“I Believe” (Ervin Drake/Irvin Graham/Jimmy Shirl/Al Stillman), “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (John Frederick Coots/Haven Guillespe), and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (Hugh Martin/Ralph Blane) are followed by a robust version of Jerry Herman’s “Shalom” with skating piano and the whoosh of brushes.
Several unabashedly optimistic numbers prime us to join her in a tandem “America the Beautiful” (Katharine Lee Bates/Samuel A. Ward) and “God Bless America” (Irving Berlin). Projected lyrics appear for the first, the second most know by heart. It’s a testament to both Maye’s heady wattage and collective distress with contemporary times that the songs don’t feel out of place.
Maye closes with an ebullient “It’s Today” (Jerry Herman), replete with signature kicks. She owns every character-infused song and unfailingly connects. I’d lay odds every one of us exits infinitely more lighthearted than when we arrived, grateful to have been here.
The band is first rate.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
Marilyn Maye Gives Thanks
Bass-Tom Hubbard; Drums- Daniel Glass
Through November 24, 2018
254 West 54th Street