Marilyn Maye Highlights The New York Pops
To a multitude of friends, fans, and fellow artists, Marilyn Maye is a lighthouse, a lodestar, The Little Prince’s planet. Knowing she’s out there, skill, style, showmanship, warmth, and integrity intact over eight decades, is immensely reassuring. Experiencing a Maye performance is, as she intends, like attending a party. One feels a sense of community – let’s face it, we’re groupies – engaged, entertained, and against the odds, optimistic.
For its final 40th season concert, The New York Pops presents Marilyn Maye McLaughlin from Wichita, Kansas in her long overdue debut solo at Carnegie Hall. “It’s kind of a nice club, isn’t it?” she quips. “Kind of fancy.” The icon creates intimacy even in this large, hallowed venue. Make no mistake, however, Maye is sincerely impressed and grateful. Like Liz Taylor, she’s a “broad” in the best sense of the term – honest and outspoken with a twinkle in her eye. When the lady sings a lyric, she owns it.
Tedd Firth and Marilyn Maye
Music Director/Conductor Steven Reineke opens each act with overture from a Jerry Herman musical in which the artist performed early in her career. The first is Mame, the second Hello, Dolly! It’s easy to imagine Maye in both roles. The Pops also plays John Kander/Fred Ebb’s “Cabaret,” her first pre-production hit. (Theater songs were sometimes released to her before musicals opened.)
Selections by Cole Porter open the formidable concert. Three of seven songs begin with one of her own accomplished musicians: Tom Hubbard-bass; Mark McClean-drums; Tedd Firth-piano/ music director. The accompanists may be hidden in a sea of black dresses and tuxedos, but their sound during finer grained numbers is unmistakable, pristine. It isn’t long before the microphone is off its stand, in hand. Maye, whose rule is never to sit down, needs to be free to move.
“It’s Today” (Jerry Herman, Mame) vivaciously peals as she side steps from one end of the stage to the other wishing designer Bob Mackie a happy birthday. The room stands as one, something repeated at intervals throughout.
Her signature Rainbow Medley follows. “Look to the Rainbow” (Burton Lane/ Yip Harburg, Finian’s Rainbow) has the weight of a drifting feather. “Rainbow Connection” (Paul Williams/ Kenneth Ascher) arrives by way of familiar banjo. “Oh, honey, smile,” the artist encourages someone in the front row, “It’s a happy night!” (I can think of no performer who uses the word “happy” more frequently.)
Tedd Firth’s marvelous arrangement of “Joey, Joey” (Frank Loesser, The Most Happy Fella) is lush. Its haunting chorus morphs to a country club dance vibe then back, tugging at heart strings with full orchestral swell. Loesser’s “Luck Be a Lady” (Guys and Dolls) sounds like woodwind humming birds, strings beneath their wings. Maye looks up at Reineke, “It’s only one night, huh?” she asks plaintively.
The artist’s RCA recording of “Too Late Now” (Burton Lane/Alan Jay Lerner, Royal Wedding) was chosen for The Smithsonian Institute’s legacy collection of 20th Century recordings. Both hands clasp the mic as if for emotional stability. We believe every word. A duo of Maye’s most requested ballads includes “Fifty Per Cent” (Billy Goldenberg/Allan and Marilyn Bergman, Ballroom) accompanied initially only by Firth’s painterly, unhurried piano. It’s a scene-in-one. “He says he loves me”- eyebrows rise-“…so I didn’t share his name…” strings are rueful, determined. Audience stands.
Reineke announces that on April 10, Marilyn Maye turns 95 years “young.” The performer literally backs away from his statement. Over 3,000 people then sing a rousing “Happy Birthday.” As if that wasn’t enough to nonplus the usually unflappable veteran, he then reads from a mayoral proclamation: …nonagenarian Marilyn Maye has enriched our lives…tonight I join everyone at Carnegie Hall celebrating her invaluable contributions and declare March 24 Marilyn Maye Day. “I get to take that home, to keep it?” the gobsmacked artist rhetorically asks.
Marilyn Maye and The New York Pops – Steven Reineke, Music Director/Conductor
“Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all…” Maye begins. The audience erupts. (“I’m Still Here,” Stephen Sondheim, Follies.) Who better embodies this lyric and its spirit than a woman who performed on Radio KRNT, Des Moines at 14 and dazzles us tonight. “Look who’s here…” Left arm rises, ballet fingers part. “I’m still here!”
Summing up, Maye offers what might be her personal anthem, “Here’s to Life” (Artie Butler/Phyllis Molinary.) Here’s to glamour, brio, warmth, protean talent and oomph. “Here’s to life, Here’s to love.” Here’s to Marilyn Maye!
Photos by Richard Termine
Marilyn Maye Highlights The New York Pops
Steven Reineke – Music Director/Conductor
Marilyn Maye – Guest Artist
Tedd Firth – Piano and Music Director for Marilyn Maye
Tom Hubbard -bass, Mark McClean -drums
March 24, 2023
Further Birthday celebrations continue at 54Below April 8-10; May 24-31