Carrying the Torch
Feinstein’s/54Below, NYC, April 12, 2017
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes
Let the good times roll! Celebrating her 89th birthday, Marilyn Maye continues Carrying the Torch of the American Songbook with power, zest, and a down-to-earth love affair with her audience. “She’s amazing,” you hear people say after her current show at Feinstein’s/54Below. Yes, she is “a-Maye-zing,” and not because she is still performing at age 89, but because she is presenting us with a birthday gift of joy, enthusiasm, and all the right stuff for a good time.
She opened with “Let the Good Times Roll” (Shirley Goodman/Leonard Lee), but while the song energized the audience, she wasn’t satisfied and confided, “Damn, I didn’t want to do that song.” With the audience in her pocket, she turned bluesy and delivered Duke Ellington and Mack David’s “I’m Just a Lucky So and So,” paired with an upbeat jazz waltz treatment of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.
With jazz-sharp instincts and down-to-earth confidence, Maye is today’s hostess of any room, scanning the audience, connecting, pointing to friends (or yet-to-be friends), and blending songs and patter like a saucier’s signature gravy. Her signature song is arguably “It’s Today” (Jerry Herman), complete with high kicks, from Mame, a show she has performed on theater stages around the country. You can’t find many power singers who can deliver the song with more verve and authenticity than Maye.
With Tedd Firth on piano, Tom Hubbard on bass, and Daniel Glass on drums, Maye roamed seamlessly through rhythms and styles. She includes R&B with “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News” (from The Wiz, credited to Charlie Smalls, but ghost-written by Larry Kerchner) picturesque American Songbook classics like “Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home” (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer), and dramatically building ballads like “When the World Was Young” (“Ah, the Apple Trees”) (Philippe-Gerard/Angele Vannier/Johnny Mercer). In the mix, she includes Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock’s “If I Were a Rich Man” with the Maye touch, and “God Bless the Child” (Billie Holiday /Arthur Herzog Jr.), proving that great singers know exactly what they are singing about.
“Guess Who I Saw Today” (Murray Grand/Elisse Boyd) is a favorite and, no matter how many times you’ve heard it, Maye still hooks you into the story. Continuing with that story-song, she sharply phrases “Fifty Percent” (Billy Goldenberg/Alan and Marilyn Bergman) from Ballroom, making it especially relevant. Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here,” a great selection, traces people and places through the decades, reaching a celebration of survival.
Her closing of “Some Other Time” paired with “The Party’s Over,” both by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, was boosted by a reprise of “It’s Today.” As Mame sings, “There’s a ‘thank you’ you can give life/If you live life all the way,” and Marilyn Maye continues to do so at Feinstein’s/54 Below from April 18th to 23rd.