Marilyn Maye: Marilyn by Request

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Marilyn Maye

Marilyn by Request

Metropolitan Room, January 14, 2017

Reviewed by Frank Dain for Cabaret Scenes

Marilyn Maye

To paraphrase playwright Arthur Miller wrote, “Respect must be paid” — and, indeed, that’s just what the sold-out audience at Marilyn Maye’s Marilyn by Request at the Metropolitan Room did. But this is no one-way street. In return, Maye respects her audience and, at 88-going-on-89, continues to meet the high standards she has maintained throughout her career. Respect is also paid to the songwriters. She may change a lyric here and there to suit a specific need, or alter a melody line—she is a jazz singer, after all—but she honors their artistry with an artistry all her own. There is also the respect she has for her musicians—Eric Halvorson on drums (in synch with the singer’s sense of humor); Tom Hubbard on bass (his clean, precise finger work is masterful); and the exquisite pianist Tedd Firth (an orchestra unto himself)—allowing them time to shine.

The superlatives that have been written about Maye are still very much appropriate. Time has not diminished this artist. She takes time to greet the audience as she enters the room, commands the stage with the knowledge that she belongs there and, no matter the size of the venue, makes you feel she’s singing just to you. The voice—clear, colorful, soft and purring one moment, trumpet-like the next—was in tip-top shape from the top of the show, her audience-pleaser (well, aren’t they all!), Jerry Herman’s “It’s Today” (complete with three waist-high kicks) through the closer, “Here’s to Life.” Belying her age, and a phenomenon that has left this reviewer in awe, she grew vocally stronger as the 90-minute show progressed. How is that even possible? Only Marilyn Maye can top Marilyn Maye. She gives it, and us, her all. Respect.

As the show’s title suggests, this was a request show (requiring her and the band to rehearse additional material each day). Most of it was familiar. There was a trio of songs from Hello, Dolly! (the title song, “Before the Parade Passes By,” complete with the intro monologue, and “So Long Dearie”) and Mame’s “If He Walked Into My Life” (devastating in its simplicity and constant questioning of choices made and not). Maye’s love of life and exuberance are embodied in these characters, making one long to have seen her play these roles. A lovely “My Foolish Heart” (which she says she had never sung before), performed in a quiet, hushed approach, simmered with just-under-the skin excitement of a new love. The flip side was her much-requested and searing “Guess Who I Saw Today.” For the uninitiated, it begins as a seemingly pleasant conversation between two lovers, but turns, at the very last line, into a devastating accusation. This is Maye the actress at the peak of her interpretive skills. No one would argue with an entire show of her full-out, ebullient, up-tempo, jazz-flavored material, but the addition of ballads to her repertoire has brought yet another color to her already multi-colored palette. (How about “Two for the Road” the next go-around?)

Does Marilyn Maye really need another review? Well, yes and no. Yes, because when someone works this hard, yet effortlessly (a contradiction, I know, but then, this is Marilyn Maye who continues to defy expectations), and is constant in her showmanship and technique, a little acknowledgment is required. And no because, well, she is Marilyn Maye! But a review is also a guide for those who are just starting out in cabaret and those who have been treading the boards for some time. This is how it’s done, kids, and you owe it to yourselves, and your audiences, to learn from one of the few masters.

This was my first cabaret outing in 2017. What a way to begin the year. Happy New Year, indeed!

Marilyn returns to the Metropolitan Room January 19 & 21 at  7:00 pm.