Marilyn Maye

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Marilyn Maye

Birdland Theater, NYC, July 24, 2018

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Marilyn Maye
Photo: Kevin Alvey

Is she getting better? Could she even get any better? Marilyn Maye has performed around the country on theater stages, leading concert halls, and legendary jazz clubs and now, at age 90, her vocal stamina remains robust, her range impressive, and her final notes land right in the center with dramatic power. Now at the new Birdland Theater, Maye struts her stuff, with hard swinging jazz, show tunes, and some favorites, accompanied by the classy Tedd Firth Trio with Firth on piano, Tom Hubbard on bass, and Daniel Glass on drums.

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Saluting the historic jazz club with the George Shearing and George David Weiss  standard “Lullaby of Birdland” is a must.

Sparkling in black, Maye ignites her opening evening with “This Could Be the Start of Something Big,” and several standing ovations prove that’s just what she is—something big. She praised the new club’s outstanding sound system and we appreciated the good sight lines and great food.

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 No wonder Maye likes New York, where she has been a jazz and cabaret favorite for the past ten years. It took decades of success in cities around the country before her appearance at the 2006 Mabel Mercer Foundation Cabaret Convention proved that this lady belongs here. Since then, she has been busy singing and teaching in New York and also hitting out-of-town showrooms.  

Maye likes to sing medleys and she salutes New York with “I Happen to Like New York” (Cole Porter) leading into Billy Joel’s bluesy “New York State of Mind.” She adds a taste of scat to George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward’s “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York,” and finds that this town is “My Personal Property” (Cy Coleman/Dorothy Fields).

“Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me” in Duke Ellington’s famed “rockin’ in rhythm” style puts her in Duke’s territory with “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” featuring Glass’ percussion stress. “Satin Doll” (lyrics by Johnny Mercer) is just plain sassy and “Come Rain or Come Shine,” with Mercer’s lyrics to Harold Arlen’s melody, is outright sexy from soft start to thunderous finish. One of her audience favorites is “Golden Rainbows” which drove her audience to their feet for the first ovation.

Her salute to show tunes included My Fair Lady with Maye’s unique arrangements, and Hello, Dolly! (and why isn’t she grabbed up to take the Broadway stage as Dolly?). From Frank Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella, she delivers the operatic drama of “Joey, Joey, Joey” and it’s standing “o” number two. But who’s counting now? 

“Luck Be a Lady” from Guys and Dolls became a jazz waltz, and her rendition of “If He Walked into My Life” delved deeply into Mame’s feelings of love and loss.

Another opening, another show, another Marilyn Maye knockout performance.

Elizabeth Ahlfors

Born and raised in New York, Elizabeth graduated from NYU with a degree in Journalism. She has lived in various cities and countries and now is back in NYC. She has written magazine articles and published three books: A Housewife’s Guide to Women’s Liberation, Twelve American Women, and Heroines of ’76 (for children). A great love was always music and theater—in the audience, not performing. A Philadelphia correspondent for and InTheatre Magazine, she has reviewed theater and cabaret for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia City News. She writes for Cabaret Scenes and other cabaret/theater sites. She is a judge for Nightlife Awards and a voting member of Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Jeanie Columbo

    Every time I see Marilyn Maye I think it’s the best show! She tops herself each time! Recently at The Birdland Theatre, she began to cough. She motioned for the musicians to cease & to to audience to join in! MY God most of the audience coughed with her! After a second she was fine- never asked for water & continue to bend notes .. smooth as butter. AMAZING PHRASING! Pure talent!!!

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