Sally Mayes: After All: The Birthday Concert

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Sally Mayes

After All: The Birthday Concert

Birdland Theater, NYC, June 2, 2019

Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes

Sally Mayes
Photo: Kevin Alvey

Sally Mayes blazes into “Danny’s All-Star Joint” (Rickie Lee Jones) riding Tex Arnold’s boogie piano and Bob Renino’s heady bass guitar. Phrased with skill and Texas sass, the song couldn’t sound more natural. Her left hand fingers the air as she scats. “Look we gave a party and everybody came!” The club is filled with friends and admirers.

Jeff Harnar joins Mayes for a playful duet on “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” and “At the Zoo” (Paul Simon) from their excellent show Double Take. The number starts traditionally, veers into deft jazz, and returns. Voices hold hands. Dedicated to women of a certain age, Amanda McBroom’s “Round” is performed with Wendy Lane Bailey, as a couple of girlfriends eschewing the struggle of figure maintenance.
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The song is wry, the singers blend appealingly.

Billy Stritch and Jim Caruso, both of whom go way back with Mayes, offer a tandem “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” and “You Are My Sunshine” in a lively arrangement that has swell counterpoint. Stritch stays at the piano for a duet on “When I Take My Sugar to Tea” with the birthday girl. Easy and dancey, the song features conversational scat like a couple of birds talking their own melodic language.

From James Hindman’s Off Broadway show Pete ’n’ Keely, we’re treated to its stars’—Mayes and George Dvorsky—rendition of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. They are deadpan hysterical with this farcical rendition. Both fine vocalists, they also deliver just the right theatrical tone.
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(Watch for the piece at Birdland Theater this fall.)

Mayes taps this stylistic approach again with Carol Hall’s “It’s Only a Broken Heart”: “It’s not like somebody died, at least you know that you’re alive/So you’ll survive, I swear/There, there, there” she sings, lyrically raising an eyebrow.

Jason Robert Brown, whom Mayes first came across as “this kid at the piano,” accompanies her on his own “Hear My Song,” apparently written at age 21. It’s the kind of sincere, uncomplicated pop song that universally affects. “Hold on, hold tight” she sings raising and extending her left arm as if compelled.

Brown tells us it was because of Richard Maltby, Jr./David Shire’s musical revue Closer Than Ever that he decided to become a songwriter. Mayes offers “Miss Byrd,” her original comic turn from the show. She’s adorable.

Two songs from a musical the honoree is writing arrive with the addition of MD/pianist Cooper Baldwin (terrific arrangements!), Jessica Wright (fiddle), and Ethan Fein (guitar).

“I tell a lot of my family stories, but it’s not exactly about my life.” “Whiskey Lullaby” relates the experience shared with her father of being a child performer. The country-and-western- meets Broadway song paints a picture.

“They say it’s the parent you have issues with you grieve the hardest,” Mayes notes faltering with emotion. Also from the incipient show, “Like a Child” is about the last days caring for her mother. “When I look into your eyes/And a smile lights your face/And I know for a moment you’re there, I just say, I love you mom/Or I might sing your favorite song.” Sensitive, specific lyrics then imagine the next generation with her son.

We close with “After All,” a graceful coda written by Mayes with Tex Arnold and worthy of becoming her signature.

Sally Mayes has acting chops, an expansive personality, and a beautifully controlled, tensile voice. She changes key and genre with equal ease, often surprising us with a freshly colored interpretation. This is a rich and winning show.

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.