Marilyn Maye: Blame It on My Youth!

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Marilyn Maye

Blame It on My Youth!

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, October 19, 2019

Review by Bill Sensenbrenner for Cabaret Scenes

Marilyn Maye
Photo: Kevin Alvey

Eleven years ago, a day after her 80th birthday (and her having flown in from a performance the night before in Kansas City), I first saw the marvel that is Marilyn Maye. At the time I thought how lucky we were to be able to experience this performer.

Now, at age 91, she walks on stage and starts singing a jazzy arrangement of “The Song Is You” (Music in the Air), immediately connecting to her audience. The years have only increased her depth and understanding of the music she brings to us.

Maye then sings the show’s title song, “Blame It on My Youth,” a wonderfully touching ballad that I hadn’t heard her sing before. One of the signatures of a Marilyn Maye show is a self-written parody of some of her material.  After singing what she called the “sad version” of the title song, she then performed her “fun” parody version, changing the title to “Blame It on My Mom!” During “I Love Being Here with You,” when she gets to the line “I love to hear you say my name,” her arms open wide, the audience loudly calls out “Marilyn!” You are swept into her embrace, feeling that everything she sings is being sung directly to you.

That feeling of being in Maye’s embrace continues with songs by Jerry Herman. She calls Hello, Dolly! a “show near and dear to my heart” after having portrayed Dolly Levi in many regional theaters. She also recorded an album titled Maye Sings All of Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly! As she sings the title song, the audience moves with her on “I feel the room swaying” and she gives us a knowing look with “Look at the old girl now, fellas!” Her rendition of “It Only Takes a Moment” is gorgeous, with lyrics I hadn’t heard before. Then a seamless transition brings us into “Before the Parade Passes By.

Maye confesses that it was her lifelong ambition and number one on her bucket list to play the title character in Herman’s Mame. She has the audience sing “Mame” with her at the end of each phrase of the title song. But on the ballad “If He Walked into My Life,” you feel Maye’s true understanding of the character she’s portraying.

Marilyn Maye said that when she was performing in Palm Springs, Kaye Ballard was in the audience. Ballard yelled up to her “You know I’m two years older than you are,” to which Maye responded, “I’m so glad!” This was the introduction to “Lazy Afternoon” from The Golden Apple which Ballard originally starred in on Broadway. Maye pairs the mood of this song with her wonderful, bluesy rendition of “Bye Bye Country Boy.”

Music Director Billy Stritch gets a solo spot singing “Early Autumn” (Johnny Mercer/Ralph Burns/Woody Herman) with his smoky, haunting voice. The perfect medley of autumn songs follows—“Autumn in New York,” “Autumn Leaves” with a samba beat, and “When October Goes.” This last song brought back so many memories of “the happy years,” and for me it is true that “I hate to see October go.” My husband was brought back to his childhood by the song, remembering when his grandmother would be waiting for him on the corner of her yard.

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“Hallelujah, I Love Him So” by Ray Charles was recorded on Maye’s CD Maye Sings Raye. This gives her an opportunity to sing her own lyrics “I want to sing like Raye but I’m too white! Hallelujah I am singing Raye!” The joy she brings to this number is fantastic as she dances across the stage, eventually lifting a leg to accentuate a lyric. Tom Hubbard has a nice solo on bass.

Stritch joins Maye on “Just for a Thrill” singing a scat duet in the middle and then finishing the song with her.

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Mark McLean on drums plays a wonderful solo to start “Golden Rainbow.” This is the first song in a rainbow-themed section. “Make Me Rainbows” is especially moving. 

When Maye starts singing “You Make Me Feel So Young,” she invites the audience to sing with her, which we all do. She closed her show with what has become a signature song for her, “It’s Today” from Mame

You realize that there is not a false moment in anything Marilyn Maye sings. Her life experience comes through, and we are the lucky recipients of the emotion she brings.

If you haven’t ever seen Marilyn Maye perform, you must go. And even if you have seen her perform, you’ll want to start the fall season with this incredible performer.