Marilyn Maye

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Marilyn Maye

The Wick Theatre, Boca Raton, FL, April 11, 2021

Reviewed by Todd Sussman

Photo: Kevin Alvey

On her way to the Wick Theatre in Boca Raton, Marilyn Maye must have stopped off at the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine. In terms of a gorgeous voice, a jubilant stage persona, and an instant, symbiotic relationship with her audience, this cabaret legend, at age 93, is forever young.

The show I attended was a previously unscheduled encore—a fifth evening newly added to a four-show, sold-out run. It was a welcome opportunity for those who could not score tickets for the nights before. But night five was indeed a charm; our blue-eyed and bejeweled champion of the Great American Songbook did not disappoint in a nearly two-hour set.

Maye is at one with the music she sings. She is a study in confidence and ease, hang gliding in and out from pop standards to jazz and back again. She knows exactly where to hold a note (or not) for maximum appeal. (I spoke with her following the performance to discover that she even created the structures of the arrangements.) 

It seems fitting that this preeminent cabaret artist was actually the first to record Kander and Ebb’s title song from Cabaret, an advance track prior to the Broadway cast album. Maye calls it a “turntable hit,” meaning that not many purchased her recording, yet it received an abundance of airplay. She continued to delve into her musical archives and pulled out “Step to the Rear” (music by Elmer Bernstein, lyrics by Carolyn Leigh), an early hit of hers later used as the theme for Lincoln Mercury commercials. She turned the Wick’s spacious lobby, where the event was held to meet social distancing standards, into a sparkling “nightclub” (a term she favors over “cabaret”).  

The up-tempo renditions had the audience swaying and snapping. The romantic ballads had us in tears. Maye does that to you, along with her trio.

To give you an idea of the caliber of performance, the pianist/conductor was none other than Billy Stritch. He headlined at the Wick just one week prior and then returned to accompany Maye, his dear friend. Frank Derrick on drums and Jamie Ousley on bass rounded out the winning combination. These guys can play! 

Maye is a true original whose musical choices set her apart. She so adored Jerry Herman’s songs for Hello, Dolly!—even the ones she did not sing when she starred in the touring company—that she recorded an album of the entire score. She wistfully suggested that Jerry (who passed away in 2019) “has a better seat now and sees every show we do.” She imbued “Ribbons Down My Back” with a plaintive, melancholy touch that showed off her lustrous voice. For the title tune, she substituted the waiters’ names (“hello Rudy, well hello Harry”) with names from the audience, including cabaret colleagues Randy Roberts and Nicolas King. The Dolly portion—not a medley but a grouping of four full songs—was surely a highlight of the evening.

Of course, Marvelous Marilyn is also famous for her medleys, so she gave us one about love, another about smiling, and yet another about faces and smiling. The versatile songstress went from Charlie Chaplin (“Smile”) to James Taylor (“Your Smiling Face”) to Randy Newman (“I Love to See You Smile”) without missing a mood or a beat.

Perhaps the most magical treat was a surprise “duet” exclusive to this night only. The entire cast of A Chorus Line, the Wick’s next production, arose from their tables and joined Maye on “What I Did for Love.” She started with the iconic lyrics, “Kiss today goodbye,” and gave each verse the richness and depth of someone who’s been there, and then turned it over to the young cast for the bridge, “Gone, love is never gone.” The song became a “call and response” if you will, seamlessly melding this grand dame of show business with the next generation of performers. Layering that upon the poignant Marvin Hamlisch music and Ed Kleban lyrics, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Maye was channeling Dolly Levi here, “encouraging young things to grow” while advocating for the American Songbook.

Her closing number, the intricate and lengthy Sondheim classic, “I’m Still Here” (from Follies), was a tour de force. After all these years, has anyone else earned the right to sing this as much as she has? 



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Todd Sussman

Todd Sussman is a graduate of Columbia University, where he studied journalism and film. A longtime entertainment writer, he is the author of the Blockbuster Video books, The Greatest Movies of All Time, Volumes 1 & 2. He began his writing career as the film critic for The Miami News and soon became the editor of Blockbuster Video Magazine. For his work on the magazine, Todd received an Addy Award for Best In-House Publication, one of several Addy honors he holds. The Walt Disney Company commissioned him to write an interview promoting the film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (for which Todd wrote the questions as well as the answers, in character as the beloved Roger Rabbit). He had the privilege of working as the Liner Notes Editor on the following projects for Barbra Streisand: Encore (her 11th Number One album), Release Me 2 (with various collector editions), and her tour program for The Music…The Mem’ries…The Magic! He also edited the liner notes for: A Capitol Christmas - Volumes 1 & 2, Neil Diamond’s Classic Diamonds, Nat King Cole & Friends’ A Sentimental Christmas, and Kristin Chenoweth’s Happiness Is Christmas. Recent cover stories for Cabaret Scenes include Johnny Mathis, Kristin Chenoweth, and Stephen Schwartz.