Marilyn Maye

Marilyn Maye

Music Instrument Museum, Phoenix, AZ, December 2, 2023

Reviewed by Lynn Timmons Edwards

Marilyn Maye
Photo: Kevin Alvey

What can you say about Marilyn Maye making her Music Instrument Museum (MIM) debut in Phoenix, Arizona? Keeping a critic’s eyes and ears on the show was a challenge because I am in complete awe of her. I’m a student learning from her vocal confidence and song selection that she delivers with the perfect nuance in every lyric. She has earned her place as a Cabaret Scenes’ superstar, having appeared on its cover three times. Reading through her recent reviews (mostly from 54 Below) and one brilliantly written from the Wick Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida, we know she is the queen of medley, and that her vast repertoire chosen from the Great American Songbook allows her constantly to create new tapestries of songs. Accompanied by her 17-year friend and music director Tedd Firth, she kicked off her first of two shows with a seven-song Cole Porter medley. By the end of it, her voice had really locked into her ability to sing right in the middle of the pitch as she negotiated her belt flawlessly into her middle range and popped into head voice just for fun and effect.

She took a short pause to greet her audience and praised the MIM for being a gem in the desert that is acoustically superior to just about any club in the U.S. MIM’s artistic director Andrew Walesch introduced Maye and shared that the MIM had just announced a schedule of more than 50 new concerts for 2024. He’s a cabaret artist himself, so bravo to him for having the vision and savvy to bring Maye to town.

Maye seemed totally relaxed on stage ,and she did not drop a single lyric. A few times she looked to Firth to remind her of the next song or of a name she’d forgotten in her patter, but there was no music stand, no stool, or no bottled water on the stage. She moved through her songs with sustained energy and a flow that seemed totally spontaneous. Her medley of Lerner and Loewe’s “I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face” and “On the Street Where You Live” gave Firth a chance to solo and gave Maye a chance to throw in some scat and a few kicks. The fun was infectious.

A more introspective moment came with “What the World Needs Now” (Burt Bacharach/Hal David).  Maye has a bone to pick with the internet: that it usurps her claim that she was the first to record it, not Jackie DeShannon. Her skill made the song fresh and poignant for this time that’s filled with war overseas and turbulence at home. “I’ve Got the World on a String” (Ted Koehler/Harold Arlen) was a swinging sensation from its beginning to its big finish. There were moments of autobiography: when she was 11 years old, her mother took her to Chicago to see her cousin in a national tour, and Maye sang for the show’s writers. “This Could Be the Start of Something Big” described the life-changing time when, after she had worked for 11 years in a club in Kansas City earning starving-artist wages, she was discovered by Steve Allen. There were unfamiliar songs that in anyone else’s hands might have been boring, but she created a character for each and found the honest emotion that fixed the audience’s attention directly on her face. Of course, there was mention of perhaps the pinnacle of her career: performing with the New York Pops to a sold-out house in Carnegie Hall in March of 2023 just shy of her 95th birthday.

After receiving a request from a fan for Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” she took up the challenge, admitting that she did not know the song. She had the lyrics on a piece of paper (for which she needed no glasses to read!) and sang it as though she had lived the song more than once. She decided she should do the song because after three marriages and a “serious affair,” she knows there are reasons to leave. We did not get treated to any Sondheim songs, so here’s hoping her first visit to the MIM will not be her last.

Her closing medley was a jazzy, up-tempo version of James Taylor’s “The Secret O’ Life” paired with Artie Butler/Phyllis Molinary’s “Here’s to Life.”  She sang with the retrospective view of a 95-year “lovely ride” who “gave it all she got” and still turns the years “into a longer song.”

Lynn Timmons Edwards

Lynn writes and performs themed cabaret shows based on the songs of the Great American Songbook throughout Arizona. She has had three short plays produced in the Theatre Artists Studio Festival of Summer Shorts and is working on a full length play, "Fairy," based on the life of Mary Russell Ferrell Colton, a founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona. In addition to writing and singing, Lynn plays bridge and tennis and enjoys traveling with her husband and artistic companion, Bob. Born in Ohio, Lynn is a graduate of Denison University (BA), Arizona State University (MPA) and has lived in Arizona since 1977.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Gay Parker

    Love Marilyn Maye . I go to see her whenever she comes to California. If timing is right I’d go to see Marilyn in Phoenix too.

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