Sally Mayes: Now and Then: The Teaser

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Sally Mayes

Now and Then: The Teaser

The Green Room 42, NYC, December 2, 2023

Reviewed by Alix Cohen

Sally Mayes
Photo: Jeff Harnar

Sally Mayes, who appear too rarely on a Manhattan stage, intended this to be the first of four distinctively different cabaret evenings. Heads up: the artist/actress can SING. As she pivoted between swing, musical theater, the American Songbook, and western-style material with a dollop of humor, her signature attributes included range, control, and characterization. “This is an evening of my stuff,” she told us smiling. “I decided I wanted to sing all my old charts again.”

“The Best Is Yet to Come” lifted off on Tom Hubbard’s cool bass. Mayes knew when to hold it, when to pause at an edge, when to add a bit of shush. “You Fascinate Me So” (Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh) followed the opening number, riding the songs melody. (Her increased volume was unnecessary.) You’ll forgive my inability to — concentrate,” she sang. Stories about Coleman’s early support of her are genuine and grateful.

“Grandmama did my costumes, mama did my hair, daddy was my orchestra,” she told us as she shared an anecdote about opening (at six years old) for the inebriated George Jones and about his comeuppance. Observing a harried mother at Walmart—“Yes, I shop there”—she remembered her babysitter, Janine. Dar Williams’ charming story song “The Babysitter’s Here” followed. Mayes projected the awe of an adoring kid, saying “She taught us the sign for peace.” You could practically feel a reverential intake of breath.

One of Mayes’ mentors was Carol Hall. “Only a Broken Heart” (Carol Hall/Tex Arnold) was inspired by the songwriter’s experience as she nurtured the vocalist David Campbell through a break-up. “She was a really sweet lady, but there’s a limit!” Mayes commented. It’s not like you slipped your disc…lost your dog. You’ll survive, I swear; There, there, there.” she sang, wry and animated, personifying just the right I-know-cause-I’ve-been-there-get-over-it conviction. The song had a basement honky-tonk tone. It was kind of country/noir. Her vocal slipped/slid the octaves as though it were greased.

“Metropolitan Scat” (Cheryl Combs), which refers to the combo of opera and swing, showcased just that. “Now you sing just like a schitzo soprano.” Her left foot tapped time, her improv vocal slid from “sha-bo-dop-bo-dah” to “Figaro, Figaro.” MAyes was game and, more important, able.

When she subbed for one of the Four Bitchin’ Babes, Mayes learned Camille West’s hysterical “Viagra,” in which a big wheeler truck careens into a town’s water supply and dumps 7,000 pounds of the drug into it.  One old man approached his wife at breakfast with a coffee cup in each hand (she demonstrated) and half a dozen bagels (no demonstration necessary). Every laugh was mined with implicit winks rather than exaggeration. Full of expert puns and double entendres, the song was a highlight.

“As we get older, we start to think about things we didn’t think of before” prefaced Scott Evan Davis’ “Save Me the Rose,” which emerged as a slow march: “I’ve sold the house/I’ll be leaving by spring/The winter’s too cold alone.The aching sorrow was completely believable. “Miss Byrd” (Richard Maltby Jr./David Shire), for which the artist is known, was still adorable: “I sit here at my desk/And no one knows/Not twenty minutes ago/I was not wearing clothes.” Mayes ran her hands down the mic stand in sensual recollection. This bird is singing/Miss Byrd is singing.” She spread her arms in flight and, I swear, blushed. “You’re Aging Well” (Dar Williams) verged on anthem: “And oh, you’re aging, oh and I am aging/Oh, aren’t we aging well?” Resplendent in hot pink sequins, her talents spot-lit, this artist shouldn’t be concerned.

However, she could use another set of ears and eyes—a director. As experienced as Mayes is, too much of the material was BIG, even during a quieter song. (Was it the musical direction?) Easing the throttle would have enhanced the more sensitive lyrics and would have taken full advantage of her obvious acting chops.

Note: MD Ron Abel’s raised piano seating was distracting. It may also be the reason for his particularly forceful contact with the keys. Sound adjustment was needed. The lighting behind Mayes painfully crashed into our eyes.


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.