Sally Mayes: Now and Then: The Stories

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Sally Mayes

Now and Then: The Stories

The Green Room 42, NYC, May 16, 2024

Reviewed by Alix Cohen

Sally Mayes

Who else but the indomitable Sally Mayes would open a show with Frank Loesser’s “Hamlet,” a dizzying song made more so by a fabulous 1940-ish Patrick Brady arrangement replete with back up? Boogie-woogie fireworks ensue. Before she had a chance to catch her breath, Mayes launched into the seriously funny “I’ll Get Up Tomorrow.” (Richard Maltby, Jr./David Shire). This is the way Mayes likes her humor—seriously funny. She steps into character with no obvious awareness of its drollness; she’s an actress who understands the humanity of farce. At the piano, Tedd Firth played as if he were controlling a brakeless bicycle.

“One of the things I love about New Yorkers is that everybody is in therapy. We Texans bury our rage and just climb up a bell tower,” she quipped. John Bucchino’s wry “Painting My Kitchen” was a contemporary mad scene: “My therapist said I should write about painting my kitchen/The most boring topic I ever heard/I can’t think of a word/Is she sadistic? Assigning me chores I could never complete so I’ll go ballistic.” We watched (and listened) to her unravel ad the music emphatically zig-zagged.

This is the second of three shows Mayes put together as a reminder of her protean talent. “I know I look sophisticated, but I come from Livingston, Texas, a hell hole not to be believed.” There were always a few down-home references and several broadly accented, country-tinted songs. Her own fine “Whiskey Lullaby” (written with Ethan Fein) was vivid: “He doesn’t pick up the money/Cause he knows it pays for his daddy’s drinks” refers to a young boy performing in a bar. Perched on a stool, hands on her knees, all her focus was on the vision.

Another of Mayes’ own songs (also written with Fein) was dedicated to her husband of 33 years. “Somebody Sent Me an Angel” was warm and had a vocal twang. Even the bassist, Michael O’Brien, swayed. It’s a line dance, a two-step, a waltz, a fireside gaze. “Southbound Train” (Julie Gold) was accompanied by a melancholy violin. With her hands clasped on the microphone stand, she mused. “I remember your voice/And the sound of your goodbye” drifted down like a leaf.

A third by Mayes, “Dagmar, The Pirate King” (written with Tex Arnold), was a nod to her mom who loved romance books or “pink novels.” Like thousands of women, she tended to think of the characters as real: “6’ 8” his black hair straight and tied back with a string/He was wise and just and filled with lust.” The singer was ostensibly married to a plumber—wonderful.

“Shopping Cart of Love” (Christine Lavin) was a playlet. A woman suffering the worst day of her life, because her fiancé had run off with the best friend, car, and electronics. She piled up her grocery cart with compensatory bad-for-you foods only to be told it’s an express line and she must put back three items. The list of what she’s bought was pitch perfect. There was a stand-off until she was rescued. The victim’s revenge fantasy, mostly a monologue, was pricelessly delivered.

Mayes excels at pathos—sometimes humorous, at other times pure. A tandem “Superstar” (Leon Russell/Bonnie Bramlett) and “Anyone Who Had a Heart” (Burt Bachrach/Hal David) arrived braided with superb back-up that showed off pop style at its best. Bruce Springsteen’s “The Fever” (or as Mayes sang, “feeva”) was just as dynamically charged as the first song: “When I turn down all the lights/And when I lay my head on the pillow/I can’t stop myself in thinking/‘Baby, where are you tonight?’” It was a wail and a want. Where does she get her energy?! (And charisma?!) “After All” (Mayes/Arnold) says “thanks for being here. We are symbiotic.”

Most of tonight’s superb arrangements were by Patrick Brady. Along with MD/pianist Firth and bassist O’Brien, the band also included Jessica Wright (violin/backup vocals) and Carolyn Montgomery (backup vocals). Next in Mayes’ unmissable series is The Great Big Huge Broadway on June 20 at 7 pm at The Green Room 42.

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.

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