The hottest singer in cabaret these days isn’t any young upstart. She’s the phenomenal Marilyn Maye, who puts on a rousing show marked by enormous energy, enviable vocal skill and a personality that outshines them all. Let’s get the age factor out of the way. Maye is 82, but you’d never know it if she didn’t tell you. As impresario Donald Smith remarked after Maye’s show on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010, “There’s hope for us all.”
Maye, who packs the Metropolitan Room whenever she sings there, started with “Put on a Happy Face,” delivered with the appropriate zing and enough facial and body expressions to define the title. The theme of her show this time was “Her Kind of Broadway.” She told audience members it would be nice if they didn’t recognize any of the songs, meaning that she was going to sing them with Maye-style individuality. Indeed she did.
For example, she took “On the Street Where You Live” from “My Fair Lady” and gave it a great jazz interpretation, surely a different twist. Maye likes to pepper her song introductions with sassy comments. She noted that before “Cabaret” hit Broadway she had recorded the title song. Without mentioning Liza, she said the one who got to sing it knows who it belongs to. Her rousing delivery provided the explanation point.
Maye noted that when she was three years old, her mother taught her to sing “Look for a Silver Lining” because her mother liked the way Marilyn Miller sang it. Indeed Maye said she was named Marilyn after the then renowned singer. Little Marilyn must have been cute singing it. Now she puts it across with the worldly wisdom she has acquired along the way.
Her generous program provided a wide range reflecting her vocal technique, her interpretive insights and the sheer enthusiasm with which she acts the hell out of every lyric. I liked the way she did Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind,” delicately and tenderly at first, then bringing it to an effective crescendo.
She knows how to have fun, too, as when she enlisted her pianist/conductor Ted Firth to bounce the lyrics back and forth with her for the introduction of the title song from “Guys and Dolls.” And not to be regarded least, Firth, Tom Hubbard on bass and Ray Marchica on drums provide terrific accompaniment with excellent arrangements that do Maye justice. There is pleasurable smoothness with the way they work together, and the trio vamps quite a bit in the background as she spins her stories to the crowd.
If you consider the numbers on her program the night I heard her once again, you can get an idea of her fantastic scope. For example: “Hello, Dolly!,” “Elegance,” “Sherry,” “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” “I’m Through With Love,” “Have You Met Miss Jones,” “Fuge for Tinhorns,” “Luck be Lady,” “Joey,” “Standing on the Corner” and more.
When Maye sings “I’m Still Here,” she doesn’t opt for the Stritch-style mix of world-weariness with a triumphant ending. Maye sings it with a burst of exuberance about being here that makes one wonder why she would be anywhere else. If you ever feel in need of a lift, catch a Maye performance and you are likely to leave with a happy face you won’t have to put on. At the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-206-0440.