Press and Reviews
New York – June 2009
Maye in June: Marilyn Maye's Secret Revealed
by Rob Lester
Some small farm towns in Middle America, they tell me, have their annual thrills and excitement when the county fair comes through and the prize pigs and pecan pies perk up the populace. In other parts of the world, things get stirred up by monsoon season. In New York City, where we’re used to musical talent rocking the town monsooner or later, there’s a special crackling energy when a parade known as a MARILYN MAYE show comes back to the Metropolitan Room for one of her roof-raising shows. The lyrics about raising the roof and holding it down in “It’s Today” which has become her theme and mantra can’t be sung because its words and music are by Jerry Herman and her new show is all song with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. It is, in a word, wow.
The simple answer to the question always asked, “How does she do it?” is “Uh….talent.” She never disappoints or lacks for surprise, even to those who come back for each of her runs over the last few years---and quite a few attend more than once in a run. An old school entertainer delivers sock-o belting and jazzy jaunts and rich readings of ballads, she tosses out (but rarely tosses off---there’s a difference) the Mercer songs like a magician blithely zipping through an array of astounding tricks. And the audience gobbles them up like hungry Sea World creatures swallowing their quickly tossed fish and yelping for more. With her bright, bright voice and big smile that’s genuine (I’m not talking about dental health), she sparkles with or without glittery stage costuming (usually with) and delivers more reliably than Domino’s Pizza and with more sauce, crispness, freshness and little crust and no cheese factor.
Audiences respond with cheers and whoops whether it’s the weather she’s singing about in her meteorologically metaphorical mesmerizing “Come Rain or Come Shine” or heating up “The Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” with jazz smarts that ARE cool. When she’s opening up her big, pow-pow-powerful voice to wail and nail and sail through “Blues in the Night” or pulling back to show her acting chops with a fully involved “When the World Was Young” (“Ah, the Apple Trees”), it’s a treat. And it’s all brought to fruition in glorious sound and dramatic lighting by talented J-P Perreaux (who recently won another MAC Award for his reliable skills, the same night that Marilyn Maye won her own MAC in the Celebrity category). And with her all the way is her superb trio, Tedd Firth as pianist-arranger; Tom Hubbard the top-drawer bassist; drummer Jim Eklof who has been with her for over 40 years! Which brings us to her age, which she publicly last year as (yikes!) 80.
And that brings us back to the question of “How does she do it?” In this case, it’s just doubly remarkable that she is so sensational and energetic and has such a strong, reliable, healthy voice that she doesn’t seem to need ration tickets to use sparingly as many singers with senior citizen bus fare cards must. She rides the bus with plenty of gas, and is a gas, and could drive the bus but could probably trot faster, singing at the top of her freak-of-nature lungs.
So, what IS the secret? Vitamins? Was she given a second lifetime supply of energy with her Lifetime Achievement Bistro Award? Do the waiters serve her bottled water from some private Fountain of Youth? Has she made a pact with the devil? Has she been cloned and it’s a different Marilyn each night/song? After her all-stops-out show, generous-in-length Mercer show Sunday night, she was at the table next to me, taking in the next show at the Metropolitan, smiling and clapping appreciatively (her love of the Mercer songbook is not just show biz patter air-kissing: it was –of all things-- another all-Johnny Mercer program, a solid one with many of the same songs, warmly sung in a straightforward, unfussy manner by crooner LEE LESSACK. It was a pleasure to treasure, the Mercer sorbet for dessert after Marilyn’s version which was a flaming cherries jubilee. Or was it a Domino’s pizza with everything on it? I’m getting my food metaphors mixed up.) But the secret of the Maye miracle is, indeed, a certain food. As a close witness, and one who was offered a few, I am here to tell you it is a jar of chocolate-covered peanuts. That’s what she was nibbling merrily, so it may be Maye’s B-Vitamin substitute. She’s not really nutty, but as audience member or waiter or fan she engages in conversation while autographing her (fantastic) CDs will you, she’s as sweet as chocolate. It makes as much sense as anything else. It was dark, of course, so I couldn’t see what brand of nuts it was. But the bottom line is—see this top performer sing the words of one of best lyricists while she’s in town--- but make a reservation quickly. The room gets as packed with patrons as she is packed with talent and songs and joy---and that’s pretty packed.