Press and Reviews
Minneapolis, MN – February 17, 2010
It's the divine Miss M, cabaret's Marilyn Maye
By Jon Bream
In her overdue Minneapolis debut, the Kansas City songbird turned on her Midwestern charm and class.
If the Catskills were in the Midwest instead of upstate New York, Marilyn Maye would be the queen of the Catskills.
The Kansas City songbird is lovably old-school, a cabaret singer's cabaret singer, all brassy, belting and Borscht Belt jokes. And she sings standards like she's lived them.
Making her entrance Wednesday night from the audience, Maye hit the stage at the Dakota Jazz Club like a Kansas tornado. She was Bea Arthur, Ella Fitzgerald and Liza Minnelli poured into spectacular sequined pants and a stylish satin blouse, topped with her Angela Lansbury hairdo with all its Aquanet. And she had the crowd before she even sang a note.
“That's my eulogy,” she said of Dakota proprietor Lowell Pickett's effusively glowing introduction. “Thank you, sweetheart. All those compliments and a check.” No rim shot was necessary. She just broke into “This Song Is You.”
Her Twin Cities debut was overdue considering that Maye has lived in the Midwest for eight decades, appeared on “The Tonight Show” 76 times (with Johnny Carson) and earned riotously rave reviews for the past four years for her regular gigs in New York City. Her most spectacular review, though, may have come from Ella Fitzgerald who once called Maye “the best white female singer in the world.”
That's a billing that's nearly impossible to live up to at any age — let alone 81. Maye's voice has deepened (from what I remember seeing her with Johnny). Her instincts, taste and style were always right during Wednesday's 85-minute opening set, whether belting, scatting or reaching for high notes -- but her notes weren't always true. That's a cavil because Maye — a beloved blend of show-bizzy vivaciousness and Midwestern friendliness — can really sell a song.
Cherry-picking from the catalogs of Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, Ray Charles and Steve Allen (who discovered her on a songwriter's demo), she sang about love, loneliness and heartbreak. Even though these standards were overly familiar, Maye did them her way. Unlike Frank Sinatra, she didn't cry in her bourbon on the pre-Breathalyzer classic “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” but rather approached last call with a shot of fortitude and a fire chaser. She reworked a Charles classic as a swingin' “Hallelujah, I Am Loving Him So,” complete with a new intro (“I wanna sound like Ray but I'm too white”), a little dance and a big leg kick. “Just for a Thrill” became a delightful duet with pianist Billy Stritch, as they harmonized on the “shoo-ba-doos” and nailed the ending.
Stritch, who often works with Minnelli, headed Maye's terrific trio, which included Jim Eklof, her drummer of 48 years (from Des Moines), and Gary Raynor, her bassist for the night (from Minneapolis) who was so impressive that she complemented him almost as effusively as Pickett had done for her. In both cases, the high praise was warranted.