Press and Reviews
New York, NY - May 8, 2014
The New York Times
Marilyn Maye Salutes Johnny Carson at 54 Below
By Stephen Holden
It’s no small feat when a performer, without even trying, makes time stand still. But that’s what the 86-year-old vocal powerhouse Marilyn Maye did on Tuesday evening at 54 Below, despite abundant evidence that the years are speeding by at the usual breakneck pace.
Her show, “A Tribute to Johnny Carson,” pays homage to an entertainer on whose late-night program she appeared 76 times. The evening was generously sprinkled with video of Ms. Maye’s television appearances. As far as she knows, Ms. Maye said, records of only 30 of them have survived from an era when cost-conscious producers with little historical foresight recorded over the videotaped performances.
Ms. Maye certainly does not act her age. She is robust and steady, her stamina seemingly inexhaustible, and she executed kicks worthy of a Broadway hoofer. Several songs were tricked out with doctored lyrics that reflected the passage of time. “You’re the one who made my dreams come true/a few decades ago,” went her revised version of “I Remember You.”
Never a sentimentalist, Ms. Maye has always tended to pep up her material with jazzy, post-vaudevillian razzle-dazzle. And in the vintage television clips, she often sings a mile a minute, propelled by simmering percussion. On Tuesday, her band — the pianist and conductor Billy Stritch, the drummer Ray Marchica and the bassist Tom Hubbard — effectively recreated that percolating upbeat style.
In an especially witty segment, Ms. Maye mentioned her three failed marriages. Then, rolling her eyes, she deconstructed four classic torch songs — “My Man,” “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” “The Man That Got Away” and “Losing My Mind” — that express shades of female dependency and victimhood. It was followed by “I Will Survive,” a song more to her temperament, which expresses resilience with an edge of triumph.
Because introspection is not her forte, the moments Ms. Maye paused to reflect were all the more potent. A medley of “By Myself” and “Being Alive” became a statement of Ms. Maye’s existence in the here and now. An entertainer with no romantic illusions and no self-pity, Ms. Maye is a natural feminist, although she might not accept that designation. Self-determination is the name of her game.