Press and Reviews


New York – October 30, 2006


Marilyn Sings

by Rex Reed


Marilyn Maye and Rex Reed
Marilyn and Rex Reed backstage at The Metropolitan Room.

When a legendary singer makes a rare appearance in a New York club, the cabaret world suddenly, and temporarily, comes alive. It happened a few years ago, when Polly Bergen took Feinstein's at the Regency by storm, generating her own lightning, and audiences didn't know what hit them. It happened again last week when the great Marilyn Maye -- one of the brightest lights of television, supper clubs and the recording industry in the 1960's -- invaded the Apple from her home in Kansas City and conquered the town at the cabaret convention, and in a one-night triumph at a smart, intimate new club in Chelsea called the Metropolitan Room that turned into the "event" of the cabaret season. If the people who book the Algonquin, Feinstein's or Birdland have any intelligence, taste or foresight, they will hand over a contract for a major engagement to this singing miracle worker before you can yell "Excelsior!" There is simply nobody around with more talent, personality and class.


Marilyn Maye is a true original. Her treasured albums for RCA Victor, arranged by the likes of Don Costa and Peter Matz, are collectors' items, filled with so many great songs that every time this collector plays them, I learn things. Her peers are gone now. Peggy and Dinah and Carmen and Sarah and Ella have all left the room. Eydie Gorme rarely appears on a stage. Kay Starr, Kitty Kallen and Jo Stafford are retired. By her own admission, there's not a drug strong enough to get Doris Day back in front of a microphone. So is it any wonder that last week's sold-out show at the Metropolitan Room felt and sounded like the good old days? While many cherished broads lose their chops with age, Marilyn Maye sounds like a 35-year-old. Of course, she has the benefit of decades of experience and showmanship, and she's learned her trade and paid her dues in every kind of room, from clip joints to the Copacabana. But who knew she could still do it all and leave the audience screaming for more?


This woman has everything. She can belt, and she can sing ballads with the kind of warmth that makes your heart smile. She has a theatrical flair that captivates and enthralls, and jazz-spiced chops that can reach notes most singers one-third her age can't even hit in their dreams. Her wicked sense of humor is laced with the wisdom of life. She thinks on her feet. She never wastes your time. She has pertinence and flair. Her repertoire runs the gamut, from tender love songs (Steve Allen's rare, poignant "I Love You Today" and Andre and Dory Previn's immaculate and melodic "You're Gonna Hear from Me") to battery-charging blockbusters (an entire segment dedicated to Ray Charles). The leader of her trio was pianist and wunderkind Billy Stritch, who arranged a show-stopping scat duet for their two voices on "Mountain Greenery" that stopped the show.


With a voice strong and clear and filled with both power and nuance, Marilyn Maye wound the audience around her fingers -- and they still couldn't get enough. I haven't seen people held in that kind of bondage since Mabel Mercer. Tackling everything from boozy 3 a.m. classics like "Something Cool" and "Angel Eyes" to the 5/4 throb of Dave Brubeck's syncopated jazz anthem "Take Five," there doesn't seem to be anything she can't do, and she does it with a long-lost word Kay Thompson invented called "bazazz." There also used to be a word called "presence." Now we get crooning zombies like Diana Krall, finger-popping phonies like Tierney Sutton or Poor Pitiful Pearl dolls like Stacey Kent. Marilyn Maye rocks.


The cheers and the screams from New York's cabaret elite (so many singers in the audience that it took her 10 minutes to introduce them all) must have awakened the neighborhood nightingales on sleepy West 22nd Street, and the standing ovations were unlike anything I've seen since the halcyon days of Lena Horne at the Waldorf. Marilyn Maye turned a one-night stand into a love affair for life. She's the real deal. Now it's time for a real engagement to revive not only the dying art of the American popular song, but the surviving art of the perfect American popular singer.

(Photograph courtesy of Mark Rupp)