- 54 Below - October 22, 2017
NEW YORK OBSERVER
Luck Be a Lady: Marilyn Maye Puts the Nightclub Back in Cabaret
By Rex Reed
Marilyn-Maye-A-Salute-to-Frank-Sinatra-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212. If you thought there was nothing left to say about Marilyn Maye, you’d be wrong. Her latest outing, Highlights, at Feinstein’s/54 Below, revealed a new side to the performer. This show is her most autobiographical to date, with stops along the way of her remarkable career, from her start, at 16, on a radio station in Des Moines to her nightclub work in Kansas City (an 11-year stint) to her starring in regional theater productions of Hello, Dolly! and Mame.
What we’ve come to expect from Maye—the swinging jazz bird—is still in evidence. (Pianist Billy Stritch was Maye’s occasional duet partner and provided some fun banter; bassist Tom Hubbard took the lead on a couple of songs; and Ray Marchica provided the rhythm on the drums.) If some of the smoothness of her voice is occasionally missing (hey, she turned 88 in April!), she remains a singer of the highest caliber, an entertainer who creates an instant rapport with her audience.
After kicking off the night with a spirited “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her (Your) Face,” including the requisite Maye special lyrics, and “On the Street Where You Live,” we got a taste of “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” her attempt to be a “country singer” as required from a prospective employer when she was about 20 years old.
The revelation (besides her talking more than she has in the past; but, oh, what a storyteller she is!) was the number of quiet moments to which we were treated. She’s always peppered her shows with a ballad or two, but this time she grouped them, creating an intimacy and warmth that drew us in, reflecting a singer who is at the top of her game. After a brief story about her first of three marriages (all ended due to her husbands’ penchant for drink), we were treated to a “love medley”: “My Romance,” “Why Did I Choose You?” and “That’s All.” She eschewed the driving beat that she has applied to most of her material and, instead, gave us crooned, perfectly acted, introspective reflections. The voice was pure, clean and filled with emotion.
She may have expressed in her finale (a flawless “I’m Still Here)” that she “should have gone to an acting school,” but her life in show biz has been her education and she’s an A+ student. Only a fine actress could give that line reading the proper self–deprecation, tinged with regret and a touch of pride. And that acting ability, always present, was fine-tuned in the love medley.
As exciting as those moments were, none compared to her approach to “If He Walked Into My Life” (Mame). Instead of the big power ballad approach many have chosen, Maye gave us a contemplative, inner monologue. Mame is a woman who loved life and found joy in all it had to offer (as has Maye) and instilled that in her young charge. Now, she wonders if she went too far and has lost the one true love of her life. This is a song of one question after another, none of which get answered, and Maye mined it for all its worth and offered a glimpse into the mind of this character. Heartbreaking.
Then, we were treated to “I’m Still Here,” and yes, ladies and gentlemen, she is still here, representing everything that is good about cabaret. Not to be missed.