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Sunday, March 17, 2013

54 Below with Marilyn Maye

Life seemed to pose a personal statement to me as I attended the last night of Marilyn Maye's current engagement at 54 Below entitled "Mayeden Voyage." My past as a disco bunny was represented by what lay above the elegant, crowded room -- the now-defunct disco, Studio 54 -- and my mature present was there with the show and my renewed embrace of New York City cabaret.

I last saw Marilyn Maye at the 28th Annual Bistro Awards (March 4), introducing her friend, award-winner Lainie Kazan, to the stage. The banter between these two women was hilarious. I had the chance to meet Ms Maye after the show and told her I thought she and Kazan had a very promising comedy act in the making should she choose to change the direction of her career. "Oh, baby," Ms Maye grinned, "You know it!"

A Bistro Awards recipient herself (2012), Marilyn Maye, who, according to Wikipedia, turns 85 in April, took to the stage in an all-red outfit comprised of slacks and a serape-styled top with fringe and much bling. She was initially plagued by microphone malfunctions; no less than three mikes were brought to the stage. This gave the star time to entertain us with patter, soft shoe and contemplate going unplugged. In true diva fashion, she made a second entrance to the stage to a standing ovation from the packed house, every bit the trouper and superstar. Her trio -- piano, bass, drums -- provided fantastic support and guidance of the highest caliber.

Amy Beth Williams photo courtesy of
The adoring crowd, captivated by Ms Maye's cleverness, sometimes ribald sense of humor and ability to think on her feet and perform high kicks, as much as by her unparalleled voice, included Erv Raible, Terese Genecco, Shaynee Rainbolt (who I had the chance to speak with after the show) and Amy Beth Williams (who studies with Marilyn Maye), whom I had the pleasure to sit with during the performance.

Called "the greatest white female singer in the world" by none other than Ella Fitzgerald, Marilyn Maye has conquered pop, jazz and even television jingles. In 1969 radio ads for Ford's Lincoln-Mercury, she parodied her hit song, "Step to the Rear."

Ms Maye repeated, onstage, what she told the New York Times: that she thought 54 Below was more than a cabaret; it was a nightclub.  She generously, and correctly, thanked that nightclub's staff (who, indeed, were attentive, polite and never intrusive). The Times also described her voice as "full and rich and perfectly in tune," which is exactly how we found it last night. Her joy of entertaining also shone through, her eyes sparkling with overflowing charm and enthusiasm.

It was a delight to hear Ms Maye interpret the Great American Songbook, starting with Cole Porter ("I Get a Kick Out of You," "Just One of Those Things," "I've Got You Under My Skin" and more). "Hallelujah, Come On Get Happy" became a rousing sing-along. From her second album (on RCA), Kurt Weill's "My Ship," a favorite song of mine mainly for sentimental reasons, moved me to tears.
"Golden Rainbow," "Lazy Afternoon," "Guess Who I Saw Today?," "Lover Man Where Can You Be?," "When Your Lover Has Gone," "Something Cool," "On a Clear Day," she was, as the Times wrote: "Unstoppable."

At 54 Below, photo courtesy of
Her closing New York tribute included "I Happen to Love New York," Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind," "There's a Boat That's Leavin' Soon for New York" from Porgie & Bess, Cy Coleman's "My Personal Property" and "New York, New York" -- both from On the Town and the 1977 Ebb-Kander - Liza - Scorsese movie. Talk about generous! Did she leave anything out? Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind"? Nora Jones' "New York City (Beautiful Disease)" perhaps?

My mom used to play her Marilyn Maye albums on our hi-fi in the '60s, sitting up to watch Ms Maye's guest appearances on the Steve Allen and Tonight shows while I was tucked asleep. I know she would have loved this show; in fact, I sensed her presence with me tonight.

Marilyn Maye's voice has kept its vitality and purity over the years though her style has gone from pop to jazz. She excels in both genres.

Below, MM on Hollywood Palace, 1967:

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