Marilyn Maye: Photo by Stephen Sorokoff

Marilyn Maye: Photo by Stephen Sorokoff

By Tulis McCall

Marilyn Maye might not want to be referred to as a force of Nature. T-o-o- b-a-d. 

I calls ‘em as I sees ’em

In her latest incarnation of Marilyn By Request, Maye takes her sweet time getting to the stage, greeting people individually, all the while pretending she hardly notices the cheering crowd, but once on the stand she wastes no time with small talk.  Today I Love Everybody (Harold Arlen) rolls into, Let There Be Love (Nat King Cole), and dives right into the center of Sondheim’s Old Friends without a nanno-second of hesitation. 

May is celebrating being alive and having us on hand to raise a glass with her – even those folks in the seats tucked in the corner who have the best views of hers and the ands respective tooshes.   

She tells us – as if we had to be told – I Love being Here With You and introduces her band the extraordinary Billy Stritch, pianist and conductor, Tom Hubbard on bass and Daniel Glassman on drums the way a hostess might at a party when she wanted her guests to be on first name basis, and swings into her declaration for 2016 – No Bad News – and she means it. 

When I wake up in the afternoon
As it pleases me to do
Don’t nobody bring me no bad news.

…If you’re gonna bring me somethin’
Bring me somethin’ I can use
Don’t nobody bring me no bad news.

New Year’s Eve two shows were a fading memory.  Maye is not big on patter.  The only story of the evening involved the sad, sad, sad and ultimately hilarious saga of flying from Kansas City, where she says she lives because of the closet space, to New York.  The trip turned into Dante’s First Circle of Hell and involved a baggage steward named Jose, one wheelchair, and a route that went from Kansas City to Dallas to Orlando to Islip.  Yes THAT Islip.  The one from which they report the weather.  Incidentally the cab from Islip to Manhattan is about $185 – and that is how she got to her show on time for New Year’s Eve.  That story even made Chris Noth laugh.

2016 is for lovers of every persuasions.  And she gives us a doozy of a collection of love songs.  I Love You/My Romance/Why Did I Choose You/That’s All — These songs are so loaded with schmaltz it could set off a diabetic on a bad day, but Maye bypasses the sugar and goes for the jugular – the one that leads to the heart.  You are entranced without meaning to be .  Maye gets to our hearts by way of her own.  Hers is worn on her sleeve for ease of access.  It is the only hearts she owns and it is ours.  Ours alone.  And ain’t it a treasure.

Requests pop up.  Golden Rainbow – a song that throws down the gauntlet and challenged life to deliver the goods.  Followed by Ribbons Down My Back from Hello Dolly (by Jerry Herman) – the of a young girl who is greeting the summer coming with a social media plan for the late 19th century.  She will wear ribbons in her hair that float down her back and catch the breeze.  So that a special, and as yet unknown, gentleman might notice her.  Maye makes this innocent tune smolder.  Another request: Sinatra standards Fly Me To The Moon/Come Fly With Me and then Maye strides into If I Were a Bell and Luck be A Lady from Guys and Dolls (Frank Loesser).

She occasionally forgets where she is in a melody because of the banter, and makes the most of those moments.  As she says the evening is filled with possibilities and do-overs if we choose.  With Maye at the helm there are no limits, only luscious song.  Just when she lifts you up to the dizzying heights of possibilities she then breaks your heart with a ballad of love refused – Joey, I Saw You, I‘m Through With Love, Your Cheatin’ Heart (a surprise request for which the astonishing Billy Stritch was lacking sheet music.  Who cares??  Off they went and the result was brilliant.)

I’ll Never Fall In Love Again (Bachrach) Became a group sing-along with no prompting from Maye.  It gave us all a chance to release joyful noises of our own.

She brings the evening near to a close with James Taylor’s The Secret of Life, and like the other songs in her set, you could swear you never heard it before

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.
Any fool can do it, there ain’t nothing to it.
Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill.
But since we’re on our way down, we might as well enjoy the ride.

Nearly 90 minutes in she bids us bon chance – not that any of us want to leave – with Here’s To Life.  And in typical Maye style, there is no encore.  She knows better than to try and top herself.

No complaints and no regrets
I still believe in chasing dreams and placing bets
And I have learned that all you give is all you get
So give it all you’ve got

Marilyn Maye is, after all, a story teller.  Magic is her method, and music is her madness.   The song doesn’t matter as much as the telling of it.  In the hands, or should I say the voice, of Marilyn Maye, each story unfolds to reveal its unique center.  Maye is like a tour guide taking you through an open air market.  She glides past the merchants tossing fish in the air or juggling kumquats to get our attention.  Instead she turns to you and whispers, ”Follow me,” and slips off down a side alley where you discover treasures and people and stories you would otherwise have overlooked.  Follow her and life changes in front of your eyes.

Ten years ago, Marilyn Maye was invited by the Mabel Mercer Foundation invited her in to perform as part of the festivities and she was subsequently invited to perform at the Metropolitan Room – for just one night.  The audience line stretched out to the sidewalk for her appearance.  She had been away – working – from New York for 16 years.  That “one night”  put an end to such foolishness, and now she is ours every few months.   She was 77 way back then.  Since then she has aged like a fine wine that needs no cork.

She is an inspiration and a treasure.  Do NOT deprive yourself of being in her audience.  She would LOVE to love  you up.


Maye is at the Metropolitan Room through January 10th.