By Tulis McCall
There are not enough splendid words to throw at Marilyn Maye. Stupendous. Delicious. Overthetop. Magnificent. Divine. Inspiring. Breathtaking. And that is just for starters.
Maye glides onto the stage, on time thank you, floating over the roar of the standing ovation that greets her. She is dressed in everything sparkling, as if the outfit was designed to match her spirit. She delivers a medley over 10 minutes in length – all Cole Porter – “Looking at You”; “I concentrate On You”; “I Get A Kick Out Of You”; “One Of Those Things”; “Got You Under My Skin”; “All Of You”.
I know I am missing a few here, but honestly I could not keep up, and I doubt anyone else in the charmed audience could either.
Maye breathes new life into the American Songbook. Each song is a revelations (and I have heard her many times). She pays particular tribute to Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer with “Accentuate The Positive”, “Any Place I have My Hat is Home”, and “Come Rain or Come Shine”. Mercer, like so many of her favorite creators, has passed on, and all of them, she tells us “have better seats now, and are always watching us.” She also pays tribute to Rosamond Hirschorn who was a devoted supporter. Maye tells us of the memorial service at which she sang and describes an errant balloon that must have been guided by Hirschorn. Maye is a spiritual person and her music is how she preaches the very good word.
Her band is superb, led by surefooted and adventurous Ted Firth on the piano, Tom Hubbard – who knows how to make a bass sing, and Mark McClean on drums. A special shout-out to Mr. McClean who is a full throttled participant. I have never seen a percussionist who wears joy like boutonnière that is always fresh. Each duet with Maye is a pas de deux and he makes brilliant use of those brushes.
Maye is there to slather us with love. That is her center and her gift. Her songs are filled with hope and inspiration on the one hand: “ You’re Gonna Hear From Me” (Previn and Previn), “It’s Today” (Jerry Herman) and on the other she leads us into the basket of heartache where she lets us lean back and get comfortable: “Guess Who I Saw Today’ (Grand and Boyd); “Fifty Percent’ (Goldenberg, Bergman and Bergman). While her vocal chops are astonishing, it is her heart that is singing. And a mighty heart it is. Her heart is so big that she makes us all feel our own. We come to be entertained, and we end up being startled into letting our hearts grow a couple of sizes. We have no choice. Maye is a magician and a beguiler.
At 94, she would not be blamed were she to pack up her tent and sneak away into the night.
Well, that ain’t happening any time soon. Performing is what keep her batteries charged and her spirit sparkling. Long may she wave.
Through April 16 at Feinsteins/54 Below. TICKETS