By Tulis McCall

Go to your computer or even your phone (how old school would you like to go???) and make a reservation to see this wonder we call Marilyn Maye Now through May 4th at 54 Below (646) 476-3551 – you’re welcome.

The miracle of Marilyn Maye is this: when she sings she disappears into the ether, leaving only the golden thread of the tale she is telling.  Maye is, above all, a story teller.   She gives herself over to the story completely.  There are a lot of singers out there, and it is rare to see any one of them disappear while you watch because that spotlight is too damn seductive.  Maye’s motto in this New York Times feature is that “The audience is the star.”  Her singing is a way to reward us for showing up.  It is a series of gifts that happen to be songs.

Having seen Marilyn Maye many, many times for over a decade I know in advance there will be at least one point where she will leave me face down sobbing in my soup (should there be any around).  That is because she has reached into me and touched my poor, poor heart.  I know this and I look forward to it.  Maye reminds me that I am alive and there is a lot of living to do.  Sobbing in my soup is small price to pay.

Maye’s performance on opening night at 54 Below was no exception.  The song that did me in was “Ribbons Down My Back” by Jerry Herman from “Hello Dolly.”  On its own, it is a a song that borders on the sophomoric.  A young woman sets out on a summer’s day, hoping to meet a wonderful man because he will notice her ribbons.  Not your run of the mill feminist anthem.  Nor is it a song you might expect to hear sung by a woman whose 96th birthday has just arrived.  Maye, however, delivers it with such simplicity that you are pulled into that  young hopeful heart because you remember when you felt like that, and for a few minutes you feel like that again.  Ka BOOM.

Photo by Conor Weiss

Her recent show at 54 Below is all about Broadway or as she puts it – all the songs “I never sang on Broadway” which is true, and how did that happen?  Who knows.  She admits that her timing was off – she was coming up about the time that the Beatles and Tom Jones were hogging the spotlight.  What did she do instead?  She worked.  All over the country.  So…when she was invited to be part of The New York Cabaret Convention in 2005, she was ready and then some.  The next year she was invited back and even booked a gig at The Metropolitan Club.  To her surprise she sold out the place and has never looked back.  That was 18 years ago when she was a toddler of 78.

Her song choices for her birthday bash are all uplifting as if she were giving us life lessons – and of course she is.  Maye’s eyes actually sparkle as much as her sequined top and her jewelry.  Flaunt it Baby she is telling us.  Oh, yeah, and love.  All kinds of love.  Grab it and don’t let go. “Old Friends” (Sondheim) sweeps us into her arms. The “Auntie Mame” Medley includes “If He Walked Into My Life” which Maye turns into a love song that fits us all.  She sneaks in a few things that are not on the set list – “50% of Him” which is the one that did in our table mate.  (One of the many great elements of 54 Below is that you often sit with strangers and make friends.) The story of a woman having an affair with a married man – another of those songs that on its face doesn’t seem appropriate, but Maye delivers it with laser focus and we are goners.  She focuses on the love, not the circumstance.

Her extraordinary trio of Music Director Ted Firth, Tom Hubbard on Bass and Mark McLean on Drums matches her note for note, second by second.  Maye never sits, rarely sips water, and only refers to her notes when she has written new lyrics to a song.  There are the occasional gaffs of a missed lyric – but then she relies on us to get her back on track.  These are the disarming and charming moments where everyone is collected and connected.

This show is chock-a-block full of songs most of us already know.  The surprise here is that Maye makes you hear them with new ears.  Life explodes from every pore because she has no filter.  Lucky for us all.

My chum Betsyann Faiella interviewed Maye a few years back. Click here for a great read.

Through May 4 at 54 Below For tickets click HERE