by Myra Chanin
I am rarely at a loss for words, but the opening night of Marilyn Maye By Request at the Metropolitan Room rendered me speechless, so I’m letting a four word phrase sung by ambivalent rivals in Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music describe how I felt during, after and still: “The woman was perfection!” Or as my baseborn companion put it, “It just don’t get no better than that!”
As always, Ms. Maye stepped on stage beautifully coiffed, manicured, maquillaged, bejeweled and elegantly decked out in a stylish, sparkling black and silver ensemble. Beaming at her welcoming standing ovation from longtime and future aficionadas, she embraced the microphone with her right hand and stealthily slid its stand behind her with her left arm—a simple gesture that she’s transformed into an art form.
The incomparable Tedd Firth, Ms. Maye’s musical director/pianist, played a few introductory chords, Tom Hubbard plucked the strings of his bass and Eric Halvorson brushed his snare drum. Then Tedd and Marilyn nodded at each other and the party began with Jerry Herman’s joyous celebration of life, “It’s Today!” which Marilyn punctuated with five high kicks—actually two high kicks, one mid-kick and two more high kicks—pretty good for a gal of 89.
Tedd and Marilyn are so compatible musically and emotionally that her consummate vocal chords and his nimble fingers must have shared many stages in previous lives, allowing every song’s melody, lyrics and meaning to clear their hearts and minds at the same instant. This was evident in their initial moody combination of “Anywhere I Hang My Hat Is Home,” and “Lazy Afternoon,” which reminded her of her “five years at the Colony in Kansas City which kept me in poverty but was where I learned to sing to you rather than at you.” Incidentally, I must note that Marilyn always sings the verse to all of these standards as if it were the prelude of the song.
Marilyn named names and pointed out requestors as she crooned, purred and belted out a 120-minute circumnavigation of the Great American Songbook. Steve Coll [sic] asked for “Bye, Bye, Country Boy,” a plaintive, nostalgic trip through what might have been before Marilyn unveiled its emotional layers, turning it into a cynical ballad that tears your heart out.
Michael Kerker, ASCAP’s Musical Theater and Cabaret VP, requested Johnny Mercer and got five tunes by different composers for which Mercer provided a mind-boggling range of lyrics: ”Day In, Day Out,” “You’re Just Too Marvelous,” “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” “Jeepers Creepers,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and then “Something’s Gotta Give,” for which Mercer supplied the whole thing. Marilyn described her recent visit to the spot in Savannah “where Mercer now resides, surrounded by benches bearing the titles of his songs,” and where she sang “Skylark” a cappella for him, “and I know he heard me,” and then sang it for us.
Vocal teacher Rosamund asked for “At The Paradise Café,” a mournful ballad and Marilyn’s most requested number, which stirred Marilyn to remark that audiences “are happiest sitting down, drinking and crying.”
Marilyn’s history of the journey of a discarded wife began with “Guess Who I Saw Today,” when the future ex-wife glimpsed her husband and her replacement in a secluded café. Then Marilyn wryly notes “Same lady, three months later,” with an underappreciated Billy Goldenberg melody with meticulous Alan and Marilyn Bergman lyrics describing a lonely woman’s contentment with “Fifty Percent,” of the married man who claims he loves her before her ultimate downfall in Billy Strayhorn’s sensuous “Lush Life,” about the dreary aftereffects of failed romance.
Marilyn’s up-tempo homage to Jerry Herman included “Hello Dolly,” “Mame,” “If He Came into My Life Today,” and “Before the Parade Passes By.” Excuse me! If anyone is still leading the parade it’s she! Next she moved from “one rich composer,” Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” to “another rich composer,” Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here,” and then to the slyly, sexy Fats Waller duo, “Honeysuckle Rose,” and “Ain’t’ Misbehavin.” Waller remained a poor composer because he always needed money and had sold the rights to “Ain’t Misbehavin’” for $500.
Her philosophical endshow opened with James Taylor’s “The Secret of Life,” a musical mantra that advised us to “try not to try too hard, it’s just a lovely ride,” and concluded by glorifying every moment in “Here’s to Life.”
Graciously accepting bouquets of flowers along with endless applause, Marilyn moved directly to the foyer to greet, meet and selfie every person who wanted to talk to her. Incidentally, we should acknowledge the elephant in the room, the CBS camera and crew in the middle VIP booth busily filming this entire performance to be edited and included on a network feature about Ms. Maye later this year.
One might well ask whence cometh Marilyn Maye’s superabundance of joy and/or where do I get some of that drug? Sorry, it’s not for sale, not even for ready money. The drug she so copiously dispenses is neither injected nor ingested but it is available to all. It’s called love and may Marilyn Maye stay addicted to it and keep dispensing it till the age of 120.
That’s my permanent request.
MetropolitanRoom, 34 West 22 Street, NYC. 212 206-0440. Extended on June 27 & 28, 9 pm
Marilyn Maye will be appearing in New York again on October 27 & 28 in The Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center.