By Sandi Durell & Marilyn Lester . . .
The theme of the evening at Feinstein’s/54 Below is Marilyn Maye. Nothing more needed as the great one took the stage on opening night October 25th, getting a standing ovation before the show even began! Marvelous Marilyn Maye, resplendent in black sequin pants suit and sparkling jewelry, knows just what her audiences want to hear. Yes, she could sing the telephone book and cheers and shouts would erupt. Descriptive words are useless since they’ve all been used . . . so the words that best suit her are consummate and legendary and, in this case, they are more than appropriate. Her last gig at 54 Below was virtual in May of 2020, singing to a camera crew so, thrilled beyond was she as was the sold out crowd to have her back live on stage.
Ageless and tireless, Marilyn Maye is a flawless storyteller opening with her favorite jazz waltz tempo in a Rainbow Medley “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” melding into a swinging “Make Me Rainbows,” moving on to the spectacular “Golden Rainbow” with Mark McLean adding exciting drums to the mix, and its songwriter Walter Marks in the audience.
The thing about Ms. Maye is the good time she’s having on stage is so contagious, it becomes an immediate love affair between her and her audience. She candidly speaks about the most important person in her life – her pianist! In this case, the impeccable Tedd Firth who breathes musically in tandem with every lyric she utters. There’s no doubt the only place she wants to be is on a stage connecting with her many fans and audience. She absorbs you in her world, totally! Marilyn Maye is filled with charismatic energy, glamour, an authenticity that makes you feel ‘that’s my best friend up there’ and is a powerhouse of vocal expertise using her belt to belt some more.
Reliving her ‘pandemic days’, we learn about her performing in her hometown of Kansas City in a driveway with her local musicians and singing under a tent at Crooner’s in Minneapolis – all amusing, witty recollections.
Poignant moments of the evening, and there were many, include the song her mother taught her when she was a youngster “Look for the Silver Lining” and the always tearful, “Smile,” all joyously uplifted by “I Love to See You Smile.”
Her repertoire is vast – from early 1900s to modern day and in the intelligent hands of an artist like Ms. Maye, her ability to put just the right songs together in medleys, with a through line narrative, is another remarkable feat, i.e. Autumn Medley including the heart-wrenching “When October Goes.”
Setting up “Country Boy” with “Lazy Afternoon,” brings out her saucy side as she tells the story and lives the lyrics with much emotion, her acting chops at the forefront.
Pairing the intense “Guess Who I Saw Today” with “Fifty Percent” proved to be genius as the audience leapt to their feet with unstoppable applause.
She’s a jazz baby all right, with an innate sense of rhythm and quick improv, feeling the music down to her bones! And we know it’s so when her musicians are having as good a time on stage as she. The mutual love and respect that pervades in that combined energy with Tedd Firth (piano), Tom Hubbard (bass) and Mark McLean (drums) comes together to convey the fun and the joy and is infectious.
Closing the evening with a New York Medley (“I Happen to Like New York/NY State of Mind”) is the icing on the cake, especially “My Personal Property” where you know Ms. Maye takes ownership, as only she can, in her delightful rendition.
It doesn’t seem possible that someone already so magical as Marilyn Maye could up her game. But as Marilyn Lester notes, she went to the space that Duke Ellington would say was . . . “beyond category.”
Our sincere advice: Check your calendars and check Marilyn Maye’s dates at Feinstein’s/54 Below – Oct. 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, Nov. 1 all at 7 pm, except for Oct. 27 at 8:30 pm and get your tickets before she’s completely sold out!
Photos: Kevin Alvey