By Myra Chanin
One drawback I’ve found about spending New York’s unpleasant winter months in mild and balmy Palm Beach County was that the entertainment has been a cut below the climate up to now. Well, I’m pleased to report that my former opinionation [sic] changed during the week-end of January 4th 2019 after seeing two wonderful shows; one by Marvelous Marilyn Maye in a major music hall and the second in a more laid back littler venue by Smooth and Smart Jeff Harnar, in two different Palm Beaches, both of which equaled or topped as-good-as-it-gets performances by them in Manhattan.
On Friday night, the getting-more-formidable-every-day, celebrating-her-91st-birthday-in-April Marilyn Maye, her equally astounding musical director and brother from another mother, Tedd Firth and her moveable drummer, Eric Halvorson, were joined by South Florida’s talent-packed 15-piece Kravis Center Pops Orchestra Big Band on the Bernard and Chris Marden Stage of the Alexander W. Dreyfoos Jr. Concert Hall of the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.
The 2195 very comfortable seat concert hall was filled, except for back rows of Sixth and Seventh Heaven thanks to media support from Dick Robinson, a devotee of the Great American Songbook. Legends 100.3 FM, the radio station he owns, plays the songs Robinson loves 23/7. Jill and Rich Switzer, hosts of Legends Morning Lounge, had the pleasure of introducing Marvelous Marilyn Maye, who stepped on stage smiling, ageless, gracious, gussied up to the gills from her topmost blonde hairs to her subtly manicured toes, in sparkly black slacks and a silver sequin blouse that reflected the pink and purple lights that bathed the stage she strode across.
After the welcoming applause receded, she nodded at Tedd Firth and for the next hour and forty-five minutes sang 35 songs about love, loss, joy, fear, and every other emotion that being human entails, either accompanied but never overwhelmed by the substantial reed, trumpet and trombones sections playing Tedd Firth’s amazing charts or grooving with a five-piece combo, without a single disharmonious, cacophonic or sour note because she always sings in the key her voice inhabits.
An unexpected, memorable moment occurred more than halfway through the performance when she thanked the entire band, particularly responding to the artistry of Ed Maina on sax, flute and clarinet. A few words later, Marilyn, Ed Maina and Tedd Firth became a trio, demonstrating that Life is a Cabaret! Maina’s moody tenor sax, Marilyn’s mellow purring and Tedd’s magic keyboard blended into a sultry, smoky, sexy interpretation that made everyone in the audience, who still was able, want to cuddle up with someone they loved.
Maina, for the last 20 years has been teaching would-be woodwind players, most recently at Charles W. Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines, Florida, a day job which did not interfere with gigs with Maynard Ferguson, Linda Eder and playing for stars like Paul Anka and Frank Sinatra when they performed in South Florida. He’s also involved with a non-religious music ministry which brings food for body and soul to blues halls, prisons and places where needy people gather. He’s a good guy and a wonderful husband. Why did he stay in Florida instead of moving to New York? His wife doesn’t like cold weather. His response about Marilyn’s reaction to his music: “She completely blew me away. It’ll be a forever memory!!”
The same week-end, Jeff Harnar opened the cabaret series produced by Kevin Barrett – long may he and it wave! — at the packed Delray Beach Playhouse with a show that celebrated Cole Porter’s 100th birthday. Jeff Harnar is the most dapper, graceful and stylish tenor in New York City. He’s neat, smart, tasteful, refined yet always entertaining and fun. His clothes are offbeat but chic. His programs are smart and sophisticated. He’s part singer and part teacher, known for his meticulously researched and appropriate patter. He balances the wit and yearning of Porter, who, according to Harnar, showed “a whim of iron,” which all hangs out in Porter’s inimitable “Let’s Do It.” Its endless lyrics notice “Sloths who hang down from the twigs do it though the effort is great. Sweet guinea pigs do it. Buy a couple and wait!” A more cynical perception of love is found in Porter’s “At Long Last Love,” which wonders “Is it to rescue or is it to wreck? Is it an ache in the heart or just a pain in the neck?” Harnar delivers such delicious phrases with knowing smiles and deliberate pauses that will have you smiling with delight. My particular favorite is a “Little Skipper,” a love song written for the late, great Jimmy Durante which explains how he, the captain of the ship, is about to become a mother. His music director, New York’s Alex Rybeck and two very qualified local musicians Paul Shewchuk on bass and drummer George Mazzeo also supplied musical structure for Harnar and Porter’s songs
Harner also includes Porter’s biggest hits and some romantic ballads that I have always particularly loved – “You’d be So Nice to Come Home To” and “You Do Something to Me.” The audience loved both Harnar and Porter. They stood up and cheered and hung around to talk to Jeff and pose for selfies. He was a sight to behold in a subtle blue pinstriped suit and a wonderful lavender shirt and matching tie. I also enjoyed the ease with which he engaged the audience, walking around the floor of the temporary night club, dancing and gracefully engaging with fans, both old and brand new.
Delray Beach Playhouse 950 NW 9th Street Delray Beach, FL 33444 561-272-1281 www.delraybeachplayhouse.com