By ROB LESTER****In this uncertain world, come December there are two certain things that are certainly reliable: both are longer-in-the-tooth yet ageless smiling sprites beaming positivity and dressed head to toe in bright red, reliably delivering pure joy to the world. Yeah, Santa Claus is one, to be sure, but can he scat-sing, be the coolest thing going, convincingly inhabit “Something Cool,” a portrait of a lonely woman clinging to her facade (in a song inspired by Blanche DuBois in Tennessee WIlliams’s A Streetcar Named Desire)? Somehow I don’t see Mr. Claus depending on the kindness of strangers or snapping his fingers to a jazz beat. But an evening with singer sensation Marilyn Maye, in glittering Christmas red, with a lit-up green wreath on stage behind her, accompanied by top-drawer musicians, is the early yuletide gift you should give yourself. It’s instant cheer with a side order of rewarding drama. She’s just got one more night at Iridium — and if you are reading this on Saturday, December 9, well, it’s your lucky night. Presented by ScoBar Entertainment, the show is highly recommended, but that’s no surprise.
Miss Maye’s oft-praised audience connection is epitomized by what she does with the first line of “The Rainbow Connection.” Her timing, phrasing, physical stance, the look in her eye, the tone of voice all work to make an inside joke of a lyric never meant to amuse: “Why are there so many songs about rainbows?” But, in context, it’s a winking conspiracy moment because it arrives within a medley of varied numbers about the wonder of that multi-hued natural phenomenon: the first two lyrics courtesy of E.Y. “Yip” Harburg — “Look to the Rainbow” and “Over the Rainbow” — with richly mined melodies by, respectively, Burton Lane and Harold Arlen. Then, a rarely covered movie-born (Fitzwilly, starring Dick Van Dyke, anyone?) love plea, “Make Me Rainbows” by John Williams before his mega-movie theme days and Marilyn & Alan Bergman. So, by the time we’ve logged all these miles in Marilyn Maye musical montage tracking a one-track mind, when she then leads into the query: “Why are there so many songs about rainbows?” first posed by Kermit the Frog, it’s a comment on the welcome overdose here. Then, it turns into a convincing philosophy and self-identifying as a believer in the lure and magic (“I’ve heard it too many times to ignore”). Still, the “so many songs” gives permission to be in the moment and comment upon it.
And we go on from there. An early section in December 8’s Iridium show generously sampled her CD tributing Ray Charles. (Criminally, the decade-plus-old album is her most recent.) Some of the usual suspects followed— audience favorites which show two sides to an extramarital affair, and the ultimate carpe diem mantras, and a couple of nods to the season. Marilyn Maye’s Friday, the first night of the season where snowfall was part of the weather forecast, found the extraordinary entertainer generously turning the vocal spotlight on “White Christmas” to Ellen Hart Sturm who glided onto the stage physically and vocally, bringing sweetness and warmth to the Irving Berlin classic of classics.
The early poster for this booking had read, “Marilyn Maye and her Trio,” but we got a Christmas bonus — she had a quartet! When Tedd Firth leads the way with Maye it would be pleasure enough had it been just voice and piano, but we also get Daniel Glass drumming, Steve Doyle’s tasty and smart bass work, and — hooray–guitarist Jack Cavari. The stretch-out dazzler solos by each makes one wish each had even more such moments. And, in packing muchos music into her sets, the once-loquacious Maye has not been as frequent with anecdotes and banter lately. Her talk can be delicious and the audience wants some outside-of-songs way to get to know this funny and very down-to-earth gal who still loves her work and her eager audiences.
The Iridium is on Broadway between West 50 and West 51 Streets. Tickets/info at https://www.ticketweb.com/event/marilyn-maye-iridium-tickets/7845275?REFID=iridiumlist
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