BY LARRY MYERS**** One might say Marilyn Maye at the Metropolitan Room is like a force of nature. But , then again, Marilyn Maye would most likely upstage both Mothers Nature and Earth. Two standing ovations within the duration of her performance (or rather event!) testify to this hypothesis. Beyond artistry seems to be some sort of alchemy. Marilyn doesn’t just make an entrance, she casts a spell. New Agers would call Ms. Maye “a lightworker.” What she demonstrates is the complex construct of consummate contemporary cabaret — charisma, craft, more charming cunning. One witnesses not just a nightclub turn, but a legacy. Decades after her 76 appearances on The Tonight Show in Johnny Carson’s time, she is something like a vocal Dorian Gray. Marilyn ignites the Metropolitan Room, giving it a stature of the Metropolitan Opera. However, unlike opera’s resurrection of classic greats, Maye offers fresh immediacy to old standards, making them sound as if they were written yesterday for this specific audience. At one point, she turns to fan extraordinaire Todd Brandt, making “Jeepers Creepers” his personal valentine. (The show is called Marilyn by Request, as the set list is largely made up of favorites that audience members asked for when making their reservations.)
Maye’s contact with her audience shares her joyousness about this art form: cabaret. From the start, she conjures expectation with “It’s a Most Unusual Day.” Her contagious anticipation of sharing allows her to consistently keep topping each subsequent number. Genius pianist/musical director Tedd Firth is conspirator in these outbursts of pizzazz and poignancy, leading the trio completed by drummer Eric Halvorson and her usual bassist, Tom Hubbard. Ms. Maye demonstrates the forceful meaningful interpretation of lyrics, honoring songwriters. Others on the scene seem to have the misconception that volume equals profundity. Rather than poetically interpreting words, their distrust of the material and need for gratification allows them to yell. With Maye, time has not depleted her voice, merely deepened it.
Each song, whether it be “Come Rain or Come Shine” or Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” has a distinctive edge. “Lazy Afternoon” is lilting. Mame‘s “If He Walked Into My Life” is touching and soulful. Her “Skylark” is as effective as her “Fifty Percent” (from the musical Ballroom). Marilyn doesn’t just share Mame and Dolly; she embodies and personifies them. Her “Too Marvelous for Words” summarizes the hyperbolic adjectives needed to describe her. Marilyn Maye is in a category reserved for greats like Peggy Lee. Her appearance is not just some Shangri-La for emotional addicts and the cabaret aficionado; it is a quintessential justification of cabaret as an important art form. Mischief coexists with insight. Showwomanship coexists with the manifestation of hope. Maye’s “I’m Still Here” becomes a universal statement of not just show biz grit, but of transcendence.
Maye in June in Manhattan: Marilyn Maye performs at 9 PM on June 16 and 17 at Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22 Street www.metropolitanroom.com and there’s a Monday, June 19 afternoon concert at 2 PM at the 92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue:
Photos of Marilyn Maye by Russ Weatherford