Review: Marilyn Maye

Marilyn Maye 2013

This legendary singer simply has to appear on the The Tonight Show when Jimmy Fallon brings it back to the city next month! It couldn’t be more appropriate: Johnny Carson gave her a standing invitation to sing on “The Tonight Show” whenever possible, and she ended up appearing 76 times while Carson was in the chair, a record nobody has broken since. She sounds almost exactly as amazing as she did back then; heck, she even has a great “New York” medley!

She’s doing that “New York” medley in her shows at the Metropolitan Room (through January 12), along with whatever else fans want to hear from her repertoire. Marilyn asks her audience to pick her “Marilyn By Request” set list by making song suggestions when making their reservations. Maye has been rediscovered by New York audiences over the last few years, and the ever growing lovefest between fans old and new is palpable in the room, which only adds to the fun.

Musical director Billy Stritch – a frequent foil for the likes of Liza Minnelli and Christine Ebersole – is the perfect match for this footloose kind of approach, combining a broad knowledge of popular music with snappy, sophisticated jazz chops. Maye exquisitely tailors her style of singing to the individual song, smooth for the ballads, swinging for the standards, and truly gritty for the bluesier numbers. And always, always fully at home in – and totally committed to – the music.

The night I went there were some really fantastic moments that I might suggest you request when you go (you really must go, I’m not giving you a choice). On that night, she did a medley of songs from My Fair Lady that climaxed in a stunning, hard-swinging rendition of “On the Street Where You Live”. On the pop/rock side of things, she brings real warmth and soul to James Taylor’s “Secret O’ Life”; same goes for Dottie West’s “You Pick Me Up”, which leads into a jazzy take on Barbara Mandrell’s “Crackers” that’s a total hoot.

There is simply nobody remotely like Maye, she’s an overpoweringly amazing cabaret singer. It might not be an exaggeration to call her the best jazz cabaret singer in the world. She’s certainly the last great performer in that style of her generation, still in astonishingly full command of her vocal powers. If you love songs of every kind sung like they’re meant to be sung, it just doesn’t get any better than this.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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