Review: Marilyn Maye

marilynmaye

Cabaret legend Marilyn Maye has a golden voice, that of someone 40 years her junior (she’s 88!). She has jazz phrasing with the sort of effortlessness, elegance and ease that has nearly passed out of existence. She’s worthy of being included in the company of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn or Blossom Dearie, and she’s probably the finest performer in that classic jazz-pop style still with us. Ella Fitzgerald in fact called her “the greatest white female singer in the world”. I’ve been a hopeless fan of Maye’s for 7 years now (a mere fraction of her long career), and I can tell you that Ella wasn’t exaggerating!

On top of all that, her ability to apply her own personality to the lyrics of a given song is nonpareil – she gives lessons on it in the master classes she teaches. I can think of no other singer who possesses Maye’s combination of detailed interpretation, rhythmic verve, and, yes, vocal range.

Her new show at Feinstein’s / 54 Below, titled “Highlights”, is her most autobiographical yet, and finds her going over songs that have mattered in many phases of her career, from her local radio star childhood in the 1930s and 1940s, to her pop chart successes of the 1950s in 1960s, to her successful entry in regional theatre in the 1970s. It includes songs she still sings often, like “Step to the Rear”, “Make Your Own Kind of Music” and “I’m Still Here”, as well as surprises like a jazzy “Cheatin’ Heart” and an obscenely bluesy “Honeysuckle Rose”.

Maye appeared on Johnny Carson’s edition of “The Tonight Show” a total of 76 times, a record not likely ever to be beaten by any other singer with any other host. She oddly didn’t even mention Carson in this act, maybe because she’s done a whole separate show exclusively about Carson. In any event, if you love classic songs 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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