Review: Marilyn Maye

There is nothing more magical than seeing the marvelous Marilyn Maye in an intimate nightclub. Johnny Mathis, in a birthday message to Marilyn a few years back, said “it’s just you and me now, kid!” Mathis meant that they are the two jazz-pop singers of the ’50s and ’60s still actively performing. Mathis maintains an active tour schedule, as does Maye, and neither has fallen far from the peak of their powers. Maye just did Carnegie Hall!

Back in those halcyon days, Ella Fitzgerald called Maye “the greatest white female singer in the world” (which of course allowed Ella to be the very greatest). I can think of no other singer who possesses Maye’s combination of interpretive ability, rhythmic verve, and vocal range. Maye is a singer worthy of being included in the company of Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn or Blossom Dearie, and her phrasing is the finest I’ve heard in that style from a living female singer. This is a classic act in every sense of the phrase. 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.

Her new show, “Come Celebrate” is a selection of her favorite songs, curated to address the themes of love, and, tangentially, smiles and spring. She includes one of her most requested songs, “Guess Who I Saw Today”; she said to her fans “you have all heard this something like 12,000 times” but then looked at a couple of fresh-faced queerlings in the front row and teased, “well maybe not you!”

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. Her run at 54 Below returns us to “Café Society” or what she likes to call “Paradise Cafes” after a song she does (but not in this set). If you love classic songs sung like they’re meant to be sung, it doesn’t get any better than this. My very highest recommendation.

For tickets, click here.

For more more about Jonathan Warman’s directing works, see


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