Review: Marilyn Maye “By Request”

Marilyn-Maye-Headshot

Ella Fitzgerald once called Marilyn Maye “the greatest white female singer in the world.” That’s no exaggeration; she may be the only singer alive who combines a great vocal instrument with interpretative flair and savoir faire equal to Ella’s own. I can think of no other living singer who possesses Maye’s combination of interpretive ability, rhythmic verve, and vocal range – at 86, her voice is the envy of singers 40 years her junior.

She’s also a “saloon singer”, a singer who has a fantastic rapport with her audience, singing them beloved songs from a startlingly wide variety of genres. These shows at the Metropolitan Room take full advantage of this facet of her talent. Marilyn asks her audience to pick her “Marilyn By Request” set list by making song suggestions when making their reservations. It makes for an evening filled with surprises, and plenty of energy from both sides of the footlights.

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.

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 – the night I went she sang a version of “I Will Survive” that she premiered with Carson. 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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Review: Clint Holmes

Clint_Holmes 2013

Over the last few years, Clint Holmes has established himself as a cabaret artist of great sensitivity and intelligence in his annual residencies at the Cafe Carlyle. Holmes has been a Las Vegas performer for some time, but exhibits none of the negative qualities you associate with Vegas. He only has the good Vegas stuff: He is nothing if not sincere and authentic, and possesses a magnetic stage presence and a practiced but subtle showmanship that underlines what’s important in the show without overselling it.

His latest act at the Carlyle, entitled “Stop This Train”, is by far his most personal yet, wonderfully reflective and nuanced. In the show, Holmes meditates on the imprints left both by one’s childhood home and venturing out into the wider world. He begins with his boyhood days in Buffalo, New York, where his father was an African-American jazz vocalist who worked in a steel mill and his mother was a white British opera singer who taught voice.

He recalls his life changing adolescent encounter with Rodgers & Hammerstein, with a movingly understated take of their “This Nearly Was Mine”. He pays tribute to his father’s small-time jazz band with a rendition of “How High the Moon”. He owes the basic idea for his approach to the song to Charlie Parker and Ella Fitzgerald, but spins off into subtle improvisations that are entirely his own.

The great majority of the show’s middle part is devoted to Holmes deep affection for Paris, doing versions of “C’est Si Bon” and “C’est Magnifique” that are entirely insouciant and sans souci. He also paints a more wistful, rueful picture of the city with quieter pieces like Paul McCartney’s “Michelle” and Charles Trenet’s “La Mer (Beyond the Sea)”.

Holmes ends the show with a song he wrote himself “1944” about his parents meeting in Europe; he has imbued the song with both richly evocative details and deep feeling, and delivers it warmly but with very tasteful restraint. Holmes is a class act, and this show is first-rate cabaret.

For tickets, click here.

Review: Mark Nadler

Cabaret star Mark Nadler is one of the greatest showmen of our time, capable of leaping from floor to piano bench, tap-dancing madly, singing and keeping steady eye contact with the audience, all this while playing a complex passage on the piano without even glancing at the keys. However, in his latest at 54 Below, I’m A Stranger Here Myself, he takes a somewhat more low-key approach – the abundant theatrics and virtuosity are still there, but applied in a different way.

For this show, Nadler performs songs by German and French songwriters who were active between 1919 and 1933, the years of Germany’s Wiemar Republic (though not all the songs are from that period). Nadler examines these composers’ lives as well as those of ordinary German citizens caught up in that politically and emotionally charged period, leading his audience into some surprising corners.

There’s usually at least a gay subtext to Mark’s shows, but gayness is all out in the open on this one, where he spends much time reflecting on the place of gays and Jews in the socially progressive Wiemar era. As open an era as it was, though, homosexuality was still illegal, and Nadler highlights the bravery of lyricist Kurt Schwabach and composer Mischa Spoliansky who wrote the totally astonishing “Lavender Song (Das Lila Lied)” – as defiant an anthem for gay rights as I’ve ever heard – in 1920.

I’m always referring to the titles of Mark’s shows and talking about them as theatrical pieces. That’s because, more than any other cabaret artist I’m aware of, Nadler puts his shows together with passionate intelligence and careful structuring – to truly stunning results. His shows are truly theatre pieces and truly cabaret, all at once. There are always many layers in a Mark Nadler show, ranging from the obvious, to the unspoken subtext, which gives an “oomph” far, far beyond your typical cabaret show. This one has an even more profound emotional pull, and is truly not to be missed.

For tickets, click here.