With over 80 years of experience in the industry, one thing is certain: Marilyn Maye does not need critiqued by anyone. On the contrary, she could be a dean of entertainment, dispensing wisdom and knowledge on how to charm and thrill an audience. Yet even the most seasoned professionals like to know that they’ve still got it—and Maye has it in abundance.
I’ve known about this cabaret stalwart since I moved to New York in 2000, but regretfully had never seen her until this past week at the Birdland Theater. Now, my biggest regret is not having seen her years ago. For by now, I could now be considered a long-time fan. Instead, I’m a newly minted admirer.
Maye is simply a treasure. Every song she sings becomes a story and every lyric she delivers is crystal clear. Whether she’s expressing the benefits of romance in a pro-love medley (“I Love Everybody”/”Let There Be Love”/”It’s Love”/”My Romance”/”Why Did I Choose You”) or declaring its heartache in a mash-up (“I’m Through With Love”/”I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”) Maye has the ability to gently reach the soul of her audience and meet them on either side of that fence.
She can both nurture her guests in a sweet, playful manner or—as she did at the performance I saw—chide them for being on their cell phones. When Maye sings, attention must be paid.
Other highlights of her show include an incredible word heavy version of the jazz classic “Take 5” and another medley of songs about New York. Both received a standing ovation.
Billy Stritch, her longtime pianist and conductor, nimbly follows Maye’s every note and can literally change an entire arrangement in an instant. In the middle of “Put On a Happy Face”, Maye stopped and asked for a different version. Stritch and his fabulous fellow musicians obliged. Bassist Tom Hubbard and drummer Daniel Glass, round out this trio. All three have an opportunity to shine, but they also know how to follow their leading lady.
Maye has stated in the past that her purpose in this life is to entertain. We can be thankful that she’s found her purpose. The joy she delivers can overcome the onslaught of dour news and pandemic malaise.
Although she ends her engagement at Birdland later this evening, it’s a safe bet that the Kansas native will be back in New York again to grace us with her inimitable presence. When she is, clear your schedule and grab a ticket.
For a list of Marilyn Maye’s upcoming performances, visit her website.
For a list of upcoming shows at Birdland (West 44th between 8th and 9th, NYC) click here