My dear friend Frank turned me on to Marilyn Maye. I’ll give you two remarkable bits from her bio: Ella Fitzgerald referred to her as “the greatest white female singer in the world”, and she holds the record for the most appearances by a singer on the Tonight Show - - 76! She’s 85 now, and is having a career resurgence. My beloved Susie saw her last week at 54 Below and raved about it, said she wanted to see her again. So I got us tickets for last night (10/28/13).
I’d never been to 54 Below, it’s a new night club in the basement of Studio 54. I’m sure all kinds of skeevy things used to happen down there, but I assume they’ve fumigated the joint thoroughly. It’s a beautiful room, beautifully lit and decorated, good sound, with plenty of seating but still cozy. I’ll definitely be going back.
Miss Maye is incredible. She is 85 years old and has a voice with such power and impact, and yet can scale it back for a gauzy ballad and bring a tear to the eye. Am I writing the liner notes to her new LP on Verve? I think I might be. She blew me away. She has total professionalism paired with unbridled joy. And what else do you want from a performer?
Her show was built around songs from Broadway musicals, most of which she recorded for RCA. She found out after the fact that she was what was known as “a commitment singer” - - the producers of a Broadway musical would go to a big record company and try to get their songs recorded, so people would hear the song and think, “Hm, that’s good, we should see that show.” How quaint! She did a lot of that, often did an album of all the songs on a show.
I’ll list all of her songs below, and will give you a few highlights. She thanked the audience for coming, and appreciated them coming to see a live show - - “You can’t get this on television, and besides we’re not ON IT.” Ha! She did “Step to the rear” from *How Now Dow Jones?* and followed it up with the Lincoln Mercury commercial version, which made her a lot of money. I was thrilled that she sang “If he walked into my life” because I love that song so much, and was so moved by the way she so off-handedly sang the words, “would I think of one or two”, I’m getting teary just remembering it.
She did “Elegance” and “Hello, Dolly!” from *Hello, Dolly!* - - she did something cute with “Hello, Dolly!”, she sang it using the names of people in the audience, which she had on a list in her hand. “Hello, Brian. Well, hello, Steven. [key change!] Hello, Jacob. Well, hello, Bob Mackie!” Yes, Bob Mackie was there. I thought I recognized him, the darlingest little man. He made her outfit, a sweet pair of black velvet pants and a snazzy black velvet blouse encrusted with gold gewgaws, with pseudo batwing sleeves. A clever choice and a flattering cut for her. The audience went nutso when she sang, “Look at the old girl now, fellas.” The audience was nutso throughout, actually.
She sang “On the street where you live” in a jazzy up tempo, with a scat solo. I should mention that she had a killer combo with her, led by Billy Stritch, who usually rubs me the wrong way in the extreme, but he didn’t bother me at all this time. He played beautifully, supported her in the best way, and didn’t promote himself or get all phony and gross.
Her last full set was a group of songs from *Follies*. She said, “The most depressing show ever written. Every night, if you’re in it, you want to go home and kill yourself.” Ha! She did it in Houston, playing Sally, with Juliet Prowse as Phyllis, John Cullum as Ben, and I don’t know who else. She had some shtick earlier in the show about not knowing the lyrics to something, and had to cued by Billy Stritch, but I wonder if that was put on, because she nailed every word of “I’m still here”. Maybe, since she did that show onstage, it’s latched deeper in her memory?
Susie said it was very interesting seeing her a second time. She noticed that she warms up in the show, rather than before - - she started off having a little dirt in her voice here and there, which went away after about twenty minutes. And she has terrific stamina. This show was 90 mins of non-stop singing or talking, and demanding music, from a vocal standpoint. That’s quite something for a singer in her 30s, let alone her 80s.
“One”, from *A Chorus Line*
“S’wonderful”, from *My One and Only* (and surely a few shows before that)
“Consider yourself”, from *Oliver!*
“Cabaret”, from *Cabaret*
“Sherry”, from *Sherry*
“Step to the rear”, from *How Now Dow Jones?*
“Elegance” and “Hello, Dolly!”, from *Hello, Dolly!*
“C’est magnifique”, from *Can Can*
“Mame” and “If he walked into my life”, from *Mame*
“Have you met Miss Jones?”, from *I’d Rather Be Right* (which was first sung by her cousin Joy Hodges)
“Look for the silver lining”, from *Zip Goes a Million* (first sung by her namesake, Marilynn Miller)
“I’ll never fall in love again”, from *Promises, Promises*
“I’m through with love” (not from a Broadway show)
“Put on a happy face”, from *Bye Bye Birdie*
“I’ve grown accustomed to his face”, “Wouldn’t it be loverly?”, and “On the street where you live” from *My Fair Lady*
“If I were a bell”, “Fugue for tinhorns”, “The oldest established”, “Luck be a lady”, and “Guys and dolls”, from *Guys and Dolls*
“Losing my mind” and “I’m still here”, from *Follies*
“It’s today”, from *Mame*