Monday, March 11, 2013

Her Personal Property

When the indefatigable Marilyn Maye sings that New York is "My Personal Property" (from Sweet Charity) in her current show at 54 Below, it's impossible not to agree with the statement. From the time this soon-to-be 85 years young phenomenon made her return to Manhattan night life in 2006, after a lengthy absence, she has inspired the kind of cultish devotion among savvy Gothamites which rivals that of any venerated diva you can think of, from Garland to Bassey. And, most certainly, if the rapt, adoring 54 Below audience could wrap up the Planetarium, the Aquarium and the Central Park Zoo, and present them at La Maye's bejeweled feet, they would.

Here at Stirred, Straight Up, we've sung the praises of Marilyn Maye so often, it's difficult to come up with fresh ways of stating, "Marilyn Maye has never been better." Quite simply, there is no one singing in the same realm as she who can be considered equal or greater. She is the total performer. She can create devastating intimacy ("Something Cool," that brilliant saloon-cum-art song); or she can be the original good time gal (a storming medley of "Get Happy," "I Want to Be Happy" and "Sometimes I'm Happy"). She's sophisticated (a six song Cole Porter medley), bawdy (a rip-roaring "Blues in the Night"); elegant ("My Ship"). She swings Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" like mad (it's apparently impossible for anyone else to sing, besides the late, great Carmen McRae) and is a luscious ballad singer, voluptuously caressing the lyrics of "Lazy Afternoon," pairing it with her show-stopping interpretation of Blossom Dearie's "Bye Bye, Country Boy." The latter is underperformed, as well, perhaps because no one could possibly make it work other than Marilyn Maye.

Another miracle: nearly 50 years (!) later, and live performances of material Marilyn recorded for RCA in the 1960's sound just as good, if not better, than what's preserved on vinyl. "Golden Rainbow," the title song to the ill-fated Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme musical, is one of the high points of Marilyn's recorded output; and it remains one of the highlights of her current show.

While Marilyn Maye could most probably stand on her head and sing the phone book to kazoo accompaniment and make it work, she also has the terrific fortune of having the tightest jazz trio in New York playing for her. Jim Eklof has been her drummer for over fifty years, and the two have the kind of rapport and near-telepathic musical communication borne of that kind of relationship. On bass, Tom Hubbard's seemingly deadpan demeanor belies impeccable timing, swing and versatility. And the absolutely brilliant Tedd Firth on piano is simply one of the most remarkable musicians around today. That these four work and blend so seamlessly is testament to the breadth and scope of their collective talents. (By contrast, the rag-tag assemblage of musicians "supporting" jazz singer Rebecca Kilgore at The Metropolitan Room last week was a glaring example of how badly the wrong combination can derail even a singer as very good as Kilgore.)

A particularly pleasing aspect to this program is the venue itself, which lends itself exceedingly well to the proceedings. The 54 Below stage is just large enough to allow Marilyn to freely move about (and execute her famous, flawless high kicks during her exhilarating finale, "It's Today" from Mame), whereas previous residencies at The Metropolitan Room and the now-shuttered Feinstein's gave her stages which were near postage stamp size. (As Marilyn notes, it is decidedly a nightclub, not a cabaret.) The communal tables, free standing tables and booths are all comfortable and provide excellent sight lines; and the staff is remarkably friendly and attentive. The only blights are the lack of a proper lobby for customers to wait in (as curtain time runs nearer, the line stretches up an uncomfortable staircase and spills onto the street), and a spotty lighting technician with perhaps too heavy a hand and not musical enough timing.

Neither of which should deter you from seeing marvelous Marilyn Maye, as she finishes her second week with shows from March 12-16. Go. Listen. Be a-Maye-zed. After all, New York, New York is a helluva town, she's a helluva woman, and we merely inhabit what is undoubtedly secured as her personal property.

Buy your tickets here.


  1. Green with Envy, is how I felt at the thought of so many friends assembled
    at 54 Below this past Friday evening, to see the great Marilyn Maye--and now greener, after reading this discerning review. Welcome back to Blog
    Land, TJB! You have been missed.

  2. TJB, I know that other circumstances sometimes must take precedent, but you are too good of a writer to take such a long hiatus from your much-adored blog. However, one is thankful for what one has, in this case, a delightful review. Many thanks

  3. I was listening to her version of Take 5 just the other day and I thought of you sweetie. Strange how things like that work. Nice to hear you gush about Marilyn again. I can never get enough of her either. Except you have her in the flesh : )

  4. If I am ever in Noo Yawk, I will always take your recommendations - Miss Maye is a joy I have yet to experience live. Welcome back, my sweet. I have missed you. Jx

  5. Welcome back Love. And here I thought that you had married Marilyn and she had whisked you off to her castle. Glad your back.

  6. Thank you, darlings! It would be a dream evening to have all of you assembled with me for a night of Marilyn Maye.

  7. Just when I finally gave up that no more fabulousness would ever again be forthcoming, you're back.


  8. As having lost my mother, songstress Margaret Whiting, in 2011, I find myself drawn to seeing Mariyln Mayes shows whenever I am in NYC...I love her, her talent, and her hugs! She owns New York City! I wouldn't have it any other way!

    1. Debbi,

      What a treat to have you visit here. I'm a great admirer of your mother and her work. I'm only sorry that I didn't have a chance to see her perform in person. I did have the great pleasure of sitting very near your mother at one of Marilyn's shows a few years back; your mother was absolutely beautiful and glamorous, and seemed delighted when Marilyn introduced her from the stage, then led the audience in singing "Hello, Maggie" to the tune of "Hello, Dolly." It was a very special night!


  9. MJ, Barrie, Jill - YAY!!!


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