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.