Friday, May 27, 2011

Spring is Here

What can we possibly say about the remarkable Marilyn Maye that we haven't told you before? We could tell you (again) that she's an octogenarian dynamo who looks, shimmies and sounds at least two decades younger. We could tell you (again) that she has a seemingly inexhaustible set of pipes that put most singers half her age to shame. We could tell you (again) about her bawdy sense of humor, her sharp wit, and the mass adoration she inspires from her audience.

But the most helpful thing we could tell you about Ms. Maye, and her new show at Feinstein's at the Regency, It's Maye in May, is to simply buy your tickets now. It is an absolute do-not-miss event.

At first glance (or hearing), this program didn't seem to have the same structure as some of Maye's other, now-legendary shows, i.e. devoted to a single composer (Johnny Mercer the Maye Way) or a story arc (Love on the Rocks, dedicated to mostly torch songs). Then, going over the set list once our dizzying state of euphoria lifted, we realized that this breakneck show was light on the ballads, and jam-packed with zingy, springy arrangements -- Maye in May, indeed.

Ms. Maye -- glittering in sequined black -- broke us in gently, with a lightly swinging medley of "You Make Me Feel So Young" and "Young and Heart." But the number of rafter-ringing showstoppers which followed was astonishing: not only for Maye's vocal stamina, but for their clever pace and placement. In lesser hands, so many Big Numbers would have been overwhelming for the audience. A savvy pro like Marilyn Maye cooks up medleys which begin at a moderate tempo, and then gradually build to a wild climax ("Honeysuckle Rose," which capped off a brilliant Fats Waller medley, had the room practically standing on their chairs, cheering); while standalone gems like her incredible arrangements of "Get Me to the Church on Time," "On the Street Where You Live," "Blues in the Night" and "Come Rain or Come Shine," are bookended by slower and/or lighter moments.

It must also be mentioned that Ms. Maye's virtuosity is more than well-served by her flawless trio: her unflappable drummer Jim Ekloff, who has been with Maye for almost 50 years; the always-dignified Tom Hubbard, superbly supplying bass; and the whiz kid, Tedd Firth, musical director and pianist par excellence, whose jaw-dropping playing matches Maye's vocal flights of fancy to a tee.

By the time we get to the 11 o'clock torch number, "I'm Still Here" from Follies, it seems almost anti-climactic, essentially putting the brakes on suddenly after so many scorching, sizzling-hot highlights. But there's no denying Maye's well-won right to perform this warhorse, especially after her incendiary performance of it at composer Stephen Sondheim's birthday celebration at Carnegie Hall last year. And, of course, she absolutely nails it, wringing every last drop of wry wit and bemusement from the lyric.

We've often mentioned our dislike for this particular venue; its shortcomings almost always color our experience, no matter how good the performer. When Marilyn Maye made her Feinstein's debut last year, even her magic couldn't make us completely overlook the charmless setting. But this show is too darn hot to miss, and Marilyn Maye, if you'll forgive a cliche, has never been better. We've been twice since she opened this past Tuesday, and will be back two or three times before her run ends on June 4.

If you want a perfect evening, we can think of none better than this: start with dinner at Le Veau d'Or on East 60th and Lexington -- another all-time classic which just keeps going. Order the vichyssoise and the poussin, baby roast chicken; or maybe the celeri rémoulade and the divine monkfish special. After you polish off your Pêche Melba or œufs à la neige, walk one block west to Feinstein's at East 61st and Park. Bask in the younger than springtime glow of Maye. Then, if you're anything like us, repeat.

Buy tickets HERE.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Ghost Story

This is not a pre-surgery Joan Rivers...

Joan Rivers and Ed Sullivan, ca. 1968

...nor is it Florencia Bisenta de Casillas Martinez Cardona (a.k.a. Vikki Carr).

Vikki Carr, ca. 1965

No, this lovely lady is our latest Mystery Guest: the deliciously throaty thrush, Miss India Adams!

Miss Adams is, of course, best known as the "ghost voice" employed by MGM for Cyd Charisse and Joan Crawford in the 1953 pictures, The Band Wagon and Torch Song, respectively. In the former, Adams dubbed Charisse for "New Sun in a New Sky," as well as the ensemble finale, "That's Entertainment."

Oscar Levant, Cyd Charisse, Jack Buchanan, Fred Astaire and Nanette Fabray perform "That's Entertainment!" in The Band Wagon (1953, MGM)

Charisse actually filmed another solo spot, dubbed by Adams, for The Band Wagon, entitled "Two Faced Woman." It was ultimately cut from the film, but when Adams was assigned to supply the singing voice for Joan Crawford in Torch Song, the number was resurrected -- only to be staged, inexplicably, in a "tropical" setting, with Crawford and her chorines made up like refugees from a minstrel show.

Joan Crawford is a "Two Faced Woman" in Torch Song (1953, MGM)

The other numbers recorded by Adams-as-Crawford included the already well-known pop hit, "Tenderly"; "You Won't Forget Me," which was apparently considered memorable enough for popular jazz starlet Helen Merrill to include on her With Strings album two years later; and "Follow Me," which Crawford herself recorded (in hopes of providing the vocals for her entire characterization).

Re-edited video of "Follow Me" from Torch Song with Joan Crawford's own vocal

Interestingly, Adams would later recall her experience with Crawford quite fondly, while remembering Cyd Charisse as cold and unfriendly. Unfortunately, Adams' friendship with Crawford -- which lasted beyond filming -- came to an abrupt end when MGM released a recording of the numbers from Torch Song, giving Adams full credit for the vocals -- something which was rarely done at that time, with the studios (and the stars themselves) preferring to let the fans believe that the actors were doing the actual chirping. MGM had expressly told Adams not to let Crawford know about the record until its release, and the perceived deception hurt Crawford deeply. Still, to this day, Adams has nothing but praise for Queen Joan.

Following her brief run as a celebrity ghost at MGM, Adams relocated to New York, where she performed in theatre (including Can-Can and The Most Happy Fella); toured nightclubs, such as the famed Latin Quarter; and recorded a highly sought after album for RCA, Comfort Me with Apples (1959), which is a masterpiece of the "sex kitten chanteuse" genre popularized by the likes of Eartha Kitt, Abbe Lane and Lola Albright.

The next stop for India Adams was England, which she made her home base from 1965 until 1981. In 1969, she was the stand by for Ginger Rogers when the latter starred as Mame at the Drury Lane Theater; in true old trouper fashion, Rogers never missed a performance, even when ill, so Adams never had the chance to make her West End bow.

Ginger Rogers and India Adams

Newsreel footage of Ginger Rogers as Mame

She may have made a career out of singing, subbing or standing by for superstars, without ever becoming one herself; but among the discerning few, India Adams is a fondly remembered talent -- and she's still going strong, having performed most recently in Hollywood this past January. We think she's just sensational!

We're sorry we've been so ghost-like ourselves of late, but we hope to be back to our normal pace very soon. As always, thanks for playing, darlings!

Official website HERE.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Everything's Coming Up Rosie

May 23, 1928 - June 29, 2002

(We apologize for the sporadic updates... Mystery Guest reveal tomorrow, darlings!)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Friday, May 20, 2011

Guess Who?

(Remember, darlings -- if you already know, let everyone else guess first!)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011