Marilyn Maye’s Maye-den Voyage at 54 Below
By Ellis Nassour
What can you say about an entertainer when it seems all’s been said? How many more raves can you come up with when raves have swept over a performer each time that performer performs?
That’s the sad dilemma when commenting on veteran torch singer and belter, the amazing Marilyn Maye and her debut engagement at supper club 54 Below, where she’ll be appearing through March 16. [Showtimes vary. See below.]
Her Wednesday (March 5) opening was SRO with a nice sprinkling of celebrities and devoted followers. Miss Maye, turning 85 in a few weeks, looked red hot, complementing the red 54 Below décor, in a red pant suit and Sherpa cape. She sported quite the sparkling silver broach and wore her famed plastic heels.
Of course, when you go to hear Miss Maye, you wouldn’t care if she sat around in her PJs – but she doesn’t like to disappoint. In amazing voice – one that those 50 and 60 years her junior would covet, she tackled a program of favorite chestnuts, including many that she says her fans often request.
"They always request the ballads!" she laughed. "Never the uptempo, good times songs. When you come out to a club and are having a few drinks, you’d think they want to have a good time. But, no, they want the sad songs! Maybe they like crying in their beer or whiskey."
Miss Maye gave the audience a superb sampling of both genres. She received bravas and thunderous applause following her opening medley of Cole Porter tunes, which included "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Just One of Those Things," "I’ve Got You Under My Skin," and "All of You."
Since Johnny Mercer is one of her beloved favorites, there was no surprise when she mesmerized all with his "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home" and a doozie rendition of "Blues in the Night" (music, the great Harold Arlen). It would seem it would be impossible to make her audience any happier, but she proved she could do it with an extended happiness medley, that included "Get Happy" (Arlen, Ted Koehler), and "I Want to Be Happy" (Vincent Youmans, Irving Caesar).
Other apex, roof-raising moments were a poignant "My Ship" (Kurt Weill, Ira Gershwin), Liza’s 11:00 from Lady in the Dark; her and her trio’s extended riffs on the jazz classic "Take Five" (Paul Desmond); "Lazy Afternoon" (John Latouche, Jerome Moross), Helen and Paris’ memorable Act One finale from The Golden Apple; three epic torch songs "Guess Who I Saw Today" (Murray Grand, Elisse Boyd), "Lover Man" (Jimmy Davis, Roger Ramirez, James Sherman), and "When Your Lover Has Gone" (Einar Aaron Swan), which became a jazz standard after being featured in the 1931 James Cagney, Joan Blondel comedy Blonde Crazy.
Miss Maye followed with two songs that proved to be show highlights since they’re not often in her repertory: the ever-so-clever "Bye, Bye, Country Boy" (Blossom Dearie, and the ever-so-clever wordsmith Jack Segal) and "Something Cool" (Billy Barnes), which only made the room temperature rise to a torrid level.
If anyone knows how to close a show that’s already full of showstopping moments, it’s Miss Maye. She did it again with her medley of New York-themed tunes: "I Happen to Like New York" (Porter), "There’s a Boat Leavin’ Soon for New York" (the Gershwins) from Porgy and Bess, "New York State of Mind" (Billy Joel), and, of course, "New York, New York" (Kander and Ebb).
On the way out, a woman was overheard saying, "What a show! What more can you say?" Her companion blurted, "Well, how about damn good!" That really sums up Marilyn Maye in a nutshell. She’s simply damn good.
For MAYE-den Voyage at 54 Below, Tedd Firth returns as music director, collaborator, and masterful pianist, with Tom Hubbard on bass, and Jim Eklof on drums, who’s accompanied Miss Maye for over 50 years.
The cover is $45; $35 for bar seating, with $25 food/beverage minimum. Show times: March 8 and 9 and 15 and 16, at 8 P.M.; March 12 -14 at 7 P.M. Reserve online at www.54Below.com (service charges apply); by calling (646) 476-3551 after 4 P.M.; or at www.opentable.com. 54 Below opens for cocktails and dinner at 5:30 for 7 P.M. shows; 6:30 for 8 P.M. shows.