Around The Town

Sally Mayes at The Green Room 42

By: Alix Cohen

December 5, 2023: Sally Mayes, too rarely on a Manhattan stage, intends this to be the first of four distinctively different cabaret evenings. Heads up. Those of you uninitiated should know that the artist/actress can SING. Pivoting between swing, musical theater, songbook, and western-style material with a dollop of humor, the performer’s signature attributes include range, control, and characterization. “This is an evening of my-stuff,” she tells us smiling. “I decided I wanted to sing all my old charts again.”

By: Alix Cohen

December 5, 2023: Sally Mayes, too rarely on a Manhattan stage, intends this to be the first of four distinctively different cabaret evenings. Heads up. Those of you uninitiated should know that the artist/actress can SING. Pivoting between swing, musical theater, songbook, and western-style material with a dollop of humor, the performer’s signature attributes include range, control, and characterization. “This is an evening of my-stuff,” she tells us smiling. “I decided I wanted to sing all my old charts again.”

“The Best is Yet to Come” lifts off on Tom Hubbard’s cool bass. Mayes knows when to hold it, to pause at an edge, to add a bit of shush. “You Fascinate Me So” arrives on the first song’s tail riding its melody. “You’ll forgive my inability to—-concentrate,” she sings (Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh). Stories about Coleman’s early support are genuine.

“Grandmama did my costumes, mama did my hair, daddy was my orchestra,” she tells us sharing an anecdote that features opening (at six years old) for the inebriated George Jones and about his comeuppance. Observing a harried mother at Walmart (“Yes, I shop there”), she remembers her babysitter, Janine. Dar Williams’ charming story/song “The Babysitter’s Here” follows. Mayes projects the awe of an adoring kid. “She taught us the sign for peace.” You can practically feel a reverential intake of breath.

One of the artist’s mentors is Carol Hall. “Only a Broken Heart” (Carol Hall/Tex Arnold) was inspired by the songwriter’s nurturing vocalist David Campbell through a break-up. “She was a really sweet lady,but there’s a limit!” Mayes comments. “It’s not like you slipped your disc…lost your dog… You’ll survive, I swear; There, there, there…” she sings, wry and animated, personifying just the right I-know-cause-I’ve-been-there-get-over-it conviction. The song has a basement honky-tonk tone. It’s kind of country noir. Vocal slip/slides octaves as if greased.

“Metropolitan Scat” (Cheryl Combs) – the combo of opera and swing – showcases just that. “…Now you sing just like a schitzo soprano…” Her left foot taps time. Improv vocal slides from “sha-bo-dop-bo-dah” to “Figaro, Figaro.” The performer is game and, importantly, able.

Subbing for one of the Four Bitchin’ Babes, Mayes learned Camille West’s hysterical “Viagra” in which a big wheeler careens into a town’s water supply dumping 7000 pounds of the drug. One old man approaches his wife at breakfast with a coffee cup in each hand (she demonstrates) and half a dozen bagels (no demonstration necessary). Every laugh is mined with implicit winks rather than exaggeration. Full of expert puns and double entendres, the song is a delight.

“As we get older, we start to think about things we didn’t think of before,” prefaces Scott Evan Davis’ “Save Me the Rose” which emerges a slow march: “I’ve sold the house/I’ll be leaving by spring/The winter’s too cold alone…” Sorrow is completely believable. “Miss Byrd” (Richard Maltby Jr./David Shire), for which the artist is known, remains adorable: “I sit here at my desk/And no one knows/Not twenty minutes ago/I was not wearing clothes…” Mayes’ runs her hands down the mic stand in sensual recollection. “This bird is singing./Miss Byrd is singing…” She spreads her arms in flight and, I swear, blushes.

“You’re Aging Well” (Dar Williams) verges on anthem: “And oh, you’re aging, oh and I am aging,/ Oh, aren’t we aging well?” Resplendent in hot pink sequins, her talents spot-lit, this artist shouldn’t be concerned. She could use another set of ears and eyes – a director, however. As experienced as Mayes is, a bit too much of the material is BIG – even in passing. (Musical Direction?) Easing the throttle would enhance more sensitive lyrics, taking full advantage of obvious acting chops.

I’m looking forward to the next one.

Note: MD Ron Abel’s raised piano seating distracts. It may also be the cause of particularly forceful contact with keys. Sound and lighting adjustment are needed. 

Sally Mayes at The Green Room 42
MD/Piano – Ron Abel
Bass – Tom Hubbard
December 2, 2023