Marilyn Maye: “Marilyn By Request”

Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street
Three night engagement — January 4, 5, and 6, 2012 at 7pm
event web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
January 6, 2012

  • “Oh my God, so many songs.”
  • “He’s so good.  It’s like we rehearsed.”
(L-R). Billy Stritch and Marilyn Maye confer.  Image by Stephen Sorokoff.

I believe in singing from experience and carving stories with lyrics and allowing the beats of meaning to dictate the beats of phrasing.  As an audience member, as a fan, I want to hear the wisdom.  Each note does not need to be a distracting perfect aural pearl.  Tell me a story.  And on this past Friday evening, culminating three nights of partially “by request” set lists (audience members are asked to nominate a song for the night’s list when they call with their reservation), octogenarian master of the genre Marilyn Maye held forth in the intimate Metropolitan Room to the delight of a packed and engaged crowd.

Billy Stritch on piano and his band including a bassist and drummer.  And Marilyn Maye, all 5 feet and 80 plus years of her, giving us the gift of her ability to work a room and work a song.  Billy tells me after the show that Maye goes especially long this particular evening (some 26 tunes and over two hours) — “it’s a marathon” he said.  I enthused: it is so worth it, thank you for running it for us.  The set list covers bubble gummy tunes like her entrance to “Celebrate” to a delicious “Midnight Sun” to an enchanting (perhaps unplanned) audience participation segment late in the set initiated by her own second guessing of a stab at one of the first lines of “As Time Goes By” (she was right, we all said, to a person, out loud) — then she invited us to sing along with her, the entire song.  It tells you something about the crowd that each person knew all the words. And we all sounded fabulous, I must say.

Judy Garland is on my mind as a reference point when Maye gives us Billy Barnes‘ “Something Cool”, then moves into a raft of standards such as “Stormy Weather” and “You Go to My Head” and “Come Rain or Come Shine”, yet Maye gives each her own treatment, her own telling.  Stritch takes over for a solo at one point and provides a solo swinging and sweet version of “You Fascinate Me So” (close to the same arrangement he has been doing for years and performs with Liza Minnelli on their Confessions recording).  For over two hours, a singular set of personalities with generous spirits.

By the end of the evening we have communed, laughed, and even sung together as an audience. And we have been encouraged to support the cabaret art form.  Maye welcomes a number of people by name in the audience, including a set of students who are to attend the Master Class she will be giving a few days hence in this venue.  You have to do what you can to ensure the future of the art, she tells us.  And though the Metropolitan Room owner and employees jokingly flicker the lights and talk over her mention of other venues at which she or others will soon perform, she takes this collective support seriously.  She takes the responsibility on herself to share what she knows, through master classes and other means.  And we in the audience, those of us who love this manner of telling stories through song, need to “spread your presence around.”  It’s a community thing, this art form.  And joyous in the sharing.

© Martha Wade Steketee (January 9, 2012)

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