Marilyn Maye: “Marilyn By Request”
Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street
January 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 2016
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I settle into a corner nook at the Metropolitan Room this cold January evening, hard by the stage piano, by myself but soon surrounded by stranger-friends. The men at my table talk among themselves about “Marilyn Mania” and I quietly take note; we don’t know each other yet. I attend this evening solo, not initially feeling particularly social yet absolutely open to the music and to the intimacy of the room. But soon, while swaying and crying and laughing and humming together a bit for Maye’s 90-minute show, we’ve become family.
As in past years, I’m here for the first night of the post-New Year’s engagement. This latest edition of Maye’s annual January return to the Metropolitan Room is warm and moving and illustrates all the acumen of a lifetime of experience on stages across the country and on television. Famously Maye has the record as the most frequent guest on the Tonight Show int he Johnny Carson era. Maye confidently and elegantly wears her years on her face, her stage wisdom in her costume and her demeanor, and from the first moment of patter, the first instrumental downbeat, the first query to her music director Billy Stritch, in her absolute command of the room.
We all, fancy stars (Chris Noth is in my audience among others) to entranced civilians, are putty in her hands.
I am the first to say that every item on a Marilyn Maye set list is not initially among my favorite tunes. But she and her three stalwart musicians — snappy pianist/conductor Billy Stritch, smoothh bassist Tom Hubbard, and reliable drummer Ray Marchica — deliver innovative arrangements, meld intriguing medleys, and find nuance and fun in old familiars and some rarely unfurled tunes. Hers is not a calcified set list but a living, breathing, evolving assembly that moves me to tears and laughter with each hearing of each unique creation.
The first handful of tunes have been requested by audience members ahead of time — the “by request” part of the gig title — submitted by phone or on-line when reservations are made. Among the requests are “Hey Old Friend,” “I Love Being Here With You,” and a tune I’ve loved since my mother (no morning person she) fell for the tune the initial lines of “No Bad News” with the original Wiz cast recording — “When I wake up in the afternoon / which it pleases me to do,” it begins. I mean, what is there to say after that? And what there is to SING is a great deal in the hands of Maye. A series of love songs followed, whether requested or added by the musicians to the set list, that killed — “That Face” and a medley of love songs that tell the arc of a life well lived: “My Romance” into “Why Did I Choose You” into “That’s All.”
As I have experienced in several of Maye’s prior shows, she fits in the three act play “Guess Who I Saw Today” late in the set, the story tune of a woman unfurling the story of her day of observing her cheating husband to her cheating husband, in delicious melody and slowly building pathos.
The last time I sat in this particular corner of the venue for a Maye evening, we had a splendid sing along when she momentarily forgot a lyric and we all chimed in and she was charmed and we all continued. Such singalongs are marvelous in general and as a bonus sound fabulous in Maye’s cabaret audiences due to the healthy number of performers who are always present, adding depth and resonance to the singing.
This evening the stage is all hers and she wears it well.
© Martha Wade Steketee (January 5, 2016)