BWW Feature: Marilyn Maye Day Is A Cabaret Holiday
It started on Joan Rivers' afternoon talk show. This amazing female impersonator named Lypsinka came out and did a NUMBER that was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I hadn't seen a lot of drag queens in my twenty-five (ish) years on the earth but the ones I had seen didn't have an act like this - it was all telephones ringing and quotes from movies all pieced together with a big rousing musical finish, and I was as mesmerized as Joan Rivers appeared to be, sitting in her chair, captivated by the very original and fascinating performance. I never forgot it. A few years later I became friends with a man named Mark Sendroff and Mark had a hobby that brought him great pleasure and every one of his friends was the beneficiary of this hobby. Mark Sendroff made these VHS videotapes called Potpourri that were 2 hours of weird and wonderful show business clips, a melange of oddities and treasures that he had collected over the years and turned into party tapes - because at our home we played these tapes at every party. There was a clip of a man named Michael West doing a 2-minute movie called "Door To Door Dolly," there was a clip of Mimi Hines singing "Yesterday I Heard the Rain" at The Triad, there was a clip of Leslie Uggams messing up the words to "June Is Busting Out All Over," and there was Lypsinka on The Joan Rivers Show doing her act with all the telephones and lipsyncing to some astonishing recording of "Get Me To The Church On Time." If there was one thing I knew about Mark Sendroff, it was that he would know who sang that song and I could, finally, add it to my collection. I called him on the phone and asked him that which had been on my mind all these years and which nobody had had the answer to.
I felt embarrassed because I didn't know who Marilyn Maye was but I didn't let on - I didn't want my friend to think I was a cretin. I would simply have to do my homework and before we met again I would know all about Marilyn Maye. I went down to Footlight Records to buy some Marilyn Maye records... except they were each about fifty bucks, give or take a few bucks. So I called friends who would be able to help me out, older gay men with enormous record collections based on their love of divas, Broadway and The Great American Songbook. Steven Lovett hooked me up with some audio cassettes and homemade CDs, and I began to learn more about the woman behind the most bewitching voice I had heard in a really long time. I became obsessed with her and when I learned that my friend Bob Bartley had done the play Follies with her at TUTS, I would sit around the house, dreaming of what her "Losing My Mind" was like. Ricky Pope told me she had not only done the play "Hello Dolly," she had recorded a record album upon which she sang all of the songs from the show. None of her albums seemed to be on any CDs at this time, so my life became about trips to Footlight and Colony, searching for any Marilyn Maye albums that fit within the budget of a struggling artist. I would read Theater Week magazine to see if she was appearing in a cabaret club in New York or maybe in a regional theater production of anything to no avail. In a way, Marilyn Maye became like an elusive, an ungettable get, a Shangri-La for me. I had a tiny bit of her musical library in my music collection and big dreams about seeing her live one day.
Then it happened. Marilyn Maye was singing in a cabaret club in New York City and apparently this was the first time in a long time that she had done anything like it. I don't remember the year but I want to say it was 2007 or so. She was at The Metropolitan Room on 22nd Street. So I got a ticket and I went and it was, indeed, like coming around the bend and seeing Shangri-La for the first time. No mere mortal with a microphone was Marilyn Maye, this was an eruption of talent and expression, the like of which one sees for the first time, only once. Never before had a performer stormed the stage with such style and stamina, taken an entire room willingly captive and released them 90 minutes later, spent and elated, nourished and numb from the roller coaster ride that was pure musical entertainment. I was besotted and made a determination to see Marilyn Maye every time she appeared on stage in New York City.
It is very important to keep promises, especially ones you make to yourself. I did not see all of Marilyn Maye's shows in Manhattan. Life got in the way, work stopped me, finances prevented me, travel, distractions, many things kept me away from some... but not all of them! On one occasion when I was flush I wanted to make sure that my family saw Marilyn Maye live so I bought a table at The Metropolitan Room and treated several people to a night out. A different year, when my world was different and my belt was tighter, I bought a Living Social deal to The Metropolitan Room expressly to see Marilyn Maye, only to be told over the phone that they did not accept any discounts for Marilyn's show. I begged and pleaded until they relented and let me use the discount voucher. And always, in my phone can be found Marilyn Maye's recordings of "Misty" and "Hello Dolly" because, on dark days when I need a surefire way to feel better, those songs are the ideal recipe for happiness. The lady has played any number of venues around the city, and as the years have passed I have remained steadfast in my devotion to Marilyn Maye. I've seen the world change and grow weary and tired, but Marilyn Maye is always the constant unchanged. Each time she has a birthday there is great celebration and the number is thrown around as though little more than a morning greeting on a New York sidewalk, probably because the number matters not. Marilyn Maye is, today, as spry and as young as that first time I saw her. Her high kick is still as high as it was, her voice remains a bullhorn of unwavering control, as glorious as a crystal bell on a cold winter morning, as warm as a snifter of Frangelico, heated by a Zippo lighter. Marilyn Maye stays sharp, focused, funny, quick on the uptake and the wit, as friendly and loving with her audiences as she is with her closest friends. She spreads the font of Maye wisdom by coaching singers like Shelley Clayton and directing tour de force performances from Amy Beth Williams. And she's in the clubs. Marilyn Maye can be spotted in the seats of the nightclubs cheering on her friends, her colleagues, her mentees, indeed Marilyn Maye shows up, whether she is on the stage or in front of the footlights. Marilyn Maye is incomparable, she is irreplaceable, she is essential. She is a beacon of light, guiding the community through her artistry and her benevolent presence.
And the world, both that of cabaret and that at large, is so much the better for it.
Happy Birthday, Marilyn Maye. Long may you reign.
Visit Marilyn Maye's WEBSITE
See Marilyn Maye at 54 Below HERE
See Marilyn Maye on CBS This Morning HERE
See Marilyn Maye on The Tonight Show HERE
See Marilyn Maye sing "Losing My Mind" HERE
See Marilyn Maye at Birdland HERE
See Marilyn Maye on The Hollywood Palace HERE
See Marilyn Maye on the Harry Connick Show HERE
The above photos were shot by me this year at shows I was covering for Broadway World. This photo of me with Marilyn Maye was taken by Mark Sendroff after one of Marilyn's shows. It is one of the two times I have met Marilyn Maye.