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BWW Review: MARILYN MAYE Is Not to Be Missed at 54 Below

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Legendary Marilyn Maye plays 54 Below Through Nov. 1

BWW Review: MARILYN MAYE Is Not to Be Missed at 54 Below

For the past 20 or so years, writers seem compelled to begin every review of a show by cabaret legend Marilyn Maye with some mention of her age (she is 93 by the way.) They generally follow this with some endearment like "for a woman of blah, blah years, Marilyn Maye is an astounding singer. " The problem with statements like this is that they bury the lead. Her age is irrelevant. Marilyn Maye is an astounding singer at any age. And she has been an astounding singer throughout the ages and stages of her life.

As has often been reported, she appeared on the Tonight Show a record-setting 76 times and was Johnny Carson's personal measure of excellence for any other singer who appeared on his show. As a cabaret performer, it is not hyperbole to say she simply has no peer. She is the person that everyone who sets foot on a nightclub stage, sings a jazz riff, or dabbles in The Great American Songbook looks to for inspiration and instruction. There is no getting around it, Marilyn Maye is the undisputed gold standard.

BWW Review: MARILYN MAYE Is Not to Be Missed at 54 Below

So any time she has a week-long engagement in New York, it is a not-to-be-missed opportunity. New Yorkers have that golden opportunity this week as Maye has taken up residence at Feinstein's 54 Below until November 1. Her show is a must-see for anyone who wants to experience cabaret as it is meant to be done. With little more than herself, her trio, a few good stories, and a lot of great songs, she creates a magical space where anything is possible, an upbeat, hopeful world that leaves you a richer human being than when you came in. Late in the evening, she sings a Dorothy Fields lyric, "Today I feel New New York is really my personal property." It doesn't feel like an exaggeration.

BWW Review: MARILYN MAYE Is Not to Be Missed at 54 Below It seems appropriate that the weather outside was rainy. Marilyn Maye began her evening with a medley about rainbows including "Look to the Rainbow," " Over the Rainbow," "Make Me Rainbows," and "The Rainbow Connection." And she followed this up with something unexpected, yet another song about rainbows, a samba flavored version of Walter Marks' "Golden Rainbow." She told us that her mother named her in honor of the great Ziegfeld star, Marilyn Miller. She gave us a lovely version of Miller's signature tune, "Look For the Silver Lining." At the end of the song, she blew a kiss to her mama, who is always in heaven watching the show.

She kept the optimism rolling with a medley of songs about smiling including "When You're Smiling," "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag," "Smile," James Taylor's "Your Smiling Face," and "I Love to See You Smile." But she didn't stop there. She topped it off with the champion of optimistic songs, "Put On a Happy Face." She turned to a bittersweet medley of tunes with an autumnal theme, "Autumn in New York," "Autumn Leaves," and Barry Manilow's beautiful "When October Goes."

BWW Review: MARILYN MAYE Is Not to Be Missed at 54 Below

She gave us a snippet of the haunting "Lazy Afternoon" which she combined with Blossom Dearie's "Bye-bye, Country Boy," proving that she is not only an exquisite singer but a marvelous actress. It was a compelling performance. She turned to two songs by Frank Loesser. First his "Joey, Joey, Joey" from The Most Happy Fella. It was an evocative piece of theatre in which she created a sense of unquenchable wanderlust. It was followed by the exuberance of "Luck Be Lady."

BWW Review: MARILYN MAYE Is Not to Be Missed at 54 Below

It is a good time to pause and talk about Marilyn Maye's fantastic trio. They are three of New York's most accomplished jazzmen. Tom Hubbard on bass and Mark McLean on drums couldn't be improved upon. And Tedd Firth outdid even himself as Ms. Maye's musical director. His fills and runs on "Joey, Joey, Joey" had to be heard to be believed. It was truly inspired music-making.

BWW Review: MARILYN MAYE Is Not to Be Missed at 54 Below Marilyn Maye entered the home stretch with a long-standing hit, "Guess Who I Saw Today." She plays the scene so breezily the final punchline comes as a surprise no matter how many times you've heard it. She ended her concert with a medley of songs about New York City that was delicious. She practically scampered through "I Happen to Like New York," "New York State of Mind," "There's a Boat That's Leavin' Soon for New York," "My Personal Property" and Bernstein's "New York, New York." The fact that she managed to scat sing in "NY State of Mind" is a testament to her great artistry.

After a well-deserved standing ovation, she ripped through Jerry Herman's "It's Today" as a pull-out-all-the-stops encore. Marilyn Maye knows how to put a show together. There is something for everyone and it's all beautifully sung, well-acted, and thoroughly entertaining. There's absolutely no one like her. Do whatever you must, but do not miss the chance to see this musical treasure.

BWW Review: MARILYN MAYE Is Not to Be Missed at 54 Below

Marilyn Maye is performing at 54 Below every evening until Nov 1. For reservations and information, visit 54below.com. For more information about Marilyn Maye follow her @realmarilynmaye on Twitter or @mayemarilyn on Instagram. Her music is available at marilynmaye.com or on all streaming platforms.


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