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BWW Review: NEW YORK: BIG CITY SONG BOOK Brings Cheer at Birdland; Crowds Cheer Marilyn Maye At Dizzy's

BWW Review: NEW YORK: BIG CITY SONG BOOK Brings Cheer at Birdland; Crowds Cheer Marilyn Maye At Dizzy's Start spreading the news: they're not leaving today because NEW YORK: BIG CITY SONGBOOK is back at Birdland and can be seen again on the last Sunday of each month, so if your vagabond shoes are longing to stray over to West 44th Street and you want to be a part of it, you can make it there for show time and enjoy some of those cream of the crop, top of the heap songs among the many numbers written about the city that never sleeps. How to choose which ones to include in a review toasting the town to try to make it the toast of the town? No matter what you pick you're just scratching the surface. The revue seen in February was not starting from scratch; it has a history. Mounted from time to time over the last few years, with a revolving cast and some changes in the song list, its basics were seen under a different title at the 92nd St Y back in 2015. Directed by Mark Waldrop, its then-and-now host and writer has been song-savvy and sunny Deborah Grace Winer. Her friendly, breezy narration offers some pithy comments about how NYC becomes part of us, the crowding that makes eavesdropping a way of life, and name-drops fictional figures who've dropped in --- big and small (Empire State Building visitor King Kong and the mousey Stuart Little, respectively). The arrangements of the its original musical director, the late John Oddo, are now in the hands of ---literally --- pianist Joe Davidian. As far as the song list, what you might call the usual suspects are there: Billy Joel's "New York State Of Mind," Rodgers & Hart's "Manhattan" and above-paraphrased/sliced-and-diced Kander & Ebb title song from the film New York, New York. All three were solos for the polished beaming optimism of the consistently entertaining Nicolas King (no relation to the aforementioned King Kong). This gallant guy was joined by two female singers: the ever-dependable talented firecracker in a red dress named Klea Blackhurst and Laurie Wells, the latter taking over for the originally announced La Tanya Hall, who's been in the show before and will be again. Miss Wells was slotted into a kind of sophisticated, jazzy chanteuse role that didn't always fully convince or find a way to be especially distinctive, although her sound is pleasing, she has a great smile, and she projected a sense of goodwill. I was certainly not surprised to find the classic "Autumn In New York" on the set list, but was a bit surprised it wasn't assigned to Klea Blackhurst as it is the title song of her swell Vernon Duke CD, even though that was---gee, time flies---almost 15 years ago. But a selection with a more serious tone would have been a welcome chance for her to show her versatility instead of yet again being the go-to gal for high energy, sass, and humor. It's the "curse" of being so very good at those perkier and powerhouse performances she's become known for. (Here she certainly brought forth the humor and quirky charm galore.)

The pace of this show about the fast-paced town could use a goosing, as the waits for entrances and exits of narrator and singers creates lags that slightly dull the momentum. Two or three more duets or trios would make this feel more like a true team effort rather than taking turns for solos. Including a song about NYC's darkest day, 9/11, was so sad to me that it took me a long time after it was over to feel pulled back into the otherwise happy proceedings. For me, it wasn't worth that risk of rubbing salt in that wound that doesn't feel that distant after almost 20 years, although others may find the catharsis productive. Certainly the romance between NYC and its residents (and visitors) is an enduring one and will continue to supply a stream of satisfied customers who come in and exit with reasons to want to be a part of it (New York, New York).

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BWW Review: NEW YORK: BIG CITY SONG BOOK Brings Cheer at Birdland; Crowds Cheer Marilyn Maye At Dizzy's Half a dozen of the musical valentines to New York City heard in the Birdland revue were also squeezed into one of Marilyn Maye's many merry medleys at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center. The zippily sung NYC love-fest was her opening segment and was so uplifting that it seemed that someone from the mayor's office should have come out on stage and given her the key to the city. Whether she was proclaiming "I Happen To Like New York" or making us mindful of her "New York State Of Mind," she mined joy and had her mind set on entertaining to the max by cheerfully zipping from one song to the next. "'Medley' is my middle name," she quipped, explaining her preference for packing a whole lot of items into her musical suitcases. After the NYC montage, Marilyn Medley Maye immediately followed up with a medley of upbeat love songs, a four-song mash-up sampling the score of My Fair Lady and then a medley of four slow (well, for her!) sentimental ballads. Later there were more (yes, more!) medleys or segments dedicated to Johnny Mercer, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, and Fats Waller. I guess a traffic cop in the audience must have brought in a street's stop sign, because at one point she settled down and settled into a full-length lush ballad---and a glorious one at that: "What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?"

As always, Miss Maye was in the company of top musicians: on piano, as he frequently is, was the toppest of top-drawer gents, Tedd Firth, with Phil Palombi on bass and Todd Strait on drums. There was an especially killer piano solo on "Come Rain Or Come Shine" and in other moments it was just a delight to watch pianist and singer catch each other's eye and note the chemistry.

I guess I've seen Marilyn Maye more times than I've seen any other singer, but the excitement never gets old and, seemingly, neither does she. There is apparently a special magical youth serum that is her home-based Kansas concoction: a mix of the Potion of Positive Thinking, a bubbly brew filtered through bugle beads, and a dash of the Diva Drink of Denial, and she has a daily diet with a two-drink minimum and a maximum of moxy, music, and marvelousness. Shake and stir and down the hatch. As for the audience deprived of the beverage itself, we are energized, too, and feel like we swallowed the Great American Songbook at an all-you-can-eat buffet. M.M. continues to make it all mouth-watering and digestible because her delight and dazzle make it all delicious. She colors notes and phrases or breaks them up in new ways to make things sound bright and fresh, using vocal strength, jazz smarts, joie de vivre, and humor as some of the tools in her kit. And make no mistake about it: The voice is clear and strong and she is free of care or nonsense. She is the Liberty Bell hooked up to an amplifier. Supremely confident and professional, she gives her all and owns the stage. (And, by the way, she had a late show to do a short time after ending the set with a Olympics Gold Medal-worthy super-fleet dash through the jazz classic "Take Five"!)

Magnetic Maye is a beloved figure on the scene and has a loyal following of repeat customers who'll await her return in April at Feinstein's/54 Below for her run there that will coincide with another age-defying birthday. I do think audiences enjoy her anecdotes and memories and opinions, and I'm sorry that in recent years she has been doing less talking on stage, and that much of it comes down to saying how much she likes a certain songwriter or being happpy to do what she does so well. She's funny and smart and has the perspective of a long career and knowing people of interest, so it would be great to share some more of that. (And some newer fans don't know her interesting background.) The other frustration is that she hasn't made an album in too many years. It's time.

Marilyn Maye is a life force and her personality and pizzazz are the perfect prescription for a pick-me-up should you have the blues or the blahs, 'Tis folly to try to resist her charm.

Birdland site: www.birdlandjazz.com

Jazz at Lincoln Center site: www.jalc.org

Miss Maye's site: www.marilynmaye.comhttp://www.marilynmaye.com


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