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Review - Marilyn Maye at The Metropolitan Room & Why Am I Not Famous Yet?

You'll please forgive me if I've run out of superlative adjectives with which to describe the work of Marilyn Maye, who, after a 15-year absence from New York's cabaret scene, just opened her 4th Metropolitan Room show in a baker's dozen months.

It's My Party (And I'll Sing 'Cause I Want To) is the name of her seven performance long birthday celebration. Having just turned 80, her husky purr of a voice still hits the kind of exactingly colorful tones singers in their 30s would die for. Combine that with the authoritative savvy and lyric interpreting skills that come with decades of experience and you've got an artist who seems to have never left the top of her game.

This is a woman who exudes such class and joy that she can get away with opening a show by wandering through the audience singing Kool And The Gang's disco hit "Celebrate Good Times," sticking the microphone in the faces of adoring fans when it's time to shout, "Come on!" She can shamelessly milk the title song of Charles Strouse and Lee Adams' Applause - which she recorded even before the Broadway show opened - with a tongue-in-cheek gimmick that gets the audience clapping while giving a thrilling intensity that builds little by little to the title song of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's Celebration.

With arrangements and supporting vocals by another extraordinary artist, Billy Stritch at piano (not to mention sublime work by Tom Hubbard at bass and Jim Eklof at drums), she struts to a jazzy "Walking Happy" (Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn) after calming the room with a softly sincere "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face" (Alan Jay Lerner/Frederick Lowe), the lyric slightly altered to honor her audience.

To celebrate her birth month she treats us to a lush "April In Paris" (Vernon Duke/Yip Harburg) segueing into a bossa nova rendering of "I'll Remember April" (Gene de Paul/Patricia Johnston/Don Raye). Confused by this year's March Easter, she insists on ending her April medley with Irving Berlin's "Easter Parade" anyway. And, as is a favorite comic routine of hers, comes up with multiple variations of the song's final line. ("I could write a gospel/If you would make it poss'ble," "I could write a missive/If you would be permissive.")

As is her custom, Maye ends the show with the song she says is her mantra, Jerry Herman's "It's Today," and at 80 years old she still exuberantly kicks her legs in the air.

In her younger days, Johnny Carson looked into the camera after one of her 76 "Tonight Show" appearances and said, "And there, young singers, is the way it's done." She's still doing it.

Photo by Maryann Lopinto

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Some fifty years younger than Marilyn Maye is the prolific songwriter Seth Bisen-Hersh whose frequent cabaret concerts have included titles like And Then She Dumped Me... (an hour of songs about his ex-girlfriends) and The Gayest Straight Man Alive (you get the idea). At his best, Bisen-Hersh reminds me a bit of the great Oscar Levant, with his sour, comedically fatalist approach to life. His newest collection of songs of bitter frustration, Why Am I Not Famous Yet?, which deals with subjects near and dear to the hearts of young performers - stalled careers, lousy apartments, doomed relationships - just completed a 3-night stint at Don't Tell Mama. And while some may be turned off by the composer/lyricist's frequent use of vulgar sexual imagery (a woman dating two men sings, "I've got a skirt stained with jizz/And I don't know whose it is.") I found a lot of his songs rather clever.

Seth is joined by a talented group of young singers. Cait Doyle is a brassy comic who frantically tries to display her versatility in the "32 Bar Blues" and bemoans noisy city nights in "Sleep Deprivation." Melissa Zimmerman is a charming belter who is wonderfully daffy in a 50s style lament of how the 3-year-old she baby-sits is the only man who gives her respect and unconditional love, while Elyse Beyer (filling in for Rori Nogee at the performance I attended) shows terrific lyric dexterity in a tricky patter song about a typical day for a struggling actress and the very funny "I'm Not Interested In You," where she tries to convince a male admirer that just because she's friendly to him it doesn't mean she wants to date him. Her ardent pursuer is played by Rich Martino, who lends a warm baritone to the lonely ballad "When The Spotlight's Off" and a fun comic touch to "I Need A Studio." ("Finally an apartment that's all mine/Who cares if it's only 9 by 9.")

"My friends make children. I make cabaret acts," says the songwriter. "You don't have to change a cabaret act's diapers or take care of it until it goes to college. We need less children and more cabaret acts." Seth Bisen-Hersh is certainly doing his part to increase the cabaret act population and his off-beat, irreverent material makes for a fun time.


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From This Author Michael Dale