The Johnny Mercer tune goes “Anywhere I Hang My Hat is Home;” well, the legendary jazz singer Marilyn Maye called North Bethesda home for one night only this past Saturday as a part of the wildly entertaining “Feinstein Presents” series at AMP by Strathmore. The woman another famous Johnny, this time Carson, called “Super Singer” did not disappoint a rapt audience at the charming cabaret venue.
Michael Feinstein is an American singer and pianist who has been curating a collection of musical theater standard songs into a project called “The Great American Songbook.” Maye’s performance is the 4th show in this engaging series, following musical theatre stars Laura Osnes, John Lloyd Young, and Eva Noblezada. However, while the three previous singers were all firmly in the musical theatre genre, Maye brought a fresh perspective, as she has spent her life and most of her long career as more of a cabaret act. The 90-year-old (yes you read that correctly) took the stage in flash of glitter from her sequined top, which was almost as bright as the smile that came to her face when the audience welcomed her warmly.
She had such presence; it absolutely lept off the stage.
She started with a perfect song “I am music, pretty music, I am music when I look at you. The song is you.” Her band was simple but mighty – consisting of piano, stand-up bass, and drums. They were also all gentlemen in sharp suits. She set the tone early – she was there to impress, but she ran the show. During the second song, she stopped the band so that she could find her light. Once she was happy with it, she jumped right back into the song, perfectly on pitch and the band joined her, not the other way around. From the first moment of the performance, Maye’s talent was undeniable – not that she’d let you forget it. This reviewer could tell that she had spent her career in intimate performance venues; she had an incredible charisma that made every audience member feel like she was singing directly to them. She had such presence; it absolutely lept off the stage.
A particular highlight for this reviewer was that there were several tunes in Maye’s performance that my grandmother sang me as a child; most particularly “Come on Get Happy,” “Put on a Happy Face,” and “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby.” In fact, there was a sort of golden glow of nostalgia that surrounded the entire show. So many of the songs brought back warm memories or reveries of a time long gone by. Maye knew precisely how to navigate the tone of this performance; one-moment throwing sass at an audience member who came in too early for a group participation moment, the next delivering a searing scat on a jazz number, and then following with a charming story of her indomitable career.
And speaking of her career, she told some incredible stories throughout the night, and one can imagine there are a million more that live on in her. She shared a Broadway connection that I had no idea of – that she had actually performed the title song from the musical “Cabaret” on her first hit record released by RCA before the movie and even the show had premiered. She also shared how another song she recorded from a Broadway show made her a great deal of money, but not for the reasons we might think. It was the song “Let the Winner Lead the Way” from “How Now, Dow Jones.” While the show was a flop, even with future star Tommy Tune starring, the song made dollar signs for Maye when she adapted it into a theme tune for Lincoln-Mercury cars. Maye performed both versions of the song, to the delight of the crowd. She also said she missed the free car they sent her each year of the campaign.
The audience was clearly in love at first sight with Maye and expressed sadness at the fact that her performance was just for one night. AMP was a perfect fit for this show; intimate and warm, and just informal enough for Maye to truly work her magic on the audience. This reviewer feels that too large a venue would almost be a disservice to Maye’s talents – she is at her most powerful when the audience gets to feel like a room full of her friends. Maye closed an immensely enjoyable show with a song that she said is her words to live by “It’s Today.” It was a beautiful and poignant end to an incredible show. This reviewer walked into this show unfamiliar with the Marvelous Marilyn Maye but walked out a big fan.
Running Time: Approximately an hour long.
Advisory: Appropriate for audiences 15 and up.
While this was a one night only performance, Marilyn Maye will begin an engagement at the famed Jazz club Birdland in New York City soon. For more information, click here.
For information on upcoming performances at AMP Strathmore, click here.