"Kids, that's the way its done," is pretty much how Johnny Carson acknowledged Marilyn Maye's stage presence in one of her dozens of appearances on his show -- and the assessment holds true today.
She held a Cabaret at Theater Square audience in the palm of her hand for 90 minutes Monday with a rapport established from the moment she arrived on stage to a five-minute medley beginning with "Forget all your troubles come on get happy ???"
Besides a voice that's still got it at age 85 -- she makes melodies her own, jazzing up "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," adding scat lines and holding notes with apparent ease -- she's at heart a storyteller. She can bring a tear to your eye with songs such as Blossom Dearie's "Bye Bye Country Boy," about a traveling singer longing for a proposal from a shy guy met along the way.
"My whole life is in the lyric," she said while explaining that she had always wanted to sing "Luck Be a Lady" from "Guys and Dolls," but it was so obviously intended for a man, she let it go -- until recently. "As time moved I realized I can do whatever I want."
Ms. Maye entered wondering whether there were three strikes against her: a Monday when theaters are usually dark, a baseball game and a giant duck. But she was met with mostly filled seats and a receptive audience. The only glitches included a clip-on earring that wouldn't stay put.
"I need my glitz," said Ms. Maye, who wore enough gold on black to light the room. Her mike occasionally went dead, but she worked through the annoyance with good cheer.
People mostly request sad songs, she said, and the one most often requested in New York appearances is "Guess Who I Saw Today?" by Murray Grand and Elisse Boyd, about a wife discovering her husband is cheating. She followed it with the Johnny Mercer-Harold Arlen song "Blues in the Night" that she said could have been written for the lady in the song.
That's a far cry from "I Want to Be Happy," but there was plenty of that Monday night, too, aided by the well-oiled trio of Tedd Firth on piano, Tom Hubbard on bass and her drummer of 54 years, Tommy Ruskin.
She said her only concession made to age is for boarding planes, and we all believed. The energetic woman onstage had left Omaha at 6 a.m. that morning and was going on to Rose Hall at Lincoln Center to sing Tuesday night at the annual New York Cabaret Convention, another opportunity to show the kids how it's done.
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960. First Published October 8, 2013 11:01 AM