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Theatre in Review: Marilyn Maye: Broadway, the Maye Way (54 Premieres)

Marilyn Maye. Photo: Kevin Alvey

Marilyn Maye is 93 years old; I hope someday to have her vitality. Proving that age is just a number, the cabaret legend's sassy, good-times persona remains undimmed; wherever she is, so is the party. It may be true that the stainless-steel belt that made her famous has been tempered a bit by time but, if anything, her personal warmth and interpretive skills are stronger than ever. Rocking a black-sequined pantsuit and sporting bejeweled earrings, she takes the stage with a jazzy, upbeat version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's "I Hear Music," ending with a high note that should be impossible in one of her years. Then, with a wicked wink, she introduces herself as Patti Page. You've gotta love a gal like that.

After that, surrender is the only possible response. As the title of the show suggests, the song list is loaded with Broadway standards, along with a few rarities (including the title number from the forgotten Steve Lawrence/Eydie Gormé vehicle Golden Rainbow) and a couple of personal favorites. She strikes a welcoming note of intimacy with Stephen Sondheim's "Old Friend," segues into Peggy Lee and Bill Schluger's "I Love Being Here with You," and arrives at a version of Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen's "Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home" that begins on a confidential note before exploding into a statement of full-on defiance. Delivering Jerry Herman's title tune of "Hello, Dolly!" she adds a growl to the line "Wow, wow, wow, fellas" that bristles with a lust for life.

Indeed, Maye conveys the persona of someone who has seen it all, emerging triumphant and ready for celebrate. "Fifty Percent," by Billy Goldenberg and Marilyn and Alan Bergman, from the musical Ballroom, is a one-act play of sorts, the reflections of a lonely middle-aged woman who comes to accept the love of a married man; in her rendition, no other choice seems possible. Many singers interpret Sondheim's "I'm Still Here" ironically, as an inventory of the losses required for survival; she turns that notion on its head, proudly looking life in the face and, seemingly, asking, what else have you got?

To be sure, there are many other colors in Maye's emotional palette. She brings a touch of autumnal regret to Lerner and Loewe's "I've Grown Accustomed to His Face." Her version of "Ribbons Down My Back" from Dolly! glows with a mature appreciation of the possibilities of romance. One of the program's highlights is her thoughtful, introspective take on Herman's "If He Walked into My Life," from Mame, which pulses with feeling without getting maudlin about it; Maye doesn't do sloppy sentiment. (She even strips Charles Chaplin's "Smile" of its platitudinous qualities, turning it into a piece of sound life advice.) And you haven't really heard Lerner and Loewe's "On the Street Where You Live" until you've taken in the jazzy arrangement, complete with scatting, on offer here; it makes a classic show tune sound freshly minted.

As you can tell, I'm in her thrall. Quite simply, the lady can do no wrong. Her energy is astounding and when she goes for a big finish, it's goosebumps time. And she gets first-class support from her pianist/musical director Tedd Firth, bassist Tom Hubbard, and percussionist Mark McLean. If you know and love Maye, this stream, which is available on demand until May 20, is unmissable. If you don't know her, time's a-wasting: As she points out in her finale, -- another Jerry Herman number -- "It's Today." Take her advice and seize the moment. For information and tickets, go to tinyurl.com/mkrra9z7. -- David Barbour

(10 May 2021)

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