Not knowing Marilyn Maye is pop cultural ignorance on a par with not knowing Judy Garland or Ella Fitzgerald. Unfortunately it’s much more common than being unaware of the other two – even a hardcore culture vulture like me only discovered her a few years ago. She’s a great hidden national treasure; Fitzgerald herself once called Maye “the greatest white female singer in the world.” That was no exaggeration when Ella said it and it’s even truer today. There are younger singers who might posses more powerful voices, but I can think of no other living singer who possesses Maye’s combination of interpretive ability, rhythmic verve and vocal range.
She is currently sharing the stage of Feinstein’s with Michael Feinstein himself. Feinstein has had great success doing duet shows for many years and here, as usual, it’s a winning situation all around. This particular match is especially good – Maye is still at the top of her game many, many decades into her career, and Feinstein just keeps getting better, marrying soaring vocal power with ever more detailed nuance in his interpretations.
The pair does several medleys, the best of which exploits Michael’s ongoing love affair with boogie-woogie, which suits the ever-swinging Maye just fine. They shine most, however, in solo moments: Feinstein pays tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch by wringing every last ounce of emotion out of Marvin’s “The Way We Were”, including some never-recorded extra lyrics from the song’s lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman. And Marilyn rips up a vocal interpretation of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”, which is easily the jazziest thing I’ve ever heard her do – which means that calling it legendary would be an understatement.
Musical director Tedd Firth brings a glossy, sophisticated jazz musicianship to the proceedings, providing a luscious frame for the pair’s multifarious artistry. If you love classic songs sung like they’re meant to be sung – and swung – it doesn’t get any better than this.
For tickets, click here.
For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.com.