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by Michael Portantiere

Maye in Provincetown

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    In May of this year, Marilyn Maye had her second two-week engagement at Feinstein's at Loews Regency and received the kind of rave reviews that her mother might have written. Rex Reed of the New York Observer commented, "She could write a book about how to work a room and play an audience like a deck of cards." Jonathan Warman of Cabaret Review enthused, "I can think of no other living singer who possesses Maye's combination of interpretive ability, rhythmic verve, and vocal range." And Stephen Holden of The New York Times remarked: "By the end of the evening, as is usually the case with her shows, I was walking on air, infused with a giddy certainty that life really is a cabaret." Not bad for a gal who's in her 80s, even though she looks and sounds at least 25 years younger.

    Marilyn's brilliant career has brought her to many places, but only recently to Carnegie Hall for her debut there: In November, she sang "I'm Still Here" from Follies as a guest of the New York Pops for their concert in celebration of Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday, and stopped the show. Now, she's all set for her first-ever gig in Provincetown, the Cape Cod summer resort that has become a favorite vacation spot for her and her "entourage." The lady spoke with me on the phone, from her home in Kansas City, about what she's up to these days.


    BROADWAYSTARS: Marilyn, I'm told that you've been flying all over, doing all sorts of wonderful things in fabulous places. You just did a master class in New York.

    MARILYN MAYE: Yes, at Feinstein's. I love doing that kind of thing. Some of the singers are already professionals, and some hope to be; it's very inspiring for me to work with them. I call the class "The Art of the Performance." We don't really have time to work on vocal techniques, because it's a five-hour class with 12 people, so we work on performance and interpretation. Each singer usually does two songs of his or her choosing, and we work on phrasing, style, gestures, microphone technique, and the meaning of the lyrics. It's always lyrics first with me -- the story of the song.

    STARS: Sounds very thorough. Anything else?

    MARILYN: Many times, to my way of thinking, they'll be doing a song in the wrong key for them. I'll suggest that they try it in a different key, and sometimes they're amazed at how much better it sounds and feels. It may be a song they've been performing for 15 or 20 years in the same key, and they've just never thought about changing it.

    STARS: I've seen some amazing video of you on the old TV variety show Hollywood Palace. On one show, you sing the hell out of "You're Gonna Hear From Me" and "Cabaret."

    MARILYN: With Donald O'Connor emceeing!

    STARS: In addition to appearing 76 times on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, you did a lot of other television work back in the day.

    MARILYN: Yes. I was in another Hollywood Palace show with Bing Crosby emceeing. And I did three or four Ed Sullivan shows. On one of them, I had the Buddy Rich band playing with me. That was so wonderful. It's a shame those days are gone.

    STARS: I believe I've asked you this before, but it bears asking again: Do you feel there could or should be variety programming on TV today?

    MARILYN: Oh, absolutely. I think the public is missing so much by not having those kinds of shows. They were pure entertainment; it wasn't a contest. The good news is that, lately, there have been more clubs opening around the country. I think the public is hungry for the great American standards. Those clubs couldn't survive if people didn't show up.

    STARS: Do you find that younger people are gravitating towards the standards at all?

    MARILYN: Yes. I have so many young people at my shows. They're discovering this music, and they always come and talk to me after the shows; they want to talk about the songs and the stories behind them. When I did my Johnny Mercer show, some of them told me, "I've never heard so many of those songs before." And when I did my Broadway show, the same thing happened.

    STARS: That's great. But I wonder, how do young people find out about you in the first place?

    MARILYN: Through the Internet! I have a website, and there's a lot of me on YouTube. In one way, those clips are upsetting, because sometimes the sound quality isn't great. But in another way, they're wonderful, because people look at YouTube and it piques their interest

    STARS: I was so glad to be there when you raised the roof of Carnegie Hall with "I'm Still Here." That must have been so exciting for you.

    MARILYN: Yes. When I do my club act now, I talk about it. I say: "After all these years, I finally got to Carnegie Hall. Lord knows, I've practiced enough."

    STARS: The response to your performance was thrilling.

    MARILYN: It was fantastic, I must say. I was standing backstage after I came off, and I was shocked that the applause went on for so long. Finally, a stagehand pulled the door open for me so I could go out for a second bow.

    STARS: You've been in two major productions of Follies, and you created another sensation with "I'm Still Here" in your most recent gig at the Metropolitan Room. I was wondering if you were up for a role in the current revival?

    MARILYN: Well, no. The only part that was open [in the Broadway transfer of the Kennedy Center production] was Hattie, who sings "Broadway Baby," and I don't think that's for me. I would have loved to have been a part of it, but...it is a depressing show. After the performance, you want to go home and slash your wrists.

    STARS: I'm planning to be in P-Town for your show at the Art House. How did that booking come about? I know you're vacationed there.

    MARILYN: Yes, this will be my fourth year in a row. We have a whole entourage: Mark Sendroff, Bob Mackie, Robert Richards, Nancy Dussault and her husband....Every year, a few people would walk up to me on the street and ask, "Are you appearing anywhere in town?" I'd say, "No, I'm just relaxing." But I got an invitation to sing at the Art House this summer, and I said, "I'd love that." I'm doing two nights there, August 11 and 12, with Billy Stritch. Whenever I perform, it's a party, so that's what I'm calling the show: "It's a Party!"

    [For more information on Marilyn Maye's appearance in Provincetown as part of Seth Rudetsky's "Broadway at the Art House" series, click here.]

    Published on Thursday, August 4, 2011

    Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at [email protected]

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