It took some effort, but after numerous emails and phone calls, I was finally able to catch up with jazz, cabaret and musical theatre singer Marilyn Maye in a Zoom call from Boca Raton, Florida. She had just completed a smash, in-person run at The Wick Theatre in Boca Raton, prior to flying to Indy for an upcoming two-day appearance at Feinstein’s at Hotel Carmichael. A new jewel in the crown of Carmel, it’s a new supper club that bears the name of Ambassador of The Great American Songbook Michael Feinstein, who has also lent his moniker to venues in NYC (Feinstein’s/54 Below) and San Francisco (Feinstein’s at the Nikko).
If ever there were a show-business legend, it would be Maye, who turned 93 on April 10, but shows no signs of slowing down, especially now that COVID-19 seems to be loosening its grip on the country. While many performers’ careers have stalled, hers is flourishing. Still in possession of vitalness and energy of someone half her age, Maye makes her debut at the upscale dinner cabaret in “An Evening with ‘Super Singer,’ Marilyn Maye!” on Friday, April 23 and Saturday, April 24 at 7:30 p.m.
Discovered by Steve Allen and a guest on the Johnny Carson show an astounding 76 times, Maye, who hails from Wichita, Kansas and has been performing since she 15 years old, has a bio that is four pages long. Suffice to say, there was a period when she wasn’t as active as she is now, but her career came roaring back to life in 1978 and she’s been growing stronger ever since. In some circles, she is even considered “hip,” especially to young performers who seek her out for master classes, which she has conducted all over the country. As a matter of fact, one of her long-time students and friends is Roger Schmelzer, a local singer who will be ringside with his wife Cindy Phillips when Maye performs at Feinstein’s. Both are also dear friends of yours truly.
But let’s get back to my chat with the jovial Maye. The first thing I asked her was what the pandemic had been like for her when she was quarantined, to which she laughed, “I watched old movies and ate gummy bears and just waited for the moment when I would get more bookings. I had a very busy year and was sorry that a lot of it had to be postponed, but hopefully, we’ll catch up this year.”
As it turns out, however, Maye did manage to score a five-night run at the venerable Crown & Anchor in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a venue she’s played annually for ten consecutive years. “They built an outdoor state with great lighting and I worked between the ocean and a swimming pool and patio,” she laughed. Later in October, she played a date at Crooners Lounge and Supper Club in Minneapolis, where she usually works twice a year. “They couldn’t have the show in their showroom, so they have a large parking lot and they rented a big, enormous tent that could seat 110 people who were socially distanced. So, we worked in a tent with a great, big stage and it was fine, though a little chilly in October,” said the quintessential trouper. Later in February, she performed at Dizzy’s Club at New York’s Lincoln Center. She also taped a show the week of her birthday at Feinstein’s/54 Below called “Marilyn Maye: Broadway the Maye Way.” It premieres May 8 and will be available on demand throughout the month. Buy tickets at 54Below.com.
Eventually, Maye and I got back to brass tacks when I asked her about her Feinstein’s program. “It will include all kinds of wonderful Great American Songbook tunes, lots of them from Broadway shows and ones I recorded at RCA. The songs are great melodies with lyrics that really say something, not repetitive lyrics. They are all wonderful stories that we singers can tell and convey to the audience. All songs from Jerry Herman to Cole Porter to Stephen Sondheim, Kander and Ebb, all the great Great American Songbook composers,” she excitedly shared. Maye will be accompanied by her long-time trio, which includes Ted Firth, who also works with Feinstein and other major talents, serving as her music director-pianist.
As far as her history with Feinstein, with whom she is very close and has performed with numerous times, including her 2015 appearance in which they shared the bill at the Palladium, she said she was very grateful to him for including her in the Great American Songbook Hall of Fame. She was inducted by the Great American Songbook Foundation in 2015. “He has all those wonderful artifacts in his museum and I am very proud of being a part of all of that,” she said.
Inwardly lamenting that she and I couldn’t talk longer, I asked Maye if she was looking forward to returning to Indianapolis. “Oh, yes,” she said, reminding me that she has played here numerous times, including with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. “What a wonderful orchestra. Aren’t you proud of it?” When I asked her if she had worked with ISO Pops conductor Jack Everly, she said she had and hoped he would come to see her show. I assured her I would send word.
Finally, when asked what audiences could expect from her show in Carmel, with an ever-present glint in her eye she said, “It’s going to be a party. Come join the party.”
For tickets or details regarding “An Evening with ‘Super Singer’ Marilyn Maye,” go to feinsteinshc.com.