As expected, seeing a live, in-person performance and hearing enthusiastic applause after a year of semi-isolation was a highly emotional experience for yours truly. Making it all the more rarefied was the performance of what many consider to be a national treasure, singer Marilyn Maye. I had the distinct pleasure of seeing the noted jazz singer in “An Evening with ‘Super Singer,’ Marilyn Maye!” at the posh, new Feinstein’s at Hotel Carmichael, Carmel’s newest, upscale restaurant. Accepting a last-minute invitation from friends already attending, I sat at a ringside table Friday evening, the first of a two-night engagement.
Maye was joined by a trio, that includes Tedd Firth, her celebrated conductor and pianist who also performs with Michael Feinstein, and outstanding local sidemen, bassist Jeremy Allen, dean of IU School of Music, and drummer Cassius Goens, instructor of jazz percussion at Ball State University School of Music.
Maye performed for 75 people, which is less than full capacity, in accordance with COVID-19 safety protocols. The show was flawless in its conception and execution. Maye regaled the adoring audience, who hung onto her every lyric and word in her witty and clever banter that included stories and anecdotes about her career. It was clear the youthful, yet veteran entertainer, who started singing at age 15, knew how to command a stage during her well-paced, 90-minute set that included many cherished songs from the Great American Songbook and standards she recorded during her years at RCA Records.
Establishing early on her show was to be a “party,” Maye opened with Jimmy McHugh’s joyful “It’s a Most Unusual Day.” Maye went on to display her showmanship, both as a singer and dancer (yes, she can still kick her legs up), during numerous medleys, one of which included “Hey, Old Friend/Love Being Here with You.” Charming the hometown crowd, Maye also sang a parody of “Gary, Indiana” from “The Music Man,” with lyrics changed to “Carmel, Indiana.”
A highlight of the evening was Maye’s renditions of a medley of songs from Jerry Herman’s “Hello Dolly,” which she once starred in, and which included “Ribbons Down My Back/Elegance/Hello Dolly/Before the Parade Passes By,” along with the composer’s “Mame/If He Walked into My Life” from “Mame.”
Demonstrating that she is still in possession of a strong instrument and substantial vocal range, Maye effectively displayed her rare gift for interpreting lyrics and telling stories that fill the heart. The cabaret icon was moving in her version of James Taylor’s “The Secret of Life.” Switching moods, she followed with the poignant “Here’s to Life,” that concluded the show. Returning for an encore, Maye sang Herman’s“It’s Today,” also from “Mame,” and left the stage with the crowd wanting more.
Projecting a genuineness that was charismatic and all-encompassing, Maye illustrated what she means when she tells students in her master classes to sing “for” their audience, instead of “to” them. Making her Feinstein’s at Hotel Carmichael debut all the more special was the priceless gift she gave freely to a pandemic-fatigued audience starved for human connection, the gift of her enormous talent and artistry.
For information about upcoming shows at Feinstein’s at Hotel Carmichael go to feinsteinshc.com.