Marilyn Maye Isn't Through

Angelo Pitillo

Marilyn Maye came of age in the golden age of nightclubs and hearing her sing today still
evokes a time when high society dressed to the nines to sip bubbly and sashay to
big-name orchestras in plush rooms the size of football fields. Maye has had long-running careers on the stage and as a Grammy-nominated recording star, and these days she is queen of the upscale cabaret circuit, holding court at tony boites like the Metropolitan Room, where she's performed 12 times in the last six years, and Feinstein's, where she's currently making her third appearance in a year. "I don't know how to say no," she told us with a burst of warm laughter when we spoke by phone recently. Not that the chanteuse is complaining, for this busy period comes after almost a decade's absence from the Big Apple. Her triumphant return to the the New York City stage came six years ago, at the New York Cabaret Conference at Lincoln Center, and she's been back there every year since, earning the coveted Mabel Mercer Award last year. "I am so lucky to be working and doing what I love," she said. "I've not ever done anything else than this, and made a living doing it all my life."

Maye is renowned as both a Broadway diva and a jazz singer, equally comfortable belting out show-tunes like "Cabaret" and "Hello Dolly" as she is working her way through the classic American Songbook. "So it's hard to pigeonhole me," she says. "But everything I do has a jazz flavor. I'm just drawn to that kind of feeling." Maye's current Feinstein's show is an 80th birthday tribute to Jerry Herman, composer of Broadway shows like Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage aux Folles, and she says that the composer's trademark upbeat, carpe diem sensibility hold a special appeal for her. "I love Mame, and "It's Today" is my mantra" she says of the song, which exhorts us to live in the moment lest the parade pass us by. "I never do an act without including it. Those lyrics are my philosophy of life. When you reach a certain age you have to appreciate each and every day. And I think I have. This is a business that can bring you down, and I work very hard not to let it."

80th birthdays are becoming something of a habit for Maye, who last year brought down the
house at Stephen Sondheim's 80th celebration at Carnegie Hall with her rendition of that
ultimate 11 o'clock number "I'm Still Here." And even greater than the thrill of making her
Carnegie Hall debut was bumping into Sondheim himself backstage, she says. "I had just gotten off from this long, long applause, and they let me take a second bow. He just turned to me and said 'Congratulations.' That was it, just one word." Maye herself passed that 80th milestone a while back, which has had its benefits for sure. "I'm getting a lot of lifetime achievement awards these days" she says. "My retort is always, Wait a minute, I'm not through!"

No one who's heard Maye sing lately would disagree with that assessment: Despite over six decades in the business, she's got the bubbly stage presence of a schoolgirl, and that legendary voice is still as smooth as satin. What's her secret to keeping her instrument in shape? "I never ever smoked. I never drank or did drugs," she explains. But, she jokes, all this clean living had its downside: "That's probably why I never became a star" she quips. "Somebody once said, "Marilyn, if you'd just been an alcoholic, or killed someone, you could have been huge!"

Marilyn Maye: The Best of Times Is Now is at Feinstein's at Loewe's Regency through
Saturday, Nov. 12th. Prices are available at feinsteinsatloewsregency.com.

Subscribe to Get More