Following one of Marilyn Maye's dozens of appearances on The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson turned to the audience and said "that, young singers, is the way it's done." As she's demonstrating this week at Savor, that's still the way it's done. And it's not just young singers who might want to take notes
From the moment she hit the stage - with an upbeat medley of "The Song is You" and "I Hear Music" - until she exited ninety minutes later with an exuberant reading of Jerry Herman's "It's Today", Ms. Maye had the opening night crowd in the palm of her hand. Setting up immediate and honest communication with the audience is an essential skill for the cabaret performer. It's a skill she has in abundance, as her long and successful career clearly indicates. Maye's boundless energy and obvious delight in her material, in combination with her cheerful, off-the-cuff repartee, established an immediate bond with those of us on the other side of the spotlight.
How solid is that bond? Well, let's put it this way: how many cabaret singers could put Kander and Ebb's "Cabaret" right in the middle of the act and not have it come across and obvious and hackneyed? Ms. Maye did it and we all loved it. Case closed.
As you might gather from what I've just said, Marilyn Maye's musical tastes would appear to run mainly to American songbook standards. Her current show, for example, features fine performances of classics such as Rogers and Hart's "Mountain Greenery" (in a version so jazzed up that I failed to recognize the verse at first), "Get Happy", and "Come Rain or Come Shine". There's also a solid medley of tunes by the man who gave Ms. Maye her big national break, the late, great Steve Allen, including "When I'm in Love, "I Love You Today" and, of course, "This Could be the Start of Something Big". The latter is probably the best known of the literally thousands of songs produced by the multi-talented musician, actor and comic.
Ms. Maye is also a great admirer of the late Ray Charles, however, so for the last ten minutes (or thereabouts) of the evening she breaks away from cabaret standards to deliver an inspired eight-song set of the late R&B singer's hits, including "Born to Lose", "Cryin' Time", "You Don't Know Me" and a version of "Hallelujah I Love Her So" with new lyrics that turns the song into an unabashed valentine to Charles. The fact that her Maye Sings Ray CD was on sale afterwards, while hardly coincidental, was welcome. I bought a copy, anyway.
Accompanying Ms. Maye and, in fact, acting as equal partners in the act are Billy Stritch and His Trio - Stritch on piano and vocals with Andy Davis on bass and Jim Ekloff on drums. Her lively interaction with all three is great fun to watch. Stritch and company get to shine in a set of their own as well - a tribute to the late Mel Torme featuring a swinging run through Porter's "Just One of Those Things" combined with the film classic"Green Dolphin Street".
The bottom line is that Marilyn Maye puts on one hell of an entertaining show. Her approach to cabaret is very much in the old school, "knock ‘em dead" style with a strong East coast jazz feel - markedly different from the more intimately personal style favored by many younger masters of the art. It serves as a reminder that there's plenty of room under the cabaret tent for a variety of approaches. The only sine qua non is playing straight with the audience - and that Marilyn Maye certainly does.
The demand for tickets has been big and The Flim Flam Room at Savor is small, so you'd be well advised to reserve seats in advance by calling 314-531-0220 or on line at licketytix.com . Marilyn Maye will be knocking ‘em dead through Sunday, October 21st  at Savor, 4356 Lindell in the Central West End.