NYC’s Queen of Cabaret, Marilyn Maye, sings in benefit of the flood-stricken York Theatre Company

Marilyn Maye

The York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s Church on Lexington Avenue is legendary for being New York City’s finest resource dedicated to developing and fully producing new musicals and preserving neglected, notable shows from the past. To have it flooded, and put out of commission for a time, then, is a tragedy.

To the rescue of York Theatre Company is benefactor/producer Riki Kane Larimer, a temporary home for York’s programming and busy work (at the Theatre at St. Jeans down the street on Lexington) and, for one night, a special benefit concert May 16, at 7:30 pm at The York’s temporary home, at St. Jeans (150 East 76th Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues) with NYC”s cabaret queen, vocalist Marilyn Maye and her accompanists, pianist Tedd Firth and bassist Tom Hubbard.

“The York Theatre needs our help, so I’m there,” says Maye, currently at her Kansas City home before heading back to Manhattan for the benefit and her steady slate of shows around NYC such as Feinstein’s/54 Below.Dynamic at any and every age, the now-94-year-old vocalist has the range and power of an opera dynamo and the considered nuance of someone who’s been in the singing biz for 70 years – whether it has been on record for the RCA and her independent label efforts, for solo gigs, on talk shows such as The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson where she appeared a record 76 times and in stage musicals such as Can-Can, Mame, and Hello, Dolly.

“I never back up, and I’m always moving forward,” says Maye of her relentless schedule that finds her booked (so far) into 2023 and a gig at Carnegie Hall. “Even the pandemic didn’t slow me down. I left my apartment in New York full of stuff for that time being, and stayed in Kansas City eating Gummy Bears and watching old movies. But I did work many full show virtual concerts from Kansas City with (pianist) Billy Stritch with whom I’ve worked his whole life, and the rest of my team. We played in a gorgeous old 500-seat theater with only a handful of cameramen to applaud for us, but it was still fun. Also, I played in a driveway in front of a house, outdoors, with several of my musicians in Kansas City as well as in an outdoor tent in Minneapolis for a club called Crooners in October with the wind blowing and the walls flapping. To my recollection, I’ve never played in a tent or a driveway before.”

Ask Maye if during her illustrious career a driveway or a tent are the most unusual places she’s ever played, and she laughs. “Probably not.”

Now making up for lost stage time, Maye missed the real-time, real-place live setting of a nightclub – as well as her cabaret teaching classes – as her mode of operation has always been simple. “I’m singing to the audience, not for them,” she says quietly. “I like looking into people’s eyes when I sing. To their faces. I learned about looking into a camera, and knowing that there are eyes on you, that people could be sitting at home, drinking their own cocktails. It was inventive But nothing’s going to beat looking in the faces of those who come to the benefit at St. Jeans on Monday night.”

Ask Maye what she’s going to sing with her accompanists, and the answer is simple: her favorite composers. “I’ll be singing Fats Waller. I love his material. Harold Arlen. Jerry Herman. Johnny Mercer too. And the songs of Stephen Sondheim for whom I have had the pleasure of singing for with with him in the audience at his 85th birthday. His songs still amaze me. I did his Follies too, which was such a pleasure – that show’s “I’m Still Here,” that defines my life when you consider that I’ve been doing this for over 70 years, and I have no intention of slowing down any time. Ever.”

For information or to make reservations at the Marilyn Maye benefit, call the Box Office at (212) 935-5820, 12:00PM-5:00PM, or email boxoffice@yorktheatre.org.

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