Dino’s Backstage presents “The Marvelous Marilyn Maye”

Puttin' on the Ritz

Singing legend Marilyn Maye -- a veteran of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show and beloved by Broadway -- usually plays upscale rooms in Manhattan and Palm Beach, where she knocks ‘em dead with her interpretations of the Great American Songbook and jazz standards. So what the hell is she doing in Glenside?

Spend Valentine's Day with Marilyn Maye. (Photo via marilynmaye.com)

Glamour in Glenside

As soon as I stepped into Dino’s, located next to the Keswick Theater, I got my answer. Dino’s has successfully recreated the ambience of a bygone era -- back when Philly nightlife was glamorous. The main dining area, dubbed Backstage, is dominated by a wall-sized photo of Palumbo’s, the South Philly club that went down in flames in 1994. Entertainment is in a separate, intimate room called the Celebrity Room, which seats 50. How glamorous is Dino’s? When I was there, fifties pop singer Bobby Rydell was at the next table. Women were dressed to thrill in Kim-Kardashian-tight dresses and stilettos. Even the menu is sexy: It actually lights up when you open it.

Normally, I would sit at the bar. At Dino’s, the bar doesn’t afford a view of the stage and you can’t just linger over drinks in the nightclub unless you’re really thirsty. There’s a $20 food and beverage cover charge, and tickets for shows run $20 to $75. However, it’s a bargain when you compare it to the cost of seeing Maye in her natural habitat, say, the Metropolitan Room in Manhattan.  (Did I mention that there’s plenty of free parking at Dino’s?)

I wasn’t there for the food, but it exceeded expectations. Even better, by the time Maye took the stage in a glittering sequined jacket and black crepe pants, all food service had stopped -- a welcome change from clubs where the clatter of dishes and drinks goes on and on.

Life is a cabaret

As the years pass, most singers lose their range and stamina. Not Maye. At 88, she owns that room with confidence and charisma to spare. Her repertoire brings the audience on an emotional journey through the many phases of love, from discovery to regret. When I saw her, she was at her best when belting out a warning to single women: “Marry a Rich, Rich Man.” (Having been married three times to men she described as “alcoholics,” her expertise on the subject is unshakable.)

At times playful and bawdy, Maye reminisced about her crush on Johnny Mercer and bantered with the audience. I knew all the lyrics to the songs she chose – “Fly Me to the Moon,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “If I Were a Bell” – but mercifully restrained myself from joining in. Halfway through her set, she invited one of her vocal students to perform a Sondheim number, then handed the mike to Bobby Rydell. The last time I saw Rydell perform was at Steel Pier in 1964. To my amazement, at 75, he’s still got the pipes.

Maye finished her act to a standing ovation. If she reminds me of anyone, it’s larger-than-life Broadway belter Elaine Stritch, who died in 2014. The show must go on, and Marilyn Maye shows no signs of slowing down. Her current engagement at Dino’s ends February 142017, but luckily for us, she will be a frequent guest artist there in the future.

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