About 10 years ago, Sally Mayes left her home state of Texas--where she was something of a local star--to find fame and fortune in New York. Like many a newcomer, she was relying on her winning personality, All-American looks, and, above all, her extraordinary vocal instrument to propel her into the big leagues. Unlike many a newcomer, the combination worked.
Since her arrival, she has starred twice on Broadway, as Ilona in the Roundabout revival of She Loves Me, (which earned her a Tony Award nomination) and in the short-lived Cy Coleman musical Welcome to the Club (which garnered her a Theater World Award). Off-Broadway, she found success in the Maltby/Shire revue Closer Than Ever and the satiric musical Das Barbecu. And she had a featured role in the TV version of Bye Bye Birdie with Jason Alexander and Vanessa Williams.
But Sally Mayes has mostly made a name for herself through her frequent cabaret appearances and her recordings, which provide the material for her marvelous new show, Decade (at the FireBird Cafe, through October 21).
"I call this show Sally's Greatest Hits," jokes Mayes, who has hardly known the joy of platinum CD sales. In reality, the dozen-or-so selections are simply her personal favorites from the past decade, ranging from the understated Comden/Green/Styne ballad "Being Good" to two up-tempo Cy Coleman classics, "The Best is Yet to Come" and "You Fascinate Me So." There's also "One More Minute," a hilarious number about breaking up by novelty writer "Weird" Al Yankovic that Mayes first performed in a cabaret act wittily entitled Songs I Want to Sing, Dammit, Part 2.
Her first album, The Dorothy Fields Songbook, is represented by a searing combination of "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This"/"Where Am I Going" from her favorite musical, Sweet Charity (Fields/Coleman) and by the far more lighthearted "Digga Doo"/"Doin' the New Lowdown" (Fields/McHugh). "I've been singing those songs all these years, and I still don't know what they mean," Mayes confesses.
What she does know is how to tell a story. That's why the show's finest numbers are from Mayes' most recent CD, The Story Hour, which was nominated last year for a MAC Award for Outstanding Major Recording. Although Mayes dedicates Dar Williams' bittersweet "The Babysitter's Here" to her former babysitter, the poignancy of the song is further underscored by Mayes' role as mommy to 4-year-old Ben Robert Renino.
On the flip side, only someone who has truly known heartbreak--as Mayes admits she did in her pre-marital past--could offer such a piercing rendition of the Bacharach-David standard "Anyone Who Had a Heart" teamed with Leon Russell's "Superstar." While the average cabaret artist might have saved the best for last, Mayes has planted these tour-de-force numbers earlier in the evening. "I always need to have a good psychotic episode in the middle of the show," she jokes disarmingly. Whatever works, right?