Sally Mayes in “Now and Then: The Stories”

May 28, 2024

In February of this year, singer Sally Mayes presented the second in her four-part Now and Then series, Jazz/ Standard Time, and it will surely prove to be one of the standout shows of 2024. She recently debuted Now and Then: The Stories, the third installment, at The Green Room 42, and while it may not reach the incredibly high bar she set with Part Two, it is an entertaining show filled with treasures. Accompanied by the brilliant Tedd Firth on piano, with Michael O’Brien on bass, Jessica Wright on violin and vocals, and Carolyn Montgomery on vocals, Mayes gave the audience a veritable cabaret library filled with stories chosen from her previous shows and her recordings—so many stories in fact that the show might have, at times, been a bit overstuffed.  

Sally Mayes

There were technical difficulties with the livestream so the show went up very late and the sense of urgency that created might have thrown the energy of the opener off a bit—Frank Loesser’s “Hamlet” (a funny song but perhaps not the best choice for an opener under the best of circumstances) came across a tad frantic and became more of an attack than a welcome. “I’ll Get Up Tomorrow Morning” (David Shire, Richard Maltby) might have been a better opener if switched with “Hamlet,” but as a second number it served to get things back on track. That right track was assured by Julie Gold’s “Southbound Train,” a great song that Mayes has owned (or at least on which she has had a long-term lease) for years. The singer proved to be the consummate storyteller, captivating the audience, and getting every emotional nuance out of Gold’s stunning lyrics. The number was made even more haunting by the inclusion of evocative background vocals.

Writing is another of the singer’s strengths and that gets a broader showcase here than in the previous show. “Whiskey Lullaby” (music by Mayes and Ethan Fein, lyrics by Mayes) is a family “memoir” filled with indelible images, vividly conjured out of thin air and country-western poetry. “Painting My Kitchen” (John Bucchino) seemed to fall victim to the frantic energy of the opener, starting way too strong and not leaving enough room to let it grow and explode. Similarly, although at a much milder tempo, “Somebody Sent Me an Angel” (Mayes and Fein) could have been softened a little and allowed to breathe, but even with its rushed feel it was a solid, heartfelt love song and dedicated to Mayes’s husband, musician Bob Renino. Christine Lavin, who was in the audience, contributed the hilarious “Shopping Cart of Love” which Mayes managed to make a rollicking, riveting mini play about romance on the checkout line. “Unknown” (Gary Burr, Aimee Mayo) has long been a favorite of mine and Mayes brought us inside the song’s fragility beautifully, until Sally the singer got a bit too big and made Sally the actress and storyteller disappear into the vocal. 

A similar disconnect occurred in Al Yankovic’s “One More Minute.” The singer stays outside of the song, commenting on the lyrics in her delivery—the character is insane, but the vocalist is too sane and aware to let the conceit really fly. It was funny but it should have been sidesplitting. “Sweet Dreams” (Bucchino) was paired with “Meeting Across the River” (Bruce Springsteen) but I think each would have benefited from being done solo. It seems more high concept than narratively cohesive. The first song was stunningly beautiful, but before we can appreciate her performance of it, Mayes turned it into an acting exercise portraying the addicted character of the Springsteen tale, physicalizing it in a way that’s too big for the room when she already established all the character work she needed in her strong performance of the lyrics.  The astonishing medley (arranged by Patrick Brady) of “Superstar” (Leon Russell, Bonnie Bramlett) and “Anyone Who Had a Heart” (Burt Bacharach, Hal David) was actually weakened a bit by the preceding medley but it remained an electrifying climax for a show filled with great moments and vocal majesty.  

The danger of having a night of favorites culled from a number of shows, recordings, and sources is that while each number is strong and worthy of inclusion, a “sameness” of energy and character can settle in.  While the numbers were great, the show was not as seamlessly effective and structured as its predecessor.  It could have been more carefully curated and perhaps trimmed a bit here and there.  It is always a delight to be at a Sally Mayes show— and this was no exception— but I was a bit disappointed.  Onward to Part 4!


Presented at The Green Room 42, 570 Tenth Ave., NYC, on May 16, 2024.


About the Author

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”