For the cabaret performers who return each year to the Colony Hotel’s Royal Room, the engagements can turn into reunions with adoring fans. When Marilyn Maye makes the trip back, it’s much more than a reunion for one Fort Lauderdale man and his partner.
Mark Hess, a well-known bartender at the Alibi in Wilton Manors, first met the legendary singer more than 35 years ago as a teen waiting tables in a supper club at a lake resort in Iowa.
It was inevitable their paths would eventually cross: Hess, whose family has owned a vacation cabin on Lake Okoboji since 1922, took a job at The Inn at Lake Okoboji, where Maye had been performing every summer since the mid-1950s.
“Everybody knows everybody,” she said with a laugh during a recent phone interview. “I’ve watched four generations grow up — parents, their kids, their kids and now their kids. They’re friends.”
Even in 1977, when Hess took the job, the guests at the supper club revered Maye. She held the record for the most performances (76) by a singer on The Johnny Carson Show and provided the vocals for a popular Lincoln Mercury television commercial that ran for four years.
That first summer, Hess recalled, Maye had blue T-shirts printed with her picture and declaring, “Marilyn Maye is a friend of mine.”
“I still have that shirt in my closet,” said Hess.
He left the job seven years later, but he was destined to cross paths with the singer again. About 20 years ago, Hess took his longtime partner, Gary Wentzel, also an Alibi bartender, on vacation to visit family in Iowa and suggested they catch Maye’s show.
“I thought he would like her,” Hess recalled, but Wentzel fell in love with the singer’s brassy voice and Marilyn Maye gained another “friend.”
The couple has seen Maye several times over the years and they even caught the singer’s cabaret act two years ago in Manhattan at the famed Metropolitan Room.
Maye has been in demand, particularly in New York City, not only as a performer, but as a coach and teacher. She has been working with aspiring singers to replicate her signature sound and interpret the standards from the American Songbook, the songs by Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen and others.
“That music has become hip again,” Maye explained.
This winter, Maye was named a “Living Legend” by the New York Nightlife Critics Association, along with fellow singer Leslie Uggams, at Town Hall. Just a couple of years ago, she received the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Always gracious and self-deprecating, the singer joked, “I’m a legend in my own mind.”
Actually, according to Maye, the secret of her success over seven decades has been to always have fun.
“It’s a party when I work and I make the audience the stars,” explained Maye.
Whether she’s performing at Lake Okoboji or the swanky Royal Room, the fans keep coming back to enjoy the music of the amazing entertainer.
If You Go
Feb. 5 – 9
The Royal Room at the Colony Hotel
155 Hammon Ave., Palm Beach
Tickets are $60-70 for show, or $120-130 for dinner and show
For More Information:
Call 561-659-8100 for reservations