Rita McKenzie: Ethel Merman’s Broadway

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Rita McKenzie

Ethel Merman’s Broadway

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, December 12, 2015

Reviewed by Ron Forman for Cabaret Scenes

Rita-McKenzie-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Rita McKenzie not only looked and sounded like Ethel Merman, she actually had me believing that she was Ethel. I felt I was watching Merman telling the audience how she wanted a movie about her life to be filmed.

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The seven-piece orchestra, directed by David Snyder, that backed McKenzie created the illusion that the numbers were being performed on a Broadway stage. The device of planning a movie biography allowed McKenzie to recount stories and anecdotes of Merman’s life in a very entertaining manner.

McKenzie opened with a rousing—then again, as Merman, almost every number was rousing—“Gee, But It’s Good to Be Here” from Happy Hunting. McKenzie (I almost was tempted to write Merman, that is how strong her portrayal of Merman was) spoke about her debut in Girl Crazy singing “I Got Rhythm.” Two songs from Anything Goes—the title song and “I Get a Kick Out of You”—preceded a touching story about visiting Cole Porter in the hospital after his accident of falling off a horse, ending with  a moving “Let’s Be Buddies.” McKenzie changed into western garb for a medley of seven of the hits from Annie Get Your Gun. The entire  audience joined in singing “There’s No Business Like Show Business.

Recalling the experiences of playing “The Hostess with the Mostes’ on the Ball,” Sally Adams (a fictionalized character based on Perle Mesta), McKenzie sang the delightful counterpoint duet “You’re Just in Love”/”I Wonder Why” with musical director Snyder. One more costume change led to memories of Gypsy, which opened with McKenzie singing “Some People” which brought a standing ovation from the SRO crowd. The death of Merman’s daughter caused her to refuse the role of Dolly Levi, which she eventually played, and McKenzie performed one off the two songs written for Merman, but not included in the score of Hello, Dolly! until she played the part: “World, Take Me Back.” Of course, the show closed with “Everything Coming Up Roses.

Ron Forman

Ron Forman has been a Mathematics Professor at Kingsborough Community College for 45 years. In that time, he has managed to branch out in many different areas. From 1977 to 1994 he was co-owner of Comics Unlimited, the third largest comic book distribution company in the USA. In 1999,after a lifetime of secretly wanting to do a radio program, he began his weekly Sweet Sounds program on WKRB 90.3 FM, dedicated to keeping the music of the Great American Songbook alive and accessible. This introduced him to the world of cabaret, which led to his position as a reviewer for Cabaret Scenes.