Escondido, CA—-Rita McKenzie has been called ‘Bold and Brassy’! ‘Dynamite’! Call her what you will, but there is no doubt that she embodies the voice, spirit and persona of the bold, brassy and dynamite Ethel Merman.
Now, in a limited engagement through April 8th at the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido Ms. McKenzie’s tour de force has her strutting her stuff as the inimitable Ethel Merman weaving the ‘star’s biography seamlessly by telling of her days as a stenographer to her singing days in cocktail lounges to her early rise on Broadway to her failed marriages to meeting all the musical greats of the 30’s 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. All this is done as seen through Merman’s eyes.
In between the story telling, speaking with a New York accent and an inflection that compliments her singing voice, she sings a series of songs about twenty or so, that will convince you that Ms. Merman is there on stage actually belting out the likes of “There’s No Business Like Show business”, I’ve Got Rhythm” to “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”. Her chit chat style of speaking directly to the audience presents an easy yet entertaining evening of theatre worth attending.
Ethel Merman was 21 when she stormed Broadway in 1930 singing “I’ve Got Rhythm” in George Gershwin’s “Crazy Girl”. In 1934 she co-stared in “Anything Goes”, the first of five Broadway shows she did for Cole Porter. For four decades Merman’s name and star hung over Broadway as the reigning queen of the Broadway Musical.
Rita McKenzie wrote her one-woman show, “Ethel Merman’s Broadway”, with friend Christopher Powich who wanted to make a movie about Merman’s life. It seems that Powich called Merman with the idea about the movie and to recommend McKenzie to play Merman. But when he asked Merman who should play her, she responded “Why me of course”. The movie was never made, but the idea of McKenzie playing Merman was born.
This show has been good for Ms. McKenzie who has been playing to houses all over the country for well over 20 years. The first show ran in 1988. It has had several incarnations over the years. It has been dubbed the longest running one-woman show in theatrical history.
Backed by a seven-piece band and no less than six costume changes, each more glittery than the last, McKenzie doesn’t miss a beat in this one and a half plus hour show. She paces back and forth, sits in the easy chair in the center of the stage, calls on audience members, passes out crackers and dip or changes costumes all while she sets us up for the next set of songs. Those costume changes were done behind a curtain on stage, yet she continued the dialogue.
Off to the sides projections can be seen of the ‘real’ Merman with George Gershwin and Cole Porter and stills from some of the shows in which she starred. There are shots from “Call Me Madam” and “Annie Get Your Gun”, and some of her husbands including the last, Ernest Borgnine. That one lasted 54 days.
But of course the Peace de resistance is what’s being belted out, and here are some of the numbers she sang, just to whet your appitite:
“Friendship”, “Your The Top”, “I Got Rhythm”, “Anything Goes”, “Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries”, “”Doin’. What Comes Natr’lly”, There’s No Business Like Show Business”, “Alexanders Ragtime Band”, “I Have Dream”, and “Everything’s Comming Up Roses”.
It’s a kick and a trip down memory lane with some of the best tunes from the Golden Age of Broadway and with one of the best sound-alike leading voices bringing it to you.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: through April 8th
Organization: Welk Resort Theatre
Production Type: Musical Revue
Where: 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido, CA
Ticket Prices: $44.00-$63.00