Headed to Broadway is Ethel Merman’s Broadway
Ethel Merman’s Broadway starring Rita McKenzie
The Great White Way seems to be buzzing lately with talk about the recreations of the Best of Broadway’s iconic characters from a bygone era. The interesting rumors include Barbra Streisand mounting Ethel Merman’s Gypsy, Patty LuPone channeling Carol Channing’s Hello Dolly, and another big name star eyeing the Angela’s Lansbury role in Mame.
While others are talking the talk about these legendary characters, Rita McKenzie is walking the walk as her highly promoted “pre-Broadway engagement” of Ethel Merman’s Broadway played the historic El Portal Theatre in Los Angeles to much acclaim. The show, which is negotiating to take over the Helen Hays Theatre on Broadway following Rock of Ages, also had a SRO eight-city tour of Japan.
The show is certainly not new to the theater scene. It’s last Los Angeles engagement was in 2005. But the producers reported that this year’s outing has been retooled, updated and additional songs have been included, along with a poodle.
It has been “refashioned” too, with five additional costume changes. Ethel’s new wardrobe is by Eric Winterling, who created the costumes for Wicked.
The show, under the direction of Christopher Powich, also featured a 12-piece orchestra with musical director/arranger David Snyder.
Composer/lyricist Jerry Herman (Hello Dolly, Mame, La Cage Aux Folles), who worked with Merman, has lavish praise for McKenzie and her portrayal of the iconic star. He said, “Rita is absolutely the best.”
Another Broadway icon, Carol Channing said, “Rita’s dazzling recreation of my dear friend Ethel Merman, is a remarkable tribute done with love, respect and polish.”
Opening night, at the El Portal in the North Hollywood arts district of LA, had the star-studded audience giving Rita McKenzie several standing ovations throughout the show. Among those in attendance were Mitzi Gaynor, Doris Roberts, Hal Linden, Stefanie Powers, Dee Wallace, Mary Jo Catlett, Renee Taylor, Joe Bologna, Lisa Laporta, Loretta Devine, George Chakiris, A.C. Lyles, Earl Holliman, Richard Sherman, Jane Withers, and Tippi Hedren.
Many of the stars reminisced about their friendships and encounters with the real Ethel Merman, and how Rita McKenzie captured the soul and the sound of the Queen of the Great White Way.
Ethel Merman was the reigning royalty of the Broadway stage for more than four decades. She defined an era with characters, stories and signature songs such as “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
McKenzie deserves lavish praise for bringing a realistic and well-researched persona to the famous brassy broad who was larger than life, in the spotlight once again in Ethel Merman’s Broadway.