Ethel Merman was a true Broadway star, one of the biggest and one of the most recognizable to Americans who never saw a Broadway show. She was a staple on TV variety shows and her cast albums were big sellers. She appeared in 14 Broadway shows, most written especially for her—five by Cole Porter, two by Irving Berlin. From the moment she first appeared in George and Ira Gershwin’s Girl Crazy in 1930, belting out “I Got Rhythm,” she was a star. Cole Porter’s Anything Goes in 1934 only cemented her stardom. Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun in 1946 was a major hit for her. She finally got a chance to show her acting chops in Gypsy, creating the role of Mama Rose. She ended her Broadway career in 1970 when she was the last of the stars to take on the title role in Hello, Dolly, a show that was originally written for her but that she turned down.
All of these facts and a whole lot more are presented in Gaby Rey’s one woman show Ethel Merman Queen of Musical Comedy at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Unfortunately the one-hour piece comes across as more of a dry history lesson that a piece of musical theatre. Rey performs medleys from the above mentioned shows but she lacks Merman’s rafter shaking vocals. She is actually better in the slower paced, quieter ballads such as “They Say It’s Wonderful” and “Small World.” If you are looking for the definitive record of Merman’s career and life, this “I sang that, then I married him” show is for you.
Ruby Theatre in the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. June 26, 27. www.hollywoodfringe.org