by Myra Chanin
Every time I attend the latest monthly episode of Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway, performed by The More Than Ready for Primetime Players, I am struck anew by the same WTF! Have all of the major musical producers, directors and casting commanders been stricken with irreversible visual and auditory impairment? No? Then why are Ricky’s persistently show-stopping, superbly trained, pretty, shapely, singing/acting sopranos and his poignant and stirring, angel-voiced tenor who pours his soul into every syllable he sings still forced to pay their rent from the remuneration they receive for pouring and serving at Don’t Tell Mama’s Music Bar?
Hopefully one day, one of the geezer powers that be will stumble into Don’t Tell Mama on the last Friday night of the month, when Ricky et al are wowing the audience packing Don’t Tell Mama’s big showroom with their clever, merry, heartfelt dissection of three Broadway musicals. The most special thing about Ricky’s Broadways are that the songs and the singers reign supreme minus conflicts with overwritten orchestrations or distractions by excessive scenic designs. As a result everything has a brand new feel that one’s feelings respond to.
In his most recent January extravaganza Ricky included two perpetual award-winners with lots of familiar and beloved songs, but where had he dug up his opening show, Over Here? Even I’d never heard of that one. Over Here! was the first Broadway musical the teenaged Ricky ever saw. Who took him? His father, who was not happy about having to pay OMG! 15 bucks for each orchestra seat. The words and music were created by Robert and Richard Sherman, who supplied the scores for Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang, Charlotte’s Web, etc. for Disney. Having crafted more movie scores than any songwriting team in history as well as the most performed tune of all time, “It’s a Small World,” the Shermans were bona fide residents of Hitsville. Where are they now? Robert, the elder, resides in songwriting heaven and Richard, who’ll soon celebrate his 91st birthday, is cashing heavenly royalty checks on earth. Kinnehora.
Over Here! – the follow-up to the Sherman Brothers’ World War II off-Broadway musical Victory Garden and the top grossing production of the 1974 season, starred 1940’s icons Patty and Maxene Andrews in a nostalgic look at the 1940’s when swing dancing and boogie-woogie dominated popular culture, but the show also included social commentary about dying in battle, prejudice and discrimination and hilarious lyrics about medical dangers. Lots of newcomers in the cast, Treat Williams, Marilu Henner, John Travolta and Ann Reinking, later achieved stardom. However, despite capacity audiences, the show closed within a year because of salary fantasies by the stars.
Kathy Kaefer and Laurie Krauz’s boogie-woogie recreated the Andrew Sisters’ tight harmonies in “Over Here.” Allison Nusbaum revealed her Madeline Kahn core in a priceless parody of “Wait for me Marlena.” Kathy Kaefer warned GI’s about the dangers of “The Good-Time Girl,” a polka with clever, shocking lyrics: “She’ll commence a sore like you never saw before,” and “The enemy can sock us by spreading gonococcus.” And the multifaceted Sidney Myer, the backbone of New York’s Cabaret world, juxtaposed a GI’s happy recollection of mademoiselles in “Hey, Yvette, I’m glad we parley-vous-ed you,” with sad memories of those who remain in “No Man’s Land which hold the bodies we held dear,” as always, easily able to switch from joy to sadness.
She Loves Me is a farcical romance based on Hungarian Playwright Miklos Lazlo’s Perfumarie about two people who work together unharmoniously while participating in an anonymous mail courtship in which both are called “Dear Friend.” With a book by Joe Masterhoff, a merry score by Jerry Bock and clever and touching lyrics by the inimitable Sheldon Harnick, Tommy J. Dose as Georg sings “Tonight at Eight,” a lilting waltz with nervous lyrics about his scheduled meeting with his Dear Friend. Need I say, it doesn’t happen? The female Dear Friend, Amalia and her dear friend, dopey Ilona — Aaron Morishita and Jay Rogers in a hilarious duet –discuss Amalia’s intimacy with her Dear nameless Friend through his letters even though she hasn’t seen his handsome profile or his manly frame. The prissy expression on Jay’s face including Ilona’s turned-up nose when Ilona admits being taken in and then discarded by someone whose profile and frame and name she knew, is worth the price of admission. Kathy Kaefer as Amalia worries in “Will He Like Me?” Sidney Myer describes the feelings of waiting in vain for Dear Friend but the tale end in trills of joy with Laura Pavles exuberant “Ice Cream” and Anthony Castellano’s soaring “She Loves Me.”
Carousel was also based on a drama by a Hungarian playwright, Lilliom by Ferenc Molnar, and was the second musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Billy Bigelow is the new name for the carousel barker whose romance with millworker Julie Jordan costs them their jobs and results in a pregnancy. Billy participates in a robbery to provide for Julie and their unborn child; after it goes tragically wrong, he is given a chance to make things right. A secondary plot line deals with millworker Carrie Pipperidge and her romance with ambitious fisherman Enoch Snow. The musical required considerable modification during out-of-town tryouts, like cutting the ballet down from forty minutes. It was an immediate Broadway hit and in 1999 was declared the best musical of the 20th century by Time Magazine.
Tara Martinez brought her usual radiance to her feelings about her unexpected romance with a fisherman in “When I Marry Mr. Snow. Ditto for “If I loved you,” sung by Anthony Castellano and Laura Pavles which brought huge applause. But the stand up and cheer moment of the evening was Tommy J. Dose’s “Soliloquy,” when, as Billy Bigelow, he unveils his soul in declaring the changes that fatherhood will require from him. The finale, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” brought the audience to its feet! A wonderful ending to a wonderful show.
The next Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway will take place on February 22 at Don’t Tell Mama – be sure to make your reservations early as it’s always a sell-out!
Photos: Maryann Lopinto