by Myra Chanin
On July 10 an extraordinary event—Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway—took place at Don’t Tell Mama (DTM), the Nightlife Mall-cum-Cabaret Cineplex currently celebrating its 33rd year on Manhattan’s Restaurant Row. Never been there? Then don’t call yourself a Broadway Buff or an American Songbook Aficionado. DTM is where many glorious Broadway talents first displayed their gifts. Like who? Like Brian D’Arcy James, Marin Mazzie, Susan Stroman, Mark Nadler, Jim Gaffigan and Billy Porter; not to mention award-winning composers Steven Lutvak, (A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder) Jonathan Larson (Rent) and Jason Robert Brown (Bridges of Madison County).
As for Ricky Ritzel, he’s Manhattan’s club world’s kinetic musical fixture, the creative whirlwind who chaperones the weekly reunifications of Judy Garland and her not-so-ever-lovin’ daughter Liza. Ricky, the blue collar yenta of a theatrical anthropologist, merged, in July, his musical legerdemain and his gift for gossip into Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway (hereinafter RRB)—a live monthly show featuring the scores and the plots of several Broadway musicals (plus dish you’ll hear nowhere else), performed by a cast of should-be-far-better-known singers and comedy cut-ups like John Satrom, Christina Aranda, Aaron Morishita, Jay Rogers and Sidney Myer. Not everyone waiting in line fit into the DTM showroom that night, so an equally packed encore demand performance took place in late July.
RRB’s first featured musical was the Burton Lane/Alan Jay Lerner On a Clear Day flop. Often revived with the same dismal results, it’s about a reincarnated woman with ESP who’s sent to a psychiatrist who falls in love with the person she formerly was. “When the first act curtain fell they had a hit. Then the second act lasted until 11:45!” The book problems may have been insurmountable but the score is here to stay: “It’s Lovely Up Here,” “On a Clear Day,” “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have,” and “Come Back to Me.” Of all the Tony winning musicals of the last twenty years only Hairspray has as many memorable tunes.
Ricky’s spotlight next lit on Cleavage, a one-night wonder with a curious claim to fame. It transported Jay Rogers from Hattiesburg, MI to New York, NY forever. Jay told all and performed “Boys will Be Girls” to appreciative laughter. Ricky’s next stop was Henry, Sweet Henry, about two love-struck misfit teenagers who stalk an avant-garde composer/aging philanderer. Despite considerable audience appeal and Bob Merrill’s perky tunes and moving lyrics, Henry was unable overcome a bad review from the New York Times. Christina Aranda’s rejected daughter ballad “Do You Ever Go to Boston” was totally wistful while Aaron, Ricky and Jay frolicked with Henry, Sweet Henry’s biggest hit, the perky “Poor Little Person.”
Then came Hello Dolly, with nary a non-hit in it, with lesser songs like “Ribbons Down My Back” and “Put on Your Sunday Clothes!” Then suddenly Dolly appeared: Sidney Myer, adorable in a curly brown Shirley Temple wig and a striped straw bonnet tied under his chin. He was not in drag and there was nothing camp about his sincere, artful, emotional performance. His leisurely and precise delivery allowed us to savor every word he sang or uttered. The most convincing matchmaking Dolly I’ve ever seen, Sidney swept off stage for a costume change and returned in even more dazzling attire to sing “World, Take Me Back,” which Jerry Herman had written for Ethel Merman when he hoped she’d star as Dolly but which he cut when she decided not to do the part. After Merman agreed to be the final Dolly in the musical’s long Broadway run, Herman returned the song to his score. I’m sure Merman never sang it with as much emotion as Sidney did. Center stage in an even more flamboyant wig, festooned with feathers, Sidney sang his heart out as the audience cheered, cheered and cheered.
August’s RRB #2 comes to DTM on August 26 with Follies, Funny Thing and Guys and Dolls ready to be dissected by Ricky and his revolving cast. I can’t wait to watch Sidney Myer, Aaron Morishita, Jay Sanders and new addition Lennie Watts as dirty old Romans, hopefully in togas, belting out “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” whose lyrics which have become my mantra.
RRB #3? Only 10 days later on September 4 when you can start your Labor Day week-end with Hairspray, The Happy Time, Mack and Mabel and Miss Saigon.
Make your reservations now unless you’re planning to fight the returning hordes for an hour and a half of fun and pleasure. Of course, there’s always the chance that Ricky Ritzel will be forced to do another encore by popular demand.
Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway. August 26 and September 4 at Don’t Tell Mama (343 W 46th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues). www.donttellmamanyc.com