Ricky Ritzel’s August Surpasses Dorian’s 195 mph. winds with Category 5 Gales of Entertainment
By Myra Chanin
Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway, like Brigadoon, pops up on the fourth Friday night of every month at Don’t Tell Mama where the antics of Ritzel and Company unfurl a tidal wave of utter joy that envelopes everyone in the packed showroom. What is it? Ricky’s 90-minute one night monthly takes on three different past or present Broadway Musicals, interpreted by the The More Than Ready for Prime-Time Players, an 8+ performer ensemble who may not have starred on Broadway yet, but actually should and hopefully will.
Ricky dedicated August’s RRB to Hal Prince, without whom there would not have been enough Broadway musicals to provide provender for Ricky’s Ritzel Broadway now in its fourth prize-winning year. Psst. It’s won every award for Best Recurring Series for the last three years. Furthermore, each month’s artful shenanigans are always more breath-taking, dumbfounding and art-tugging than the previous month’s. That’s why regulars (the ones with reservations) enter beaming and everyone including newbies and stumble-in-bums exit kvelling, having experienced more delight fully clothed than they rarely did totally naked.
Ricky and Company more than outdid themselves in August. Their Category 5 Entertainment Hurricane swept onto 46th Street accompanied by record gales of bliss. As always, Ricky selected the musicals. – It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman, Peter Pan, the Musical and The King and I – as well as the songs, the arrangements, the cast, the pertinent facts and impertinent gossip. He also was the one-man-piano/band, warbled a solo and joined the chorus of recalcitrant boys. His superb director, Jay Rogers, staged the be-Jesus out of the astounding performers, created costumes and encouraged a very credible soft-shoe routine out of Aaron Morishita, a genuinely Asian “King of Siam” with more hair in his ponytail than Yul Brynner had on his entire body. Photographer Maryann Lopinto supplied Ricky with reproductions of the night’s high flyers, Superman and Peter Pan. Ricky attached them to primitive fishing poles and swung them around the stage.
The constantly handsome, leading man worthy Jon Satrom, nattily garbed in a pressed Superman t-shirt, unfettered his impressive vocal chords and in “Doing Good,” described Superman’s average workday – a schizophrenic rotation between illegal immigrant Kal-El – sounds Israeli, n’est-ce pas?—and the Enemy of the People, Fake News reporter Clark Kent. He held up two bar stools, one in each hand, as proof of Superman’s strength and donned a white Oxford shirt as proof of Kent buttoning skills. The always irresistible Tara Martinez was a delicious Lois Lane. Tanya Moberly, as a pretentious secretary, perceptively evaluated Clark Kent via Lee Adams clever lyrics and Charles Strouse’s lively tune.
Collar – pure Peoria. That hat – oh no!
I’m not Queen Victoria – This suit has to go.
Ricky Ritzel stopped the show briefly, telling us to “Talk among yourself. Mary Martin isn’t ready,” but Meg Flather, our Peter Pan was. FYI, my all-time most moving musical memory is remembering Ms. Flather sing “We Can Never Go Back To Before,” in Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway version of Ragtime.
Superman’s score was originally awarded to Broadway newcomers, composer “Moose” Charlap and lyricist Carolyn Leigh, whose rhymes shone more brightly alongside Cy Coleman’s tunes. The producers were underwhelmed by their efforts and enlisted tunesmith Jule Style and wordsmiths Betty Comden and Adolph Green to puff things up. A good idea. Before leading us to Neverland Meg Flather shared her pride in Peter’s accomplishment, in “I Got to Crow” by Charlap/Leigh which was reminiscent of “I am What I Am,” from La Cage au Folles. The irascible Jon Satrom, Aaron Morishita and Ricky Ritzel joined voices and bellowed “We’ve got a Mother!” and “I Won’t Grow Up!” before the piece de resistance entered – none other than the beloved Sidney Myer as the terrifying and mean pirate captain who discovered the hook he was fated to wear along with a tri-cornered hat, a frighteningly red shirt and a long and curly black wig in a prop shop from heaven. Sidney, a superbly angry Hook, outdid his prize-winning performance as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard in previous Ricky Ritzel extravaganza. Finally Meg Flather invited everyone to Jule Stein’s “Neverland.”
And then came, The King and I. Words to express its greatness do not exist.
Raissa Katona Bennett as Anna, was perfection. Her singing was exquisite. Her happy melancholy in “Hello Young Lovers” was captivating. The entire audience not only sang along with her in “Getting to Know You” but refused to stop. We watched as Aaron Morishita transformed himself from a boy who refused to grow up to the King Siam, a believable ruler. His “A Puzzlement” contained some of the best lyrics Hammerstein ever created, smart and intense. Morishita sang them assertively and seductively and displayed considerable and impressive emotional depth. Morishita was always a singer in search of a character to portray. The King of Siam suppled him with a totally suitable and worthy one.
Amy Beth Williams’ tender and honest love for her husband the King in “Something Wonderful” quickly explained why she remained his #1 wife. And then there were the young lovers, OMG! Jon Satrom and Tara Martinez passionately singing about their forbidden love in “We Kiss in a Shadow,” and “I Have Dreamed. When they sang the line “for one shining day to be free!” in the climax of their duet, Ricky backed up the word “free” with an exquisite diminished chord. I am no mushy romantic, but that phrase as sung by Jon and Tara and played by Ricky brought tears to eyes, not only my own.
Nobody seemed to want to leave. They preferred to hang around and tell people who felt the same way they did that the show was “better than Broadway.” And that evening, it truly was.
Photos: Maryann Lopinto
Next month at Don’t Tell Mama at 343 W. 46th Street on Friday Night, September 27 at 7 pm.
Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway will exhume Gershwin’s Girl Crazy, Kurt Weill’s Knickerbocker Holiday and Marc Blitzstein’s Juno. Fiddler is in the wings for Friday night October 25, same time, same place.