By Myra Chanin
Well, whaddaya know? The becoming-more-illustrious-with-every-passing-year, larger-than-life Ricky Ritzel, who produces, creates, performs and music directs a different “Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway” on the last Friday of every month in Don’t Tell Mama’s big showroom, has once again, resplendent in crimson and white, danced off with the 2019 MAC Award for Best Recurring Series. I believe a Hip! Hip! Hip! Hip! Hurrah! is appropriate for Ricky’s taking this award for the fourth year in a row!
Furthermore, three of Ricky’s More Than Ready for Prime Time regulars followed his lead: Tommy J. Dose, the sweet-voiced tenor with delicate, angelic delivery and Tara Martinez, the gorgeous, dramatic, mellow actress/contralto were deemed 2019’s best Male and Female Bar/Restaurant Singing Entertainers and Mr. MAC himself, the unique Sidney Myer, 2019’s Best Male Major Artist, exquisitely attired in a spiffy tuxedo and a distinctive, languorous black necktie, gave a new twist to Francesca Blumenthal’s schedule for one’s idle hours “Between Men.”
Three days later, Ricky was once again seated at the DTM Steinway playing the opening chords of the March 2019 Edition of Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway. When Ricky started this series, crowds were sparse, but now the room is always packed with appreciative fans who bring friends who become appreciative fans, etc., etc. In the past, Ricky presented songs, summaries, history and gossip connected with three Broadway musicals: either hits, also-rans, even some that closed the morning after. For his March victory lap, he selected three long-running hits with familiar lyrics so the audience could singalong.
First came Stephen Schwartz’s Pippin, co-conceived by Schwartz and Ron Strauss as students at Carnegie Mellon. Strauss scooted off when Schwartz wanted to further develop the concept and according to Strauss not a single original line or note made it into the final version. Clive Barnes, The New York Times theater reviewer wrote, “The book is feeble and the music bland, yet the show runs like a race horse!” A former dance critic, Barnes awarded all the credit to Director/dancer Bob Fosse. It won five Tony Awards.
Aaron Lee Battle opened the evening by singing, rocking and shaking the colorful scarf draped on his supple shoulders and was soundly rewarded for making his own magic out of the “Magic to Do.” Jon Satrom, Alison Nusbaum, Tommy J. Dose and Michael Kirk Lane sang five other Pippin familiar songs beautifully. In between Sidney Myer became Katherine, the widow with a farm and a young son with whom Pippin finally settles down.
Show number two, Camelot, arrived under inauspicious skies. Lyricist Alan Lerner’s fourth wife left him during the writing, which sent him to the hospital with a bleeding ulcer and hopefully no loss for words. Director Moss Hart suffered a second heart attack. Frederick Loewe agreed to write the score very reluctantly. Camelot’s 4-1/2 hour long premiere inspired Noel Coward’s comment that it was “longer than the Gotterdammerung … and not nearly as funny!” Critical reaction? Mixed reviews. Pippin still won four Tony Awards.
Ricky’s Knights included Tommy J. Dose as Lancelot, regal in an elegant black on black vested outfit, delivering an exquisitely tender “If Ever I would Leave You.” Sidney Myer as King Arthur described his kingdom, “Camelot.” Anna Anderson is an expressive actress with a heavenly voice, whom I remember killing in Ricky’s Ragtime, but she was too occupied reading the lyrics of her two comic songs to properly exhibit their wit.
Next. The plot for Cole Porter’s Anything Goes included a bomb threat, a shipwreck, and human trafficking on a desert island. It came from producer Vinton Freedley, who had fled the US and was living on a boat to avoid creditors. A few weeks before Anything Goes’ opening, a fire on the SS Morro Castle killed 138 passengers and crew members convincing Freedley the script was in dubious taste. He insisted on changes but the original writers were unavailable, so the job went to his director Howard Lindsay and press agent Russel Crouse – the beginning a lifelong writing partnership. As for Porter, he composed almost the entire delicious score while dwelling in pretty fancy digs — Newport’s swell Rosecliff mansion.
The fabulous, hilarious, energized Kristine Zbornik opened the final third of Ricky’s show with the Cole Porter verse that contains that fabulous phrase, “your fabulous face,” before she and Ricky moved on to many verses of “You’re the Top!” In their closing refrain, written by Irving Berlin to Cole Porter as a birthday surprise, was the declaration that the birthday boy was like King Kong’s penis. How did Irving know? Kristine’s heavenly “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” was followed by Brian Kalinowski’s delicate “Be Like the Bluebird” and tweet, tweet before Alison Nusbaum warned the bad guy, “Buddie, Beware.” The cast’s rousing finale, “Anything Goes” created a tsunami of applause and an explosive standing ovation. They always looked like they’ve had a wonderful time.
Now, here’s good news for Ricky, bad news for us: Ricky is off to South America in April, but he’ll be back with Lady in the Dark, Fiddler on the Roof at Don’t Tell Mama at 343 W 46th St on May 17 at 7 pm. Please note, May 17th is the THIRD FRIDAY IN MAY, so communicate that to your calendar.