By Myra Chanin
After four full years of award-winning performances, Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway need no longer worry about filling a showroom, even during dangerously high temperatures. Ricky’s cool selections for a sweltering Friday night included a flop, Minnie’s Boys, and two hits, the schmaltz-packed Milk and Honey and the witty and hilarious Once Upon a Mattress
From the top: Minnie’s Boys – Groucho, Harpo and Chico, plus the intermittent Gummo and Zeppo) had trouble — mainly supplied by Groucho, who nixed actors for being “too Jewish,” and was put on payroll to stop him from throwing a legal wrench into production plans. After extensive previews (64) and tinkering, only Walter Kerr enjoyed it. Clive Barnes called the Larry Grossman-Hal Hackaday score “gross and hacked.”
I found the music melodic and the rhymes clever except for the lyrics to “Mama, A Rainbow,” in which Lennie Watts’ Harpo sweetly and delicately declares his appreciation for Minnie’s love in words which sounded written by Oedipus Rex. As Minnie the Mama, Lynda Rodolitz, raised “Five Growing Boys,” whose middle names were “trouble, crazy and lazy” etc. The ever more handsome, stylish, and leading man-ish Jon Satrom acted and belted out Groucho’s complaint, “Where Was I When They Passed Out Luck,” and Lynda Rodolitz’s Minnie ended the segment singing words rarely uttered by Jewish mother’s lips, “Be Happy.”
On to Jerusalem. A producer asks a pianist at a downtown revue, “Wanna write a musical about Israel?” The producer? Gerald Oestreicher. The pianist? Jerry Herman. The result? Milk and Honey, Herman’s first Broadway hit. Perks included an all expense trip to Israel to absorb culture and find inspiration which made Herman determined to include Israel’s imperfections.
The characters include Lynda Rodolitz’s Claire singing “Chin Up, Ladies.” Claire’s the American guide of a posse of husband-hunting widows including Mrs. Bernstein from Cincinnati who’d like to be Mrs. Friedman of Tel Aviv. Sidney Myer as love interest Phil from Baltimore with a wife in Paris, wrung every drop of shmaltz from “Shalom,” and “That was Yesterday.” He and Ricky Ritzel described the pros and cons of Israel in the heart-tugging “Milk and Honey”
This is the place where the hopes of the homeless, and the dreams of the lost combine
This is the land that heaven blessed and This lovely land is mine
As well as:
What if the earth is dry and barren, What if the morning sun is mean to us for
This is a state of mind we live in, We want it green and so it’s green to us for
Ultimately, in “Hymn to Hymie,” the newly-in-love guide Claire, in a foretaste of Hello Dolly’s good-bye to her late husband Ephram, asks for and receives her expired husband Hymie’s approval to return to life. Lynda Rodolitz managed to play two leading ladies in 40 minutes with considerable aplomb, but three leading man songs for the unique Sidney Myer were an inadequate use of his singular comic endowments especially when leading man-ish Jon Satrom, was a heartbeat away to sing “That Was Yesterday.”
Then Ricky scared the bejeezus out of us by thanking the lights and sound crew, touting next month’s extravaganza and sending us off. Cries of “There should be three shows!” rang from the rafters before Ricky smiled wickedly and topped the evening off with the totally kvellworthy Once Upon a Mattress, a jolly adaptation of The Princess and the Pea, originally staged at Tamiment’s Pocono Mountain resort by Richard Rodgers’ composer daughter Mary and Marshall Barer, whose praises Michael Feinstein constantly extolls.
There’s trouble in devious Queen Aggravain’s kingdom (Sally Darling), who’s busy proving the unworthiness of the princesses vying and failing to become one with Crown Prince Dauntless the Drab. When the Queen declares that no one can wed till Dauntless shares his wedding bed, it’s a particularly disturbing turn of events for the gloriously pregnant Anna Anderson and her beloved Jon Satrom who dream about being together “In a Little While.”
Lennie Watts’ Dauntless, in an endearing red pageboy, sings/stutters in a perfectly abrasive pitch when his fated beloved, Alison Nusbaum’s Princess Winnifred the Woebegone, appears in a tacky green flowered gown and rhinestone tiara, totally soaked from swimming the moat to share her secret – that she, like he, is also “SHY!!!!”
The Queen, after touting her royal sensitivity, determines a test that Winnifred will fail. Putting a pea under and Winnifred on top of 20 mattresses. If she falls asleep she’s banished. But love prevails as she tosses and turns and Dauntless is hers.
Winnifred and Dauntless join voices in a duet about “The Swamps of Home” which describe her kingdom: I know that blood is thicker than water but the swamps of home are thicker than blood. Winnifred also complains in “Happily Ever After,” that unlike other fairy tale royalty like Cinderella and Snow White she won her Prince unaided by the lady with the wand or seven trolls.
Alison Nusbaum unveiled all of her comic funny bones and not only stole the day but the night and the weekend. Burnett couldn’t hold a candle to our Alison’s hilarity. So there!
Photos: Maryann Lopinto
Next month’s RRB will take place on Friday August at 7 pm at DTM when Ricky et al will deconstruct The King & I, Peter Pan and It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman. Put it in your calendar. It will be the social event of the month.