by Myra Chanin
The final Friday of another month has happily materialized!!!! One might well ask why a date that occurs 12 times a year-after-year warrants four exclamation points? Because that’s when the inimitable Ricky Ritzel’s unveils his latest one-performance-only de- and re-construction of three buffo, fiasco or so-so Broadway musicals, superbly sung by his Broadway-worthy resident repertory company, The More Than Ready for Prime-Time Players.
Recently there’ve been some changes made, mostly to Ricky. He’s shed one and a half chins, steps on stage bedecked from neck to toe in stunning black satin. Also, his cunning, ingenious director, Jay Rogers, a master of stagecraft, has transformed a song fest into a theatrical pageant with dance routines and sly character-enhancing costumes as simple as the right kind of cane, feather or hat or as striking as an olive green Pagliacci ensemble.
The Broadway musicals which piqued Ricky in September were
Kurt Weill & Maxwell Anderson’s 1938 Knickerbocker Holiday—a genuine masterpiece;
Mark Blitzstein2’s 1959 Juno—a genuine once and forever flop;
George and Ira’s 1930 Girl Crazy—a genuine big hit and the basis of three MGM musicals.
Knickerbocker Holiday was based loosely on Washington Irving’s Father Knickerbocker’s Stories about life in New Netherland, now New York. Composer, Kurt Weill, a German Jewish refugee with great foresight who fled the Fatherland two months after Hitler became Chancellor, loved everything American, including the US Mail who delivered his letter to playwright Maxwell Anderson, suggesting that they create an original musical. However, unbeknownst to Weill, Anderson, a former fellow FDR fan, by then considered the New Deal a precursor of fascism, so his script for a romantic comedy script was swathed in satire. A minor role which presented a major problem was Governor Peter Stuyvesant played by Hollywood’s Walter Houston. He had some gimmees. He wanted to court, but not necessarily win, the leading lady. Easily done! Then after he realized how un-curtaincally his role was, he wanted a song written for him. Weill and Anderson left, returned two hours later and handed Houston, “September Song.”
Weill’s score included elements of his Bilboa Moon/Mack the Knife Berlin Kabaret Honky-Tonk jazzy ragtime rhythms and style. “Nowhere to Go but Up,” was boldly delivered by Ricky and his Lounge-O-Leer partner Aaron Morishita. Jon Satrom anarchistic answers to “How Can You Tell an American?” were anti-authoritarian. These up-tempo tunes were juxtaposed against two of the most wistful, plaintive songs ever penned. The Lotte Lenya-ish Sally Darling, with a lack of facial expression that seemed carved by Louise Nevelson, stopped the show with her anthem to disenchantment, “It Never Was You.” The Darling high lasted until Bob Diamond’s Peter Stuyvesant, cane in hand, limped on stage, his pate covered by a revamped Renaissance black ruff collar and sang about days dwindling down to a precious few. Non-stop applause accompanied him after his haunting performance.
About Juno, the less said, the better. Marc Blitzstein supplied words and music, neither particularly arresting. Based on Sean O’Casey’s family tragedy with comic elements, it detailed the disintegration of a Dublin family with a hardworking mother and her worthless drunken husband during the 1920 Irish War of Independence. It closed after 16 performances. It has been treated equally poorly by time, as its revivals have been equally unsuccessful. The golden-throated Tara Martinez and Jon Satrom did their outstanding best with unimpressive songs, but the only number that caught anyone’s fancy was Barb Malley and Bob Diamond’s hostile duet, “Old Sayin’s” in which he complains about her inconsiderate wifey behavior then neighbors received from their wives. Her defense? One has a husband who brings home his pay. The second one is a widow.
The Gershwins’ Girl Crazy made Ginger Rogers a star and established Ethel Merman as a Broadway sensation. One of three films based on it starred Mickey and Judy with her warbling all of Ginger and Ethel’s tunes. It had an unusually dopey plot. Danny Churchill’s sent West to manage his family’s ranch. Instead he turns it into a dude ranch, imports Broadway showgirls and ultimately marries the local postmistress. You’ll never guess what musicians played in the opening night pit orchestra. Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Glenn Miller and Jimmy Dorsey. How about that?
The surprise opening? Those Girls: Eve Eaton, Rachel Hanser, Karen Mack and Wendy Russell with Steven Ray Watkins at the keyboard chirruped the lazy cowboy’s quartet, “Biden’ My Time,” followed by great singers and great songs one after another. Laura Pavles and Aaron Morishita asked “Could You Use Me,” and received an enthusiastically positive reply. Laura Pavles and Jon Satrom’s “But Not for Me,” arrived at a conclusion with which the audience differed. Klea Blackhurst unveiled her booming but silken soprano and not only out sung Ethel Merman in “Sam and Delilah” but moved gracefully on stage and connected masterfully with the audience, unlike Ethel of blessed memory who had the stage presence of a Doric column. Then out strode the iconic Sidney Myer to temporarily steal the stage by executing “Treat Me Rough,” as it has never before been performed. Klea Blackhust reclaimed it from Sidney and made the rafters ring with “I got Rhythm!” She certainly does.
Photos: Maryann Lopinto
Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway’s at Don’t Tell Mama on Friday night October 25 at 7 pm will delve into Fiddler on the Roof, Showboat and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.