Hats off to Steve Burbridge who wrote, directed and produced this cracking show.
It takes the form of ‘An Evening with…’ and the guest is Ethel Merman, one of the biggest - if not the biggest - stars of Broadway musical theatre for five decades from the 1930s.
Famous for her comic timing and mezzo-soprano voice, she also had a successful film career that saw her rubbing shoulders with the likes of Fred Astaire, Ginger Rodgers, Jimmy Durante, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.
In 1930 she was earning $500 a week and starring in Girl Crazy, in 1946 she starred as Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun and in 1959 she embarked on a 702-performance run of Gypsy.
The 1964 musical Hello Dolly was written specifically for her vocal range and she joined the cast in 1970. Ethel Merman died in 1984.
Burbridge has researched his subject thoroughly and Merman, excellently played by Nicki French, reveals the foibles of her co-stars and, in true showbiz style, gives us the bitchier side of life.
It’s fascinating stuff and anyone who reads autobiographies or biographies will lap it up.
Having said that, Merman was so interesting that this show will appeal to anyone who likes good entertainment.
Introduced by a host (Christopher Strain), Merman opens the show with her signature song, Gee, But It’s Great to be here.
French can belt out a tune and, once she relaxed in the role, was superb.
Breaking up the banter, she kicked on with more of the songs Merman made famous, all of which are standards even today: Everything’s Coming Up Roses, I Get A Kick Out of You, Anything Goes, Who Could Ask For Anything More? and There’s No Business Like Show Business.
With her glittery frocks, it rocked! Married four times, her last betrothal was to the actor Ernest Borgnine in 1964. It lasted 32 days - “32 days too long, according to Ethel.”
A diva, no doubt, but wonderfully entertaining.