For decades, Ethel Merman was the queen of Broadway stage. Rita McKenzie brings her one women show “Ethel Merman’s Broadway,” taking us on a factual and entertaining journey of Ethel’s life.
SD: Why Ethel Merman?
RM: I didn’t start out wanting to portray Ethel Merman. I always wanted to be Julie Andrews. I actually never liked her, I thought she was loud. People would tell me that I reminded them of her, so I starting doing some research and realized that she was a wonderful mother and daughter to her parents. I thought that is great! I can relate to that. She was huge from the 30’s -60’s. Besides starring on Broadway, she starred in over 30 movies. I also liked that she was a business women and she never took her celebrity status serious.
SD: How did you perfect her voice?
RM: I had to practice, practice, and practice. I had to learn to hold a high C for 16 measures. I had to really learn how to be her, now it’s second nature.
SD: You have been portraying Ms. Merman for over 20 years. How do you keep each performance fresh and exciting?
RM: Once I place the wig on, put my make-up and get dressed, I think of nothing else. I become Ethel and the audience becomes my co-star. I really rely on the audience. They help keep the show fresh. There is a road map to the show, but every moment of the show is up for grabs and the audience helps decide that.
SD: How are you able to stay true to her personality and still add your own personal touches?
RM: I overlay my personality onto hers. I am a lot of fun and she was a very shy person. I try to give her qualities that are mine, while I channel her qualities. It is a lot of fun! She was an amazing person. Before she became famous, she was a girl from Queens who worked as a secretary at Bragg-Kliesrath and was still friends with her co-workers until the day she died.
SD: If you could perform alongside Ms. Merman in one of her shows which one would it be?
RM: She passed away in 1984 and I started the show in 1987. I had the opportunity to meet her, but I didn’t because I was scared to death. It would have to be “Anything Goes.”
For more information on Rita visit www.ethelmermansbroadway.com . Rita will be performing at the Stoneham theatre August 21st – 24th. For more information and to purchase tickets to “Ethel Merman’s Broadway” visit www.stonehamtheatre.org.