Call Me Miss Birds Eye: A Celebration of Ethel Merman is not ready for Broadway

(r-l) Martin Grimwood, Denise Wharmby and Don Bridges in Call Me Miss Birdseye playing at the Geary A.C.T. Theater

Call Me Miss Birds Eye: A Celebration of Ethel Merman: Musical: Australia’s Acoustic Voice @ A.C.T.’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco, CA. (415) 749-2228. www.act-sf.org.  July 8 – July 18, 2015 

 Call Me Miss Birds Eye: A Celebration of Ethel Merman is not ready for Broadway Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

The advertising for Call me Miss Birdseye created expectations for an evening of charming/ nostalgic theater. The show was written by the multitalented Londoner Jack Tinker and put together by Australia’s ambitious Acoustic Voice Theatre founded in 2012 and works exclusively with “bel canto” technique without the use of amplification. It would seem perfect for a celebration of Ethel Merman whose diction was perfect–every word could be understood–and in those pre-microphone days, her big voice could be heard in the last row of the last balcony. She was praised lavishly in her first stage appearance.

That first appearance was in 1930 as the second lead in George and Ira Gershwin Gershwin’s Girl Crazy which starred Ginger Rogers.  She stopped the show belting, “I Got Rhythm” and she continued gaining fame never being in a flop. She starred in five shows by Cole Porter: Anything Goes, Red, Hot, and Blue, Du Barry Was a Lady, Panama Hattie, Something for the Boys. Gypsy by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim was Merman’s greatest show and Mamma Rose her greatest part. 

Denise Wharmby, in the role of Ethel Merman does have a pleasant clear voice that reaches the back rows but never reaches the heights of the incomparable Merman. Her renditions of the songs that Merman made memorable do create a bit of nostalgia since they have become part of the Great American Songbook.

The evening is a combination of song and narrative that she shares with male backups Martin Grimwood, Don Bridges and musical director Graham Clarke on the grand piano. For some odd reason Don Bridges, who handles most of the narration also occasionally strums on a guitar that adds not a whit to the story line.

The staging is bare-bones, sophomoric and the humor is forced. Then there is an unintelligible first skit attempting to explain the title of this show that falls flat, as do most of the skits intended to inject humor. The opening skit is reference to the fact that Merman started her working career as a stenographer with a great skill at shorthand that she used throughout her life . . . even to typing her own contracts.

The song list of about 35 songs starts with Irving Berlin’s “There No Business Like Show Business” and is unfolded in mostly chronological order starting with  “Blow, Gabriel, Blow”, “I Get a Kick Out of You”, and “You’re the Top” by Cole Porter in Anything Goes.

The running time is one hour and 40 minutes with an intermission at which time many seats were vacated.

CAST: Denise Wharmby, Martin Grimwood, Don Bridges and Graham Clarke.

CEATIVE STAFF: Jack Tinker, Writer; Rick Wallace, Director/Choreographer ; Damian Muller, Designer; Daniel West, Stage Manager; Rooster Productions, Scenic design.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of  www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com.