Belt Away, Baby!
Actress Rita McKenzie is sitting under a hairdryer in a Sherman Oaks, California, beauty salon, but show-biz trooper that she is, she's happily gabbing about her star turn in the off-Broadway smash, Ethel Merman's Broadway. McKenzie, a TV, film, and musical stage veteran, has been eerily evoking Broadway belter Merman (1909-1984), known for her starring roles in shows such as Girl Crazy, Annie Get Your Gun, Gypsy, and Hello, Dolly!, since 1987.
New Times: Why do a one-woman show about Ethel Merman of all people?
Rita McKenzie: It's a long story, but the short answer is people told me I sound like her.
Ethel Merman's Broadway
The Parker Playhouse, 707 NE 8th St, Fort Lauderdale
January 20; Tickets cost $42.50. Call 800-776-7469.
Were you a big fan of hers?
No. As a young girl, I thought she was loud. And now I am her, so explain that to me!
Do you believe she was underrated?
Absolutely. As an adult I realized that she was not only underrated as an entertainer, but she was underrated as a woman before her time. She was a very good businesswoman, and she also represented our culture and women in general in a very positive way.
Did you ever meet her or work with her?
No. Not at all. When I was growing up in New Jersey, we didn't go to Broadway shows. I felt she was like the Statue of Liberty. I was sure I'd get to see her at some point, but I didn't see the Statue of Liberty until I was 40, so I figured I had a lot of time. And then she died.
While doing research, what did you find out about her that was a surprise to you?
That she was very very shy. She was very uncomfortable in groups of people. Also she was a woman who wanted to be taken care of in her personal life by each and every husband she had [there were four] and they all let her down in one way or another.
After fourteen years of doing the show, are you wary of being typecast as a brash Ethel Merman-type woman?
No, because in Hollywood they know nothing about it. They have no idea. I did a movie with Rodney Dangerfield called Meet Wally Sparks, and there was a song in the movie and they made me lip-synch. They didn't even know I sing!
Get the Things to Do Newsletter
Sign up for our weekly guide to events in Miami, and never be bored again. With suggestions for every day of the week, our recommendations will keep you busy on any budget.