David Kernan, a veteran of Ned Sherrin's Song By Song assemblages, has joined with theatre critic Jack Tinker to put together a similar entertainment in tribute to Ethel Merman – a woman who could talk to her agent across the city without using a phone, and who had the likes of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin queueing up to write shows for her.
The formula is familiar: a couple of droll anecdotes, a couple of songs... and so on, in roughly chronological order. Plus a moment of bizarre spectacle as ex-Crossroads smoothie Tony Adams tries to impersonate Ernest Borgnine.
Libby Morris is a commanding focus of attention, but she is not a belter; three of her would have fitted into one of Merman's lungs – no small shortcoming in a homage to a performer rather than a writer. Kenn Oldfield's production is uncomplicated (Merman's status as an icon of camp is barely acknowledged) and is bound to contain at least one number that, even against your better judgement, you'll love; but that doesn't necessarily make it worth sitting through the other 30 or so.
Written for The Independent.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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