Writer, director and producer Steve Burbridge has given his latest play a simple concept: an interview with Ethel Merman. A basic set (one table, two chairs) is all that is provided, as Merman takes us through her career, covering Broadway and Hollywood, plus a sprinkling of her personal life. At all times interesting, the play really comes to life when Nicki French (Total Eclipse of the Heart) belts out those very familiar Merman songs.
Asking the questions and guiding "Ethel" through her life, from chorus girl to international star, is the MC, played by Christopher Strain. While the rapport between the characters is good, when Strain joins French to sing and dance at the opening of Act 2 it is uncomfortable. Likewise, when the pair dance at the finale. But when singing solo, French ensures the musical numbers are in safe hands and is a delight to watch and listen to.
While there are restrictions on the set, due to the venue, a star of Merman's calibre should have deserved some drapes, rather than the back wall of the room. French changes costumes (Alan Graham Costumes) during the performance, with the Act 1 dresses fitting her persona, but the finale costume is a real let down.
This production will suit anyone interested in musical theatre or an audience of a "certain age" (as long as they can cope with the occasional strong language).
Personally I was waiting for the famous antidote from when Merman appeared at our very own Royal Variety Performance, but that never came. However, overall Burbridge has written an entertaining piece of theatre, which Nicki French brings to life, but due to its subject matter it will have limited appeal.