Ethel Merman was the musical star who lit up the broadway stage for 50 years, singing and originating parts by the Gershwins, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin.
Call Me Merman is a tribute to the grand dame, here played by Angela Richards with hutzpah in numbers like "Make it Another Old Fashioned Please" and "Everything's Coming up Roses". We are at a rehearsal for a show she's about to take to Vegas. The company consists of Ethel, Kitty - who's to play the young Ethel in the show and Arly for the male parts. There's also the pianist Phil and the never seen director who speaks from the darkeness of the auditorium.
As the performers rehearse we are meant to get a sense of the 'real Merman' from her interactions with the others and her reaction to the news about whether or not she's got the role in the coveted film of Gypsy she so badly wants.
All the singers are certainly able, Richards' is ballsy and Susanna Fellows likeable as Kitty - although from time to time its hard to make out the lyrics she sings, even in the small Kings Head theatre. Mark White provides solid support as Arly borrowing from Ol' Blue Eyes in his delivery.
It's hard to locate director David Kernan's vision though. Nigel Hook's design is clearly a dingy rehearsal room, but the costumes suggest we are in the mid eighties- yet Merman died in 1984. The glitzy numbers certainly lose something being performed in jeans and scruffy jumpers, although Richards' costumes are stylish if dated.
John Kane's writing backs up the idea of Merman as a tough 'broad' and there are a few witty interjections but the majority of the humour comes from the anecdotes about her life. Ultimately though you never feel you get more than a superficial passing aquaintance with the woman.
Music-wise we get medleys from various shows - notably the current Anything Goes but the delivery and scale is sufficiently different to make this an enjoyable and worthy rendition. Ultimately though I'd really rather have seen the full stage glitzy show in Las Vegas than this mediocre, low key 'rehearsal' which was at best mildly diverting when it ought to have been arresting and show stopping.