Of all the since-departed celebrities who've shown up to entertain at the Laguna Playhouse recently (George Gershwin, Ella Fitzgerald), none shines brighter than the queen of Broadway herself, Miss Ethel Merman.
"Ethel Merman's Broadway," a one-woman show with orchestral backing now in residence through Sunday, features not only the rafter-rattling vocal tones of the legendary singer, but the unmistakable physical appearance. Audiences will swear that Ethel herself has risen from the grave she's occupied these past 16 years.
Projecting this amazing illusion is Rita McKenzie, who has toured with her Merman tribute show almost since the death of her subject and thus has her character pretty much down pat. This isn't a narrative piece where the star slips in and out of character; it's Ethel all the way, with her salty views of show business sandwiched in between the brassy vocalizing.
From the opening strains of the ultimate opening number, "Gee, But It's Good to Be Here." to the final crescendo of "Everything's Coming Up Roses," McKenzie takes her audience for a dizzying ride through Merman's career and personal life, with a few choice words for Hollywood. It was, we're reminded, the film capital that thrust Betty Hutton into the title role of "Annie Get Your Gun" and Rosalind Russell into Mama Rose's role in "Gypsy," even though Merman had originated both characters memorably.