The Book of Merman
by Carl F. Gauze
Music and lyrics by Leo Schwartz
Book by Leo Schwartz and DC Cathro
Directed by Roy Alan
Starring Laura Hodos
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Winter Park Playhouse
Winter Park, FL.
When your faith demands you knock on strangers’ doors, you knock on strangers doors. Rejection is you daily bread, but occasionally you hit a live one. Today Elders Braithwith and Shumway (Michael Scott Ross and Wesley Slade) work the Hollywood beat, and they stumble on to Ethyl Merman (Hodos), one of the greatest Broadway belters. Well, the real Ethyl passed on a few years ago, but Hodos provides a very close simulacrum of the queen of old Broadway. And rather than toss these two missionaries to the lions, Ethyl 2 invites them in and relives her life and career. Turns out brother Shumway is more excited about musical theater than theology, and even the shy, more religions Elder Braithwaite eventually joins the chorus line.
It’s a silly gimmick but what musical isn’t? Ms. Hodos has the voice and personality to make a larger than life actress even larger, and ultimately, she’s limited by the shallow depth of the WPPH stage. Songs are written for a large voice, and Ms. Hodos is up for the job. The witty repartee between the two Elders keeps things interesting, and the indecision between committing to a religion or committing to musical theater may seem trite, but the boys make it feel real. Musically, these are all showstoppers, with nary a slow ballad anywhere in sight. Nearly all the numbers are ensemble, Ethyl herself only gets two solos near the end of each act, and Shumway gets the single male voice when he introduces his mission mate to the Queen of Musical Theater. When a God meets musical theater, expect something loud, and just don’t let the lightening bolts get caught in your hair.