Ricky Ritzel, The Mini-Barnum Who Transforms Quirky Nostalgia into Art

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By Myra Chanin

 

Ricky Ritzel may simply be the equally adorable and energetic spiritual son of Mickey Rooney with even more talent and energy but minus eight wives. Just as Mickey never found a show that wasn’t barn-worthy, Ricky has never found a musical undeserving of exhumation.

 

Hits? Yesiree!  Not quite sensations? Alternately meritorious! Flops? Even they contain songs that deserving warbling and dishing about!

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Thanks to Ricky’s theatrical devotion, Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway, a monthly super-swell entertainment, just opened (and closed) its Thirteenth ovation-worthy One Night Stand at Don’t Tell Mama. Words cannot describe the merriment generated by the participants and the joy that ensured.

 

On that particular night Ricky’s Regulars, a dozen More Than Ready for Prime Time Players, included:

 

Ricky – the infamous producer/director/researcher/writer, music director/pianist and host in his very present flesh and Elaine Stritch costume;

 

Allison Nusbaum – a fearlessly comic, diva-voiced, Bistro Award winner;

 

Michael McAssey – a Ricky newcomer with Broadway straight and tranny credits (Max Bialystock and Edna Turnblad) as a Daddy Warbucks with hairs on his scalp and a goatee on his chin;

 

Michelle Dowdy – the former Oasis of the Seas Tracy Turnblad as the first Annie with irises, eyelashes, and a ruffled skirt;

 

Laura Pavles –A Boston Conservatory of Music BFA who toured with Lincoln Center’s South Pacific and is a singing server at Don’t Tell Mama’s piano bar;

 

Tara Morgan – a Tony winner at age four, twice honored at the Kennedy Center, whose journey from Broadway legend to cocktail waitress is the subject of the documentary, Ambition’s Inverse;

 

Elaine Briar – actor/voiceover artist, singer-comedienne (and mother of three) whose inappropriate material has been entertaining audiences at Don’t Tell Mama for two decades;

 

Billy Roe – Metrostar contest judge, MAC Board Member and star of the highly lauded cabaret show, Monopoly;

 

Jon Satrom — former Don’t Tell Mama singing bartender, now touring the USA as assistant stage manager of Mamma Mia;

 

Aaron Morishita, one half (Ricky Ritzel’s the other) of the Lounge-O-Leers, a couple of cool retro-nerds playing swinging bachelor pad music;

 

Jay Rogers – always inimitable and the once and future star of When Pigs Fly;

 

Sidney Myer – the most beloved man in Manhattan, booking impresario of Don’t Tell Mama and a multi-honored comedy genius in his own right.

 

How was Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway XIII different from every previous Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway production? It was the best ever! Right. I do feel that way about each one and the audiences agree.

 

Ricky’s Broadway XIII focused on 17 songs from three musical works by three super-tunesmiths: Charles Strouse’s Annie (with lyrics by Martin Charnin) followed by Cole Porter’s Can Can and Jerry Herman’s Dear World with the composer providing lyrics and melodies.

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Seven exceptional tunes from Annie (which will run somewhere forever) opened the performance with the cast – Michelle Dowdy as Annie, Alison Nusbaum as the !@#$%^& Miss Hannigan, John Satrom and Elaine Briar as her nefarious relations, and two Daddy Warbucks — Michael McAssey and Sidney Myer both with hair on their heads! – every one of them knocking every one of the songs out of the ballpark!

 

Cole Porter’s Can Can spent two years on Broadway despite tepid reviews about a pedestrian libretto and a second rate Porter score. Billie Roe however scored on “Never Give Anything Away,” “Allez Vous En” and “I Love Paris.” Jon Satrom made the moody “It’s All Right with Me” sound like a preview of Kiss Me Kate . Ricky stoked up his inner Mickey Rooney and listed all the (gulp) politically incorrect folks who can “Can Can,”

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Jerry Herman’s Dear World was based on Jean Giraudoux‘s The Madwoman of Chaillot about the schemes of Countesses Aurelia, Constance and Gabrielle to stop businessmen from drilling for oil in their neighborhood. Although the forces of idealism, love and poetry won over greed, materialism and science in the play, they didn’t make customers shell out shekels for seats. Herman’s concern about the environment was ahead of its time. Creative differences between star Angela Lansbury and directors, writers, etc. didn’t help and a massive production dwarfed the simplicity of the original tale. The score was upscale and ambitious, maybe even operatic, but certainly not in Ricky Ritzel’s scratchy vocal range. Particularly “I Don’t Want to Know,” which was perfect for Liza during her better days. However, Aaron Morishita, Jay Rogers in where did they get those hats and Sidney Myer in an couldn’t be madder Into the Wood wig stolen from Meryl Streep’s dressing room, stopped the show with The Tea Party!

 

And a great time was had by all.

 

If you’ve never seen a Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway, Number 14 will be ready for viewers at 7 PM on Thursday Night October 27th. Reserve a seat at Don’t Tell Mama and just sit back and enjoy. Ask anyone whose seen one. There ain’t nothing quite like it anywhere in the world!

Photos: Maryann Lopinto

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