Monday, August 29, 2011

"The Merm"

"By the time she is finished with either a song or a part she possesses it completely, and very nearly possesses all the other performers and has, at least, a lien on the scenery."—Brooks Atkinson
40 years of Broadway smashes. Never had a flop. Starring roles in the original Anything Goes, DuBarry Was a Lady, Panama Hattie, and Red, Hot and Blue by Cole Porter (who said she sounded like "a band going by"), Girl Crazy by the Gershwins, Call Me Madam and Annie Get Your Gun by Irving Berlin, and Gypsy by Jule Styne & Stephen Sondheim.
Few people are around to testify how electrifying this musical theater legend was in her heyday. But Brian Kellow's biography of the bold, bawdy, brassy, sassy star gives an inkling, while dishing up a banquet of Broadway and Hollywood lore. Although Merman's element was first and last the stage, her megawatt persona can be sampled in these films of her singing and dancing up a storm in various tv condensations and medleys of her hit shows (except for the first excerpt, which is a high point of a fairly abysmal film version of Anything Goes).

When she took over the lead role in Hello Dolly in 1970, Merman still had the stuff. In the New York Times, Walter Kerr called her voice "exactly as trumpet-clean, exactly as pennywhistle piercing, exactly as Wurlitzer wonderful as it always was."

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