Merman in Vegas

Ethel Merman

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Merman in Vegas Review

by William Ruhlmann

In the early '60s, following three decades of creating characters in Broadway musicals, Ethel Merman accepted an engagement at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas that was billed as her world-premiere nightclub appearance, a claim that conveniently forgot her nightclub work in New York in the late '20s and early '30s. But the Merman, now in her early fifties, who came out on-stage at the Flamingo was a different performer from the one who had sung in clubs in her early twenties. Merman had had the opportunity to introduce standards by many of the greatest Broadway composers, notably George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin, and necessarily her show featured that material heavily. But an act had been written for her, one guesses by Roger Edens, who wrote the opening song, a special number called "Just a Lady With a Song" that commented on her career. Edens, an MGM veteran, had been fashioning Judy Garland's act for years, and he did an efficient job with Merman. The heart of the act, naturally, was a big medley combining songs from such shows as Call Me Madam, Annie Get Your Gun, Anything Goes, and Gypsy. But there was also a version of "A Lot of Livin' to Do" from Bye Bye Birdie (one show in which Merman had not appeared) that was full of new lyrics mentioning everyone from John Glenn to Fabian. And even after the medley, Merman's catalog was deep enough to have left room for "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" and "There's No Business Like Show Business." In a sense, her career had been filled with showstoppers, and putting them all in one nightclub act was almost too much to take. But her voice remained powerful, and the show was a good summation of her work.

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