The title Call Me Miss Birds Eye riffs off Merman’s famous line during rehearsals for Lindsay and Crouse’s Call Me Madam. While this current show succeeds in knocking off the chill and warming up the temperature a bit, it remains only partially thawed, perhaps because its ambitions were a bit too large.
Brought to ACT by the Australian company, Acoustic Voice, Call Me Miss Birds Eye, claims to be the world’s only acoustic theatre company. While that claim would certainly raise the ire of the unmic-ed performers throughout the Bay Area, Artistic Director and accompanist Dr. Graham Clarke is on to a good thing. I’ve sat through too much poor mixing not to appreciate what he is trying to do. However, doing Ethel Merman might not be the best place to demonstrate the virtues of a purely acoustic voice.
In truth, as long as you aren’t thinking of the late Ms. Merman, Call me Miss Birds Eye is an entirely lovely show. Denise Wharmby, along with Martin Grimwood and Martin Bridges, presented a fast-paced revue of more than 30 Merman faves wrapped in a bio-pic type format that took the audience from Merman’s days as a stenographer through the golden age of Broadway. The problem was this just wasn’t enough to carry the evening.
Wharmby’s first full-length gown was pure eye candy.
Wharmby’s well-developed voice has a rich vibrato that easily reached the cheap seats in ACT’s Geary Theatre during this 2 hour show (one intermission). Choice of material – much of which featured songs by George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter – was spot on. Costume changes flowed easily. Wharmby’s first full-length gown was pure eye candy. However, while she matches Merman’s ability to hold a note until the oxygen in the room gives out, she lacks Merman’s legendary power and volume. This makes for an interesting evening, but not one I’d go out of my way to catch.
Supporting vocalist dapper Don Bridges brought us a 1950’s-ish entertainer with a smile that could overpower the most resistant used-car buyer. Grimwood, for his part, was equally good, except for one wooden moment when his voice and style seemed painfully absent. However, choreography involving both gentlemen was spot on and perfectly executed, designed to delight, but not overwhelm. Fellow reviewer George Heymont might have said it best: “Why are two guys singing songs originally sung by Ethel Merman?”
Call Me Miss Bird’s Eye: A Celebration of Ethel Merman will be at the A.C.T. through July 19th.