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BWW Reviews: THE BOOK OF MERMAN at Pride Films and Plays

Dan Gold, Libby Lane, & Sam Button-Harrison

Hello.

This should be stated straight out of the gate: Sam Button-Harrison, Dan Gold, and Libby Lane give master classes in quick-paced, one-two-punch comedic acting in Pride Film and Plays' Apollo Theater Studio remount of Leo Schwartz's The Book of Merman. You'll be hard-pressed to find a tighter (or smaller) ensemble rolling on the same strong level of golden beats and snappy one-liners.

With an original book, score and lyrics by Schwartz, The Book of Merman is a whacky send-up of the other popular Book (oddly enough currently back in the Loop) mixed with a good deal of variety show style camp. Two Mormon boys (the perfectly paired Button-Harrison and Gold) knock on the door of Ms. Ethel Merman during their poorly-attentive mission. Is this the real Ethel Merman? What follows is a wildly anachronistic trip down the road of fandom, self-doubt, belief, friendship, and slightly unnecessary out-of-left-field 11th hour reveal.

Yes, all that plus Schwartz's Mormon dramaturgy (more than its Broadway namesake) in a three-person parody.

While her signing is far more refined and polished than the grande dame she's portraying (would have loved to hear a few more warbles teetering off pitch), Lane gives spectacularly hysterical line readings as the brassy Merman. Her "Did you hear that, folks?!" deliveries take a moment to sink in, but when the work's done, they're stellar. This is in part with Schwartz's zippy script and director David Zak's equally energetic pacing. Musical director Robert Ollis has all three members sounding in keen condition, and the evening really pops when Merman and Mormons alike harmonize together alongside assistant musical director Justin Harner's keyboard accompaniment.

At 90 minutes with an intermission, The Book of Merman can feel like a ballooned sketch comedy bit, but with such strong performances, sweet original numbers, and nearly-recognizable tunes (many nods to Robert Lopez's second big Tony winner as well as Merman's warbly cannon), your time's filled with well-earned laughs.

And Mormon boys flexing. You can't miss them.

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The Book of Merman runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 3:30. General admission tickets $30 for Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Students and Seniors $25 per ticket. Premium tickets with prime reserved seating for each performance are $35 (available through the Apollo Theatre Box Office only). Tickets available through Ticketmaster and the Apollo Theater Box Office (773-935-6100).

Photo Credit: Alex Ray Meyers


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