There’s no seven year itch at Don’t Tell Mama. The people still love Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway night.
by Stephen Mosher Aug. 4, 2021
In 1985 Great Performances on PBS presented a television special titled “The Best of Broadway” that featured Tom Bosley hosting a treasure trove of performers from the American Musical Theater performing the numbers that they made famous on the Broadway stage. The glittery evening has, since, become a legendary moment in TV broadcasting that has delighted and informed the lives of musical theater lovers everywhere, especially since most of the show (if not all of it) can be found on YouTube. The model of the show has been used many times in nightclubs and cabarets, year in and year out, as an emcee or host discusses shows, composers, Broadway, tells stories, trivia, factoids, gossip, rumors, and then presents their own lineup of performers to showcase particular numbers from the shows in question, both the numbers and the performers painstakingly curated for maximum effect and enjoyment.
Now in its seventh year at Don’t Tell Mama, the Ricky Ritzel helmed monthly variety show is probably the club’s most popular offering, so it doesn’t really need the press. But when I heard Tanya Moberly was going to be singing the song “I Had a Ball” I knew I had to see it, so I booked my press seat – and I am so very glad that I did because Mr. Ritzel’s evening was an absolute delight, from start to finish, but for reasons that are very personal to me. First of all, Don’t Tell Mama is my neighborhood club and a place I have frequented since the early Nineteen Nineties. The rooms in this club hold a history for me, an affection, a connection, as do the people who make up the Don’t Tell Mama family, most of whom make up the cast members of Ritzel’s show. Indeed, just about every performer on stage last Friday night was somebody I’ve either seen at Mama’s or know personally… and so was most of the audience. It was like being in the audience at “The Best of Broadway” only without the glitz on the stage or off the stage – Don’t Tell Mama isn’t known and loved for its’ elegance, it is adored for its comfortable, casual, West Village dive vibe – it’s a neighborhood haunt where everybody knows your name (yes, I said it, and because it’s accurate). There is no need for glitz and glamor, and everyone knows it – it’s a good thing they know it, too, because they don’t get it. What they get is good neighborhood fun and solid entertainment with a sole focus on Broadway. Indeed, a number of times Ricky Ritzel, speaking from the piano, said, “I’m glad we’re all friends.” That’s who makes up the audience at Ritzel’s show: friends and regular patrons who have come to rely on Ricky and co. for laughs, entertainment, and fun, which they get…. And then some.
For his show on Friday night, Ricky Ritzel musical directed an evening dedicated to the Broadway musicals BYE BYE BIRDIE, DO I HEAR A WALTZ?, and I HAD A BALL. From his perch behind the piano, Ritzel read synopses from the shows (some more involved than others because, obviously, more people already know the story of “Birdie” than do “Waltz” or “Ball”), and all the backstage stories, before introducing a slew of artists to present a handful of numbers from the plays. All of the performers were wonderfully talented and, in fact, each of them more invested in the songs they were singing than some of the artists one might observe doing their own solo show. Watching each actor drop, without benefit of being immersed in the full arc of the story, right into the character and mood of each number was very fun and quite inspiring, to say nothing of the outright joy of hearing some show tunes one doesn’t get to hear every day of the week. Mr. Ritzel arranges a splendid cast, well matching each artist to each character. He is to be congratulated on this, as well as the entire quality of the production, as well as seven years longevity.
If there were anything Mr. Ritzel could work on, at this stage of this gig, it would be not relying quite so heavily on his tablet. It is perfectly understandable that he needs a script of some kind from which to read – after all, he is creating a new show every month. The fact that he is a performer of vintage years also gives him a little leeway when it comes to not actively memorizing every word of his show – but the truth is that he already knows everything he wants to say, and everyone knows it. Ricky Ritzel has an encyclopedic memory of show business and knows every storyline and every backstory … so having a script in front of him should just be a prompting tool. He spends a great deal of his show actually talking to the audience informally, which is insanely entertaining, but each time he returns to his tablet, he has to find his place again, scrolling up and down to locate it. It might not be a bad idea to return to a script in a three-ring binder if only to eliminate the clock-eating act of scrolling. It isn’t terrible, it isn’t enough to diminish the enjoyment of the show… but to say that it does not become a bit frustrating to witness would be accurate. Thank goodness everyone in the room is a friend and very forgiving, and thank goodness Ricky Ritzel is so easy to forgive and easy to love.
This little suggestion aside, Ricky Ritzel‘s Broadway is most certainly going strong, seven years after being created, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t continue to be Don’t Tell Mama‘s most popular recurring series – it is absolutely entertaining, as well as being a show everybody wants to perform in, and with good reason, too: it’s a wonderful time spent in a Broadway deep dive, and who doesn’t want a little bit of that in their life?
The cast of the July 30th Ricky Ritzel‘s Broadway was (in order of appearance) Tara Martinez, Jon Satrom, Sidney Myer, Aaron Morishita, Eadie Scott, Sean Patrick Murtagh, Tanya Moberly and Warren Schein.