The Book of Merman

pride films & Plays
The Book of Merman

(based on an idea of David G. Zak)

Book, Music, and Lyrics by Leo Schwartz

Directed by David Zak

Music Direction by Robert Ollis

Produced by Pride Films & Plays

At Mary’s Attic, Chicago

Mormons and Merman unite for a fun filled musical treat.

David G. Zak’s idea led composer Leo Schwartz (2013 Jeff Award winner for Best New Work for his musical Under A Rainbow Flag) to create a parody and tribute of Ethel Merman including references to her outrageous style and her thundering voice. Libby Lane sure gives Merman sweetness and musical chops, but Schwartz understood that younger audiences, even young gay show queens may not know about Merman and her mystique so a ‘hook’ was needed. Cleverly, two lovable Mormon boys, door-to-door missionaries on their 18 month drive were created.


The star-stuck closeted show queen Aaron (the exuberant Sam Button-Harriosn) and his missionary partner Jacob (Dan Gold) the seriously dedicated Mormon stumble upon Ethel Merman’s door after an exhausting day of spreading the Mormon word. Aaron is excited to meet Ethel, yet Jacob doesn’t know about or appreciate the Broadway and film musical legend.

From the opening number, “Hello,” an inspired parody of the hit musical The Book of Mormon, Schwartz sucks in the younger Broadway fans to his show. We instantly love these delightful boys. Schwartz gives this smart, sophisticated chamber musical witty, funny, and smooth lyrics that convey the flavor of their paraded sources. Sam Button-Harrison and Dan Gold have a dynamic stage chemistry to go with their golden voices and create an empathetic couple who radiate warmth and a deep attraction.

Once Libby Lane delivers the tune, “Most People” (reference “Some People” from Gypsy), we sure appreciate Lane’s  channeling of Merman as well as Schwartz’s razor sharp lyrical parody. Libby Lane is enchanting and endearing as she brings  Merman to life.  Her fun tune, “You’re The Best” (reference “You’re The Top” from Anything Goes) with help from Gold and Button-Harrison was a hoot!

Beside Leo  Schwartz’s clever parody of established tunes, he was composed several terrific original songs that play nicely and sound fine. “Look at Them,” “Because of You,” and “Better Than You” reflect Schwartz’s talent. This 85 minute (with intermission)  musical is a joy as a fun-filled musical parody of a legendary star with sweet references to those lovable boys who may ring your doorbell in their white shirts, black ties and black pants. So when they say: “Hello” hope they follow with a cute tune from Leo Schwartz’s songbook.

If you love Ethel Merman (as I do) or were charmed by The Book of Mormon and/or you love Broadway musical (as I do), then get to Mary’s Attic in Andersonville to take in The Book of Merman. It smart, well sung, and loads of fun. This show is one of those shows with such a large appear that it could easily “get legs” and become of those long running Chicago shows because its charm, wit, and sweetness has a universal appeal. It is a terrific date night show or a girls (or boys) night out show. It is funny and most entertaining.

Highly Recommended

Jeff Recommended

At Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark, Chicago, IL, call 1-800-838-3006,, tickets $25, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm,  Sundays at 5pm, running time is 85 minutes with intermission, through February 15, 2015


I agree with Tom that the show is amusing and warm-hearted. Knowledge of Ethyl Merman is not really essential to appreciating the humor. Enough of her performance style has probably filtered to young theatre-goers through osmosis that they’ll know enough to understand her role in the story. The same is true of The Book of Mormon references for older people. I also agree about the talent of the cast. Everybody’s singing is strong enough for comedy in a small space, and more importantly, they have the timing, irony, and sense of ease to sell the comedic atmosphere. Really the play is about the relationship between the closeted missionaries, with Merman as a sort of mentor and guide. The “elders” are treated condescendingly (I was surprised it took until the start of the second act for them to unwittingly make a bunch of double-entendres towards each other), but in a way that only expresses hostility toward the isolated, homophobic environment the Mormons were raised in, not the young men themselves. It’s a simple, light-hearted fantasy about liberating yourself through art. What’s not to like?

Jacob Davis

Playing at the Apollo Theater Studio, 2540 N Lincoln, Chicago. Tickets are $30, call 773-935-6100 or visit Plays Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and 3:30 pm on Sundays through April 5. Running time is eight-five minutes with one intermission.