Book of Merman

Book of Merman: missionary position

No, that's not Mormon. It's Merman, as in Ethel, and Triangle has a lot of fun with its West Coast premiere parody.


If Mel Brooks and Cole Porter had a musical baby, it would be The Book of Merman, the parody parody playing at Triangle Productions through December 19 in its West Coast premiere.

That’s Merman, not Mormon.

Ethel Merman was the brassy voice of the Great White Way, who cemented her fan base by cutting through orchestras without a mic, and the fathers of Broadway wrote just for her. Her star was too big and bright for the screen, but her performances onstage in Porter’s DuBarry Was a Lady and as Mama Rose in Sondheim and Laurent’s Gypsy defined the roles. She was on par with Judy Garland and Tallulah Bankhead, but didn’t suffer from their penchant for overindulging in the liquor and medicine cabinets. She worked endlessly up until her death in 1984, and in later performances found a gentle irony as she appeared more frequently to look like she was in drag.

Carver and Shindler divide their affections. Photo: Triangle Productions

Carver and Shindler divide their affections. Photo: Triangle Productions

The Book of Merman, with a book by the playwright Leo Schwartz, is a parody of the hit The Book of Mormon and several of the American standards that Merman made famous. But in this musical, the two Mormon elders have better luck at the end of their missionary day. Elder Shumway (Collin Carver) and Elder Braithwaite (William Shindler) are goodie-two-shoes with milk-and-cookie personalities that come off with a hint of a Bobby, Victor, Hans or Herman from Cabaret – that is to say, their love of an ascetic life, maybe a lifestyle that represses a more human kind of love. Shumway has a little come-hither in his eye, and Braithwaite is all the innocent smiles of a kid at his first county fair.