Rita McKenzie, Noted Ethel Merman Impersonator, Dies at 76 | Playbill

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Obituaries Rita McKenzie, Noted Ethel Merman Impersonator, Dies at 76

McKenzie was known for her performances in Ethel Merman's Broadway, Ruthless!, and more.

Noted Ethel Merman impersonator Rita McKenzie died February 17 at the age of 76 in Los Angeles following a long illness. The news was shared by her husband, Scott Stander.

McKenzie burst onto the scene in 1988 with her Off-Broadway solo show Ethel Merman's Broadway, establishing the performer as perhaps the nation's preeminent Merman impersonator. McKenzie had a unique gift for recreating Merman's trademark in-your-face belt, but she was equally adept at recreating Merman's charm and sense of humor. She would continue to perform the show throughout career, including as recently as 2016.

McKenzie also starred in many of Merman's most iconic roles, leading regional revivals of Anything Goes! and Gypsy, a national tour of Annie Get Your Gun, and more. She also starred opposite longtime friend Barbara Eden in a three-year US tour of the female version of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple.

One of McKenzie's most iconic performances came in the 1993 Los Angeles production of Marvin Laird and Joel Paley's Ruthless!, a campy send-up of The Bad SeedAll About EveGypsy, and other favorites. McKenzie played musical-hating theatre critic Lita Encore, largely taking on the role as if it were being played by Merman. McKenzie is featured on the musical's first cast album alongside the rest of the L.A. cast, and reprised her performance for the musical's 2015 Off-Broadway revival.

Watch McKenzie singing her signature song from Ruthless!, "I Hate Musicals," below:

McKenzie also enjoyed an extensive concert and cabaret career, opening for such performers as Milton Berle, Don Knotts, Norm Crosby, Donald O'Connor, and Steve Allen; and performing with the Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Baltimore Pops.

On screen, McKenzie appeared on Caroline in the CityFrasierMeet Wally Sparks, and Unauthorized The Brady Bunch - The Final Days.

McKenzie is survived by her husband, Scott Stander; daughter, Jennifer and her husband Tom Otto; son, Derek Pflug and his wife Vanessa; sister, Nancy and her husband Joe Wood; and three grandchildren, Mason and Jacksno Pflug and Thomas Otto.

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