Broadway Star, Rita McKenzie, Dies at 76

Broadway Star, Rita McKenzie, Dies at 76

( – Rita McKenzie, the one-woman performer’s show, “Ethel Merman’s Broadway,” which made theatrical history, died on February 17. She was 76 years old. Her husband, Scott Stander, said that she died after a long illness.

McKenzie’s theatrical history began when her off-Broadway “Ethel Merman’s Broadway” show in 1988 became the one-woman production that ran the longest ever. As she performed Merman in her powerful, boisterous manner, the songs “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “I Got Rhythm,” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business” won her fans wherever she performed.

Ethel Merman’s parts in other plays were also performed by McKenzie, such as “Anything Goes!” as Reno Sweeney, “Gypsy” as Rose, and Annie in “Annie Get Your Gun.” She also starred in Neil Simon’s US tour of “The Female Odd Couple,” with Barbara Eden as her co-star.

She was born in New Jersey in Woodbridge Township, and appeared in the LA premiere of 1993’s “Ruthless! The Musical,” a Joel Paley and Marvin Laird’s production. McKenzie performed the role of the critic Lita Encore, who hated musical theater, as if she were Ethel Merman.

McKenzie had a cabaret and concert career and opened for Don Knotts, Donald O’Connor, Milton Berle, Steve Allen, and Norm Crosby. Orchestra conductors favored her, and she performed with the Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Baltimore Pops.

On the screen, she appeared in Rodney Dangerfield’s 1997 “Meet Wally Sparks” and in episodes of “Frasier,” “Caroline in the City,” “Daddy Dearest,” and “Big Brother Jake” opposite Don Rickles and Richard Lewis. She also played Alice, the housekeeper (originally Ann B. Davis) in “Unauthorized: Brady Bunch – The Final Days.”

McKenzie’s most recent appearance was as an interviewer for the stage performance of “Real Housewives,” which starred Caroline Manzo, Vicki Gunvalson, and Jill Zarin.

Along with her husband, Scott Stander, McKenzie’s survivors include her daughter, Jennifer, with son-in-law Tom; her son, Derek, with daughter-in-law Vanessa; her sister, Nancy, with brother-in-law Joe; and grandchildren, Thomas, Jackson, and Mason. No plans for a memorial were announced.

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