Ethel Merman returned to Broadway after a five year absence in this entertaining if slight musical. "Happy Hunting" ran for a year on her popularity but still lost money (unheard of for a Merman show) so there was plenty of blame thrown around. What's now left is this long out-of-print cast recording, which points to some of the problems. Merman's numbers are fine if predictable, and they are especially tailored to her unique delivery and vocal appeal. She's terrific on songs such as, "Gee, But It's Good to Be Here", "Mr. Livingstone" (an "Annie Get Your Gun" knock-off) and the title song. Her troublesome co-star, Fernando Lamas (the liner notes indicate they got along not one whit), possessed a surprisingly fine singing voice but he and Merman had zilch in the chemistry department and it shows. Their duet, "This Much I Know", is stilted and dry. "Ingenue" Virginia Gibson, considered a star-in-the-making at the time, barely registers on her four songs and is trounced by Merman in their rather lively duet "Mutual Admiration Society".
If this review sounds all over the place well, it's because that best describes "Happy Hunting". Socko numbers are followed by tripe, Merman hits home runs while other cast members strike out, and the overall air of "what-could-have-been" is palpable. So why bother with this recording? One reason, but it's a dilly: Merman. This immortal Broadway legend only recorded four of her many musicals (five, if you consider that she recorded "Annie..." twice) and "Happy Hunting" perfectly captures the Merman magic when she was at the height of her prodigious powers, which is saying something. She once said "'Happy Hunting' was a jeep among limousines...if you didn't mind the bumpy ride, it got you there." Yes, it did Ethel. But only because you were in the driver's seat.