CALL ME MADAM
book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse music & lyrics by Irving Berlin.
Union Theatre 204 Union Street SE1 0LX To 27 October 2012.
Tue–Sat 7.30pm Sun 2pm & 6pm Mat 27 Oct 3pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0207 261 9876.
Review: William Russell 13 October.
Lavish but dead.
There are musicals which are of their time and which possibly should be left to those who wish to listen to or play the scores, and Call me Madam is one of them. Irving Berlin wrote a dozen good songs, but it is, and always was, a one joke show as well as a vehicle for a specific star, Ethel Merman.
The joke is long-forgotten Washington hostess, Pearl Mesta (once known as ‘the hostess with the mostest’ for her lavish parties), who was made US ambassador to Luxembourg. It also has a dreadfully juvenile book which makes jokes about Harry Truman’s daughter singer Margaret, meaningless today. As political satire it is weak, to say the least. (“Ike is good on a mike”), while in terms of plot Act Two has nowhere to go.
Michael Strassen has directed this dodo with great style. There is a terrific set – one of the best-looking ever to grace the Union – by Chris de Wilde, and musical director Ross Leadbeater on piano is an orchestra in himself.
But, that said, although she can belt a song well enough, Lucy Williamson as the hostess with the mostes’, Mrs Sally Adams, ambassador to the Grand Duchy of Lichtenburg, fails to enchant, mugging shamelessly at the audience with glazed eyes, the juvenile leads are dreary and as Lichtenburg Foreign Minister Cosmo Constantine, Gavin Kerr, while undeniably handsome, lacks the essential charm for such a role.
He also does not get to sing, a mistake not made in The Sound of Music, with an equally tricky male leading role. (In the score Cosmo sings the Lichtenburg song, but Kerr does not sing it here).
There are perhaps too many tenors in the ensemble – the vocal sound gets scratchy – and while there is some nice dancing, the dance numbers are also not quite right; the ‘Washington Square Dance’ is just not square enough.
Look at the set, the pretty dresses, however, and enjoy Berlin’s songs – they do not compose them like that any more – and it is a reasonable night out. For the real thing, try the movie.
Sally Adams: Lucy Williamson.
Cosmo Constantine: Gavin Kerr.
Kenneth Gibson: Leo Miles.
Princess Maria: Natalie Lupine.
Senator Gallagher: Blake J Askew.
Senator Brock bank: Ralph Birdwell.
Senator Wilkins: Jay Worthy.
Sebastian Sebastian/ the Duke: Hugh Darbyshire.
Pemberton Maxwell/ Ensemble: Hans Rye.
Mrs Gibson/the Duchess/Ensemble: Carmen Vass.
Ensemble: Julia Jade-Duffy.
Ensemble: Luke Jarvis.
Ensemble: Matthew McLoughlin.
Ensemble: Jenna Moore.
Ensemble: Dawn Williams.
Ensemble: Liam Wrate.
Director/Staging: Michael Strassen.
Designer: Chris de Wilde.
Lighting: Jon Winn.
Musical Director: Ross Leadbeater.
Choreographer: Mark Smith.