BWW Reviews: MTG Brings Back CALL ME MADAM
Call Me Madam/music & lyrics by Irving Berlin/book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse/directed by John Bowab/Alex Theatre, Glendale, November 19/ 7:30pm/ Thousand Oaks Plaza, November 25/ 2 pm matinee
The beauty of being a member of a group like Musical Theatre Guild is that actors get an opportunity to perform roles that they might not ordinarily be cast in...in the real world. Such is the case with Irving Berlin/ Russel & Crouse's Call Me Madam, a dated but still fun lightweight satirical musical that provided a great role for Ethel Merman on Broadway in 1950, Sally Adams, based on Washington socialite and Ambassador to Luxembourg Perle Mesta. Both Tyne Daly and Leslie Uggams have revived the role in the 90s in and around New York, and Karen Morrow successfully essayed it in LA for Reprise about 10 years ago.
In this concert staged reading from MTG, lovely Eileen Barnett plays Adams. In spite of her beautiful voice and classy, humane stage presence, she is just not right for Sally Adams. As critics said when Maureen Stapleton played Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, "She's too nice". Barnett doesn't give that brash, brassy quality usually associated with Adams. But good actress that she is, she gives it what she's got, and for the most part, considering that this is a staged reading, she puts it over. When Adams becomes Ambassador to Lichetenburg in the play, she meets and falls head over heels in love with Cosmo Constantine played here by Gordon Goodman, another fine actor with a great set of pipes. In spite of his legit sounding accent and all, he still does not give off the potently romantic quality necessary to allure the unrefined Adams. But his voice and acting are strong, so in this context, it's OK.
Robin DeLano as Princess Maria and Jeffrey Christopher Todd as Kenneth Gibson fare much better, exuding just the right sparks. Also excellent in character roles are Kevin Symons as Sebastian Sebastian, Chris Carothers as Pemberton Maxwell, Helen Geller as Grand Duchess Sophie and David Holmes as both Senator Gallagher and Grand Duke Otto. John Bowab has nicely staged the reading and Jane Lanier has provided some terrific choreography.
And of course, who could not love hearing Irving Berlin's beautiful tunes performed so lovingly like "The Best Thing For You (Would Be Me)", "You're Just in Love", and the corny but lilting "It's a Lovely Day Today" among others.
When the trio of Senators (Steven Hack, Mark C. Reis, David Holmes) sing "They Like Ike", it's a really fun moment, witnessing how American politics of the 50s made its way into the mainstream of conservative Europe. As always, much praise to MTG for keeping staged readings of rarely seen musicals like Call Me Madam alive.