Call Me Madam | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Call Me Madam 

It will be interesting to see how this 1950 political parody, being performed as part of the "Ovations!" concert series, will play in 2001. Written for Ethel Merman by songwriter Irving Berlin as a follow-up to Annie Get Your Gun, it spoofs such still timely targets as partisan bickering, pocketbook diplomacy, and the corrupting influence of money on government. Sally Adams, to be played here by Jo Anne Worley, is a Washington "hostess with the mostes'" who's named by President Truman to serve as ambassador to tiny, neutral Lichtenburg. (The story's inspiration was Truman's appointment of D.C. party giver Perle Mesta as ambassador to Luxembourg.) Utterly lacking in qualifications except for her deep pockets and down-to-earth irreverence, Sally charms Lichtenburg's prime minister, Cosmo Constantine, with her comic gaucherie. As their relationship grows more personal, she becomes the scapegoat of Truman's Republican opponents, chomping at the bit to reclaim the White House after nearly 30 years of Democratic rule. ("They Like Ike" eventually became Eisenhower's campaign song; Berlin wasn't shy about his rightward leanings.) With a script by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse (Life With Father), the show was a Broadway hit under George Abbott's direction, but it's rarely produced today. Its best-known song remains "You're Just in Love," an inventive contrapuntal duet sung by Sally and her lovesick press aide Kenneth--played here by Malcolm Gets, best known from TV's Caroline in the City despite impressive New York music-theater credentials. The excellent supporting cast, mostly local, includes Dennis Kelly as the urbane Cosmo; the superb Kevin Stites conducts a full orchestra in Berlin's brassy, bouncy score. If director Gary Griffin can keep Worley from cluttering up her role with shtick, the results should be very entertaining. Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress, 312-902-1500. Opens Wednesday, May 9, 7:30 PM. Through May 13: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 3 PM. $19-$77.

--Albert Williams

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