MvVO Art Launches AD ART SHOW
Off Broadway

NYCC Encores! Gleefully Dances Out Call Me Madam

NYCC Encores! Gleefully Dances Out Call Me Madam

Encores! latest, Call Me Madam is billed as a light political satire musical from the 1950’s, but it fits quite well in the landscape of modern America, where politicians, like Congressman Wilkins, delightfully portrayed with charm by the always delightful Adam Heller (Off-Broadway’s Popcorn Falls), proclaim their political affiliations, “I’m the Republican“, at every moment they can. But in this particularly agreeable, although not exactly politically correct musical that spoofs with a wink and smile; American politics, foreign policy, and the tendency for throwing millions of dollars to needy countries without much thought or concern, at least this Republican and his two charmingly friendly Democrats, Senator Gallagher, played sweetly by the brilliant Brad Oscar (Broadway’s Something Rotten!), and Senator Brockbank, played adorably by Stanley Wayne Mathis (Broadway’s Nice Work If You Can Get It), they easily can join together in a across the aisle soft-shoe song and dance, “They Like Ike” linking arms and tipping their hats most adorably to us all. It’s exactly what this light and warm musical does best, be charming and sweet, while giving us something to smile and hum about for days to come.

City Center
Brad Oscar, Adam Heller, Stanley Wayne Mathis. Credit: Stephanie Berger.

It’s a delightfully old fashioned Irving Berlin (music and lyrics: Holiday Inn) musical, with a sweet natured book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse (The Sound of Music with a score by Rodgers& Hammerstein): people bypassing the difficulties of political dysfunction and non-alignment, and enjoying a few cocktails and smiles all together, occasionally participating in a friendly non-partisan “Washington Square Dance” party thrown by a socialite songstress. It’s pure heaven, and as the stunningly harmonious overture, delivered by Encores!Music Director Rob Berman (Broadway’s Tuck Everlasting) and the Encores! Orchestra with a musical perfection that would make my big band father smile with with pleasure, fills the beautiful New York City Center, where Encores! skillfully is bringing back Call Me Madam, to celebrate NYCC’s 75th Anniversary season reveling in the return to simpler times. This is by far not the greatest of musicals of its time period, especially when taking into account the stellar creative team behind it. When it first premiered back on October 12, 1950 at the Imperial Theatre, it did laid claim to a record advance sale of $2 million dollars and grossing over its run of 644 performances more than $4 million. This probably had more to do with its star, the power house legend herself, Ethel Merman, than its construction, although The New York Times thought it was one of Berlin’s “most enchanting scores” and the New York Post stated that Merman was “indescribably soul-satisfying“.  The show’s back story is absolutely charming though, as if it was pulled right out of an old fashioned musical itself. The book writer Lindsay, a man widely known to be very interested in Washington’s political maneuverings, had the idea, after watching American icon, Ethel Merman sunning herself beside a swimming pool, that a musical about society doyenne Perle Meste would be the perfect next vehicle for the Broadway legend. And even though she wasn’t convinced originally (she wanted to star in something far more serious), history tells a different story, and Call Me Madambecame another legendary Tony Award winning performance for the actress. But surprisingly, even after such a solid success on Broadway and many popular years on tour, Call Me Madam fell by the wayside, forgotten while other Berlin masterpieces continued to live on and on.

City Center
Carmen Cusack, Carol Kane, Darrell Hammond, Lauren Worsham. Credit: Stephanie Berger.

In 1995, Encores!, as it embarked on its second season, felt that it needed a financial hit in order to secure its place in New York City’s theatrical landscape and keep the Encore ball rolling forward. It was decided, that 45 years after its debut, Encores! would open the 1995 Encores! season starring Tyne Daly, with the hope that the star would attract not only the critics, but the public’s theatrical dollars. It was a resounding success, and the current Encores! folk decided to bring back all the freshness and sassiness that resides so sweetly in this satire. And with the casting of the phenomenal Tony-nominee Carmen Cusack (Broadway’s Bright Star) as the charming and undeniably unrefined Sally Adams, the “chosen party giver”, dressed to perfection in gloriously curvy designs by costume designer, Jen Caprio (Broadway’s Falsettos, Off-Broadway’s Daniel’s Husband), it’s an undeniable old-fashioned Lichtenburg treat that shouldn’t be missed. Call Me Madam is joyful and fun and as directed with a skilled hand by Casey Hushion (currently resident/ associate director of Broadway’s Mean GirlsThe Prom), even with the slowness of Act One and repetitive nature of its numerous reprises, this old classic can’t be ignored. “Reprise“, I will say, could easily be the operative word for the writing style of this particular type of musicals, and Call Me Madam, like the other musicals of that era, utilizes the repeat button a few too many times, reminding me of the enjoyable but somewhat dusty South Pacific, and that too often reprised number, “Some Enchanted Evening“.

City Center
Jason Gotay, Carmen Cusack,. Credit: Stephanie Berger.

Call Me Madam follows somewhat closely to the real life story and surprising rise of the larger than life Perle Mesta, who was gifted with the title of the Ambassador to Luxembourg; an appointment that was basically a political favor for the friendly, fun, and very wealthy socialite, but it was also pretty ground-breaking for any woman at this time in history. Putting aside the swampiness of the premise, the fictional Sally Adams, the centerpiece of this fabulous musical gem of a party, finds herself dancing off to the fictional country of Lichtenburg, mainly because of her ability to throw a great big fun party, totally showcased in the delicious opening number, “The Hostess with the Mostes’ On the Ball“; a catch phrase that lives on and on. As with most of this show, especially the joyful but silly “Something To Dance About” that kicks off the much better Act Two, some of the more lightweight songs, for the most part, are disposable. It’s almost distracting sometimes that a few of the songs remind us, just slightly, of other better numbers from other shows, but there are enough original slices of musical heaven to make it all worth while, even if you are constantly reminded of better shows from the 50’s like, The King and I, Carousel, and My Fair Lady.

City Center
Carmen Cusack, Ben Davis. Credit: Stephanie Berger.

Joining Sally on the journey is the absolutely amazing and lovingly adorkable son of a Congressman, Kenneth Gibson, played to glorious perfection by the beautifully voiced Jason Gotay (Broadway’s Peter Parker in Spider- Man: Turn Off the Dark) [did I put enough positive descriptives there?], who knows far more about the country than the Ambassador ever intends to learn or understand (once again, put aside the questionable swampiness of that set-up). These two talented souls are the main reasons to see this enjoyable Encores! production. They are simply magnificent and completely engaging throughout, especially when they sing probably the most famously delightful song, “You’re Just In Love“. It’s by far the best moment of the night. It’s a stellar rendition of the song that Ethel Merman insisted on being written just so she had a chance to sing a duet with her fantastic co-star Russell Nype. It has been said that nightly encores (click here to hear them sing this lovely song) were demanded of Merman and Nype back in 1950, and it’s no wonder, the song is a standout, especially with Cusack and Gotay lending their wonderful and harmonious pipes to the number. Gotay dazzles, but not just here. His solo, “Once Upon A Time, Today” is just as beautifully as Cusack’s “The Best Thing For You” which she lovingly duets with the handsome and velvety voiced Ben Davis (Broadway’s 2003 Tony Honor for La bohème), the head politician in Lichtenburg, Cosmo Constantine. Their romance is delightful, quick and straight to the point, filling us up with its charming organic cheese, a speciality of Lichtenburg. He’s gloriously handsome even when belting out the innocuous and slight “Lichtenburg“, a song about women and exported cheese that dulls his rich vocals with its questionablely silly lyrics. Luckily for him and for us, he is given many more opportunities to show what a perfect foil he is for the sexy and exciting Cusack. And for that we are eternally grateful.

City Center
Jason Gotay,  Lauren Worsham. Credit: Stephanie Berger.

Shining just as brightly is the perfectly hilarious and stunningly voiced Lauren Worsham (NYCC Gala’s Sunday in the Park with George) as the sweet and timid Princess Maria, daughter to the Grand Duke Otto (the very funny Darrell Hammond) and the Grand Duchess Sophie (the absolutely brilliant Carol Kane). Her pair as royal parents are brilliantly funny, but it is Worsham that enlivens the stage every time she steps out from the wings, even when performing the perfectly ridiculous song and dance number, “The Ocarina“. It’s hilariously silly but with the stunningly fun choreography by Denis Jones (Upcoming Broadway’s Tootsie, Encores!: Hey, Look Me Over!) and Worsham’s delivery, it wins us over with ease.  But it is in the more romantically charged moments, particularly the sweet and charming “It’s A Lovely Day Today” and the trepidatious manner of her vocals that engages us, and when she gets down on one knee, we can’t help but love her all the more.

City Center
New York City Center Encores! Call Me Madam‘s ensemble.  Credit: Stephanie Berger.

Call Me Madam is as joyfully a night as you can hope for, honoring all that Encores! represents. On top of all the fun and witty merriment in Lichtenburg, we also are given the treat of seeing video sensation Randy Rainbow ham it up in his signature pink glasses as the Prime Minister of Lichtenburg, Sebastian Sebastian, as well as the sadly underused, Michael Benjamin Washington (2005 Broadway revival La Cage Aux Folles) as Pemberton Maxwell, a character who struggles at first against the unorthodox manner of Cusack’s Sally Adams, but is forced, as we all are, to succumb to her fabulousness. Both deliver exactly what is needed in these small roles, enhancing Call Me Madam with the exact right amount of humor and charm.

The complicated real life trouble that exists in politics presently when money and power collide is hard not to notice and wince, even when laughing at the smart jabs of being so happy “I should be investigated“, but with Call Me Madam, leave those real world troubles outside, and shake the hand of the opposing party with glee, as we happily square dance the night away chaperoned and hosted by the magnificent and magnanimous Carmen Cusack, a power house in her own right, who certainly knows how to throw a grand ol’ party. Here’s hoping you have an invite or a hot little ticket in your pocket.

City Center
New York City Center presents Encores! production of Call Me Madam. Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin; Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse Featuring The Encores! Orchestra Encores! Artistic Director Jack Viertel Encores! Music Director Rob Berman Directed by Casey Hushion Choreography by Denis Jones Starring Carmen Cusack (center) with Ben Davis, Jason Gotay, Darrell Hammond, Adam Heller, Carol Kane, Stanley Wayne Mathis, Brad Oscar, Randy Rainbow, Michael Benjamin Washington, and Lauren Worsham. Credit: Stephanie Berger.

THE ENSEMBLE

FLORRIE BAGEL, DANIEL BERRYMAN, TAELER ELYSE CYRUS, LESLIE FLESNER,
TA’NIKA GIBSON, CHRISTOPHER GURR, LEAH HOROWITZ, JAVIER IGNACIO,
MAX KUMANGAI, MATT LOEHR, SKYE MATTOX, BRANDT MARTINEZ,
TIMOTHY MCDEVITT, HARRIS MILGRIM, BETHANY MOORE, MARY PAGE NANCE,
ROBBIE ROBY, KATHY VOYTKO, SUMI YU, RICARDO A. ZAYAS

Carmen Cusack and Randy Rainbow
Carmen Cusack, Randy Rainbow. Credit: Stephanie Berger.

THE ORCHESTRA

Music Director and Conductor: Rob Berman

Associate Music Director and Choral Preparation: Ben Whiteley

Violins: Suzanne Ornstein, Belinda Whitney, Mineko Yajima, Maura Giannini, Laura Seaton-Finn, Christoph Franzgrote, Lisa Matricardi, Kristina Musser, Lorra Bayliss; Violas: David Blinn, Shelley Holland Moritz, Carla Fabiani; Celli: Katherine Cherbas, Deborah Assael-Migliore; Bass: Richard Sarpola; Woodwinds: Steve Kenyon, Lino Gomez, David Young, Todd Groves, John Winder; French Horn: Zohar Schondorf; Trumpets:Don Downs, Glenn Drewes, Wayne du Maine; Trombones: Bruce Bonvissuto, Randy Andos; Drums/Percussion: Eric Poland; Guitar; Jay Berliner; Piano: David Gursky.

To secure your seats, please visit NYCityCenter.org, call CityTix at 212.581.1212,
or visit the New York City Center Box Office at 131 W 55th St

For more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

More in Off Broadway

Exposed Let’s Talk About Sex and Porn

Suzanna BowlingFebruary 18, 2019
Carla Duren, Lindsay Nicole Chambers, Megan Sikora and Sharon Catherine Brown

Get a Preview of Chick Flick the Musical

Suzanna BowlingFebruary 17, 2019
Marc Sinoway, Julian Joseph,THE WAITING GAME

An Interview with Marc Sinoway on Snowy Owl’s The Waiting Game at 59E59

RossFebruary 17, 2019

Sis Amiss an Introduction to a Talented Actress and Playwright

Suzanna BowlingFebruary 16, 2019

The Day Before Spring A Gem of A Musical

Suzanna BowlingFebruary 15, 2019

NY WinterFest Meet The Playwrights: HIV/A.I.D.S. Still Has Brien Somers Writing Prolifically

Suzanna BowlingFebruary 15, 2019

He Says: Classic Stage Company Reworks Two 19th Century Strindberg Plays

RossFebruary 14, 2019

CSC and August Strindberg: Why Are We Not Doing New Plays?

Suzanna BowlingFebruary 14, 2019

Between the Threads: Womanhood and Identity

Virginia JimenezFebruary 12, 2019