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Call Me Madam (1950 Musical Cast Recording)


Music: Irving Berlin
Lyrics: Irving Berlin
Performed by: Dinah Shore, Paul Lukas, Russell Nype and Galina Talva
Masterworks Broadway
RRP: £13.99
8 864434 86010
Available 14 August 2012

It sometimes surprises me that, even though I'm regarded as somewhat of an expert on musical theatre, and its recordings, certain musicals just seem to have passed me by. One such example is Call Me Madam, so I was glad when Broadway Masterworks released the 1950 Studio Cast Recording, on CD and Digital Download for the first time.

Call Me Madam is a musical with a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse and music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. A satire on politics and foreign affairs that spoofs America's penchant for lending billions of dollars to needy countries, it centres on Sally Adams, a well-meaning but ill-informed socialite widow who is appointed United States Ambassador to the fictional European country of Lichtenburg. While there, she charms the local gentry, especially Cosmo Constantine, while her press attaché Kenneth Gibson falls in love with Princess Maria.

The show originally premiered on Broadway in 1950, starring Ethel Merman as Adams, playing opposite Russell Nype. It later toured, with Elaine Stritch in the leading role, and came to London in 1952 starring Billie Worth. There have been more recent productions in the US, starring Tyne Daly, and Leslie Uggams. Merman also starred in the 1953 20th Century Fox movie version.

Its recorded history is slightly more confusing. There are two recordings from the original production, one featuring Merman entitled Songs from Call Me Madam and one featuring Dinah Shore, billed as The Original Show Album, despite Shore having not appeared in it. Previously only available on LP or Public Domain release, it is this one that Broadway Masterworks have chosen to re-issue here.

Call Me Madam is full of 'so that's where it comes from' songs - songs you know, but never really knew they were from the show, or even by Irving Berlin. On this recording, they are handled well enough by the cast, Shore being the strongest by far. Nype also gives a commanding performance, with two of the tracks he is involved in ('Once Upon a Time Today' and 'It's A Lovely Day Today') being my favourites of the whole album. Paul Lukas struggles vocally with his performances, although I am guessing his is more of a character role.

Whilst I normally applaud cast album producers for including libretto with the songs to give them meaning, and to give the listener an idea of the story behind them, on this occasion the inclusion of a spoken narrative actually detracts from the music. Indeed, at one point it is included over the top of a number, robbing us of the chorus's vocal performance. This, coupled with some less-than-clear instrumental passages means that, whilst it's good to have this version available in CD format, it's not one I would rush to listen to again.


Ian Gude

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