Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Call Me Madam

As I learn more about musical theatre history, composers and styles, and as I hear more work, you would have to expect my tastes and opinions to change (or, "flip flop", if we're two people running for president in 2008). You learn new information, of course you're not going to think the same thing as you did before.

About 2 months ago I saw the end of the PBS documentary on the Roosevelts, and I went to the PBS webpage to see when it would air again (never). While I was there, I saw that they occasionally show a documentary from 2004, Broadway: the American musical. I obviously wanted to see this, so I asked for it for Christmas and watched the entire thing before the end of 2015. It was so great and so interesting. I never cared about Gershwin before I heard "Fascinating Rhythm." I had no idea the "Cinderella musicals" from the 20s-30s existed (and I probably will not be writing about any of them, unless there is a stand out that was revived and has a cast recording). But, more than anything else, I learned about Irving Berlin.

Irving Berlin is SO FAMOUS, and yet, he should be so much more famous. He should be mentioned in every discussion of music of ANY kind. And what is truly amazing about Mr. Berlin is that even though he was the one to CHANGE the landscape of popular music (popularizing ragtime, which was basically the equivalent to rap), as he got older he, too, became stuck in his ways and passive aggressively spoke out against changes in musical theatre ("Choreography" from White Christmas). So! What an amazing enigma of a man!

Call Me, Madam is a political satire musical, something I wish there were more of (although it seems SNL took over most political satire duties). It was made for Ethel Merman and was a spoofed story of socialite Perle Mesta (named Sally Adams in the musical). What's interesting about the recordings of Call Me Madam is that because of a contract Merman had with Decca, the full cast recording does not feature her in the leading role, it has Dinah Shore playing Sally. However, Merman still has a recording done with her company ("Ethel Merman sings Call Me, Madam" or something). The full cast recording is of course the better thing to listen to... but it's really amazing how much more exciting Ethel Merman was as a performer. She had such a weird voice, but man is it electric. So, listen to both.

There are some pretty famous songs from this musical, and it IS really interesting. It's not amazing by any degree, but we live in America and have free speech, and I think there should be MORE blatant punches thrown at weird government and social issues.

Call Me Madam
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse

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