"Call Me Mister," six months and a road company away from its Broadway opening, is still a great show. Harold Rome's music and lyrics, particularly "The Red Ball Express" and "Military Life," and most emphatically "South America Take It Away," have managed to outlast the combined kiss of death of the radio and juke box, while the entire east is only a shade or two below the group which has made "Call Me Mister" the best musical in New York.
It is only in a few of the jokes and situations which, half a year ago when the discharge rate was at its peak, were either funny or poignant, and which now somehow misfire, that the passage of time is evident. For instance, in one of the first scenes two soldiers are talking of the wonders of being civilians again. One is remarking to the other how great it is to be wearing the ruptured duck when the second soldier breaks in to say, "that ain't no ruptured duck, that's a bird of paradise." When one was still getting used to wearing civilian clothes again, that line was funny, but it left the audience at the Shubert the other night completely cold.
That the sketches are still as bright as they are is a tribute to Arnold Auerbach, who wrote the book, for he has shown admirable restraint in keeping esoteric G.I. jokes to a minimum. Instead, he has relied on situations which are capable of convulsing anyone who is at all aware of the fantastic age (or lack thereof) of Air Corps colonels or the Claghorn quality of certain Southern statesmen.
Surprisingly enough for a musical, "Call Me Mister" has serious overtones. In one brief scene outside a trucking employment agency, where five men, including two Negroes, are remembering with pride their work together on the Red Ball Express, the whole problem of the Negro in America is pointed up by the ironic ending when only the three white men are hired for the civilian trucking job. And again, the Southern Senator sequence is not only good burlesque, but a serious commentary on bigotry and the unprincipled use of the veteran vote in America.
Outstanding in a cast which displays no notable weaknesses are Jerry Ross and Betty Kean. Ross' dancing has all the vigor and strength of Gene Kelly and should take him into the big time within a year or two. Miss Kean's rendition of the "South America Take It Away" routine manages the difficult feat of being subdued, tasteful and sensational all at one time.