Call Me Madam
At John Hancock Theatre until July 28
Call Me Madam in both its Broadway and Hollywood productions served primarily as a vehicle for Ethel Merman. The show's latest version, now playing at the John Hancock Theater in Boston, in a way constitutes an even greater tribute to the musical-comedy talents of that actress. For Miss Merman is not in the play this time--and the consequences are disastrous.
One can at least say that the current producers have displayed genuine originality in their attempt to find a new star. They have given the male lead (the role played previously by Russell Nype--that of assistant to the lady ambassador) to Dick Button '52, who up to now has been far less distinguished as an actor than as a world champion figure skater. The original Lindsay & Crouse script for Call Me Madam said nothing whatever about ice skating, but this difficulty has not fazed producers G. Sheldon Balloch and Clifford N. Lenox in the least. They have simply interpolated a couple of skating scenes and proceeded to re-build the play around the bathtub-sized ice rink that they have squeezed onto the John Hancock stage.
The amazing thing about the ice gimmick, however, is that Button turns out to be the best actor in the show. He displays an earnestness that is just right for the part, and always seems perfectly natural. In addition, his singing voice is not at all bad, and of course his skating, though terribly cramped by the small rink, is always effortless and a pleasure to watch.
Everything else about the show is pretty bad. The dialogue is dated and unfunny, replete with numerous telephone calls from "Harry," references to "Margaret" and the music critics, allusions to Senator McCarthy, and unnecessary "damn's" and "hell's." Such lines as "I'm so happy I ought to be investigated" and "The trouble with these European governments is that they're all run by foreigners" stood out among the evening's whimsical gems. Milton Lyons' direction was intolerably slow, listless, and indifferent. The costumes designed by Louise Smith were gaudy and in very poor taste. Miss Smith's diplomats, incidentally, wear gray flannel trousers.
Among the actors, Winifred Heidt as Mrs. Sally Adams flopped around the stage without a suggestion of the poise and verve that Miss Merman gave the part. Rene Paul was dull but adequate as the supposedly suave Cosmo Constantine, Robert Mesrobian showed a certain degree of comic talent as Sebastian Sebastian, and Roger Starr was even funny as the protocol-minded charge d'affaires. The chorus line was singularly unattractive and un-rhythmical. Of course the play still has Irving Berlin's pleasing score, but then, so do all the record stores in the Square.