Review by Kathleen Campion
Well, you do leave the theater humming the tunes! Irving Berlin’s “You’re Just In Love” walked all the way down W. 55th Street with me to the F train.
As is often the case at City Center’s well-regarded Encores! series, nostalgia is the prime mover of audience sentiment. Last night’s audience loved every single minute of Call Me Madam. The place was jammed — looked like a sell out. Given the vintage of the crowd, underscored by the Rollator parking lot just outside the Gents, and the high shine bouncing off those comb-overs, this was a crowd primed for nostalgia.
So let me just say it. I found the first act annoying, the songs overlong to the point of tedium. (That may say more about my attention span than anything else.) That said, the second act delivers. It benefits by reprising “It’s a Lovely Day Today,” a charming duet with Jason Gotay and Lauren Worsham, which you loved in act one, and probably always have.
Act two also leans heavily on the durable chemistry between Carmen Cusack and Jason Gotay as they engage the harmonies of “You’re Just In Love.” What’s more, we get one of Berlin’s affectionate tributes to vaudeville, with the roistering trio of Brad Oscar, Stanley Wayne Mathis, and Adam Heller, as they deliver “They Like Ike,” replete with straw hats and time-steps. I’m saying the second act gets it done.
It’s a 7:30 curtain, although management relies on the indulgence of an audience rich with regulars. First, Encores! artistic director Jack Viertel recaps a short history of City Center; then there is a short film tribute to City Center, ,and finally the curtain rises revealing the star of the show to my thinking — the orchestra. Under the certain hand of Rob Berman, the Encores! orchestra moves stylishly through the rich and memorable magic of Berlin’s score.
They’re wonderful, everything an orchestra ought to be. What’s great here is the orchestra remains the leading character throughout. You are not allowed to forget them down there in the pit nor to wonder if they’re recorded. They should join all the unions — while they are musicians first, they are also backdrop, scenery and comic relief. (although I don’t think there’s a union for that.)
It’s a huge company, offering up a handful of shiny moments. Worsham and Gotay as the young couple are spot on. Michael Benjamin Washington is winningly pretentious;, the leads are reliable, and near the close, a couple of comic icons stroll into the action with a bit of business.
There were a few, but then again too few to mention, moments when the cast went up on lines which makes you wonder just how much time do they get for rehearsal. The dancers were on it. No matter what part of them hurt, they convinced us it was huge fun up there. And, bottom line, despite my first act issues, I’d buy a ticket — it was fun to be there.
Call Me Madam – Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin; Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse: directed by Casey Hushion.
WITH: Carmen Cusack (Sally Adams), Christopher Gurr (Henry Gibson), Adam Heller (Congressman Wilkins), Jason Gotay (Kenneth Gibson), Brad Oscar (Senator Gallagher), Stanley Wayne Mathis (Senator Brockbank), Michael Benjamin Washington (Pemberton Maxwell), Ben Davis (Cosmo Constantine), Randy Rainbow (Sebastian Sebastian), Lauren Worsham (Princess Maria), Darrell Hammond (Grand Duke Otto), Carol Kane (Grand Duchess Sophie).
Music director is Rob Berman; choreography by Denis Jones; scenic designer is Allen Moyer; costumes by Jen Caprio; lighting by Jason Lyons. Presented by New York City Center Encores! at City Center, 131 W. 55th Street, Manhattan. Through February 10. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission.