Albums

Call Me Madam – Musical Cast Album 1950

Call Me Madam – Musical Cast Album 1950

Listen

Synopsis

“Mrs. Sally Adams,” a wealthy Oklahoma widow living in Washington D.C., is famed for giving the best parties in town (“The Hostess with the Mostes’ on the Ball”). The President of the United States appoints her – in spite of her utter lack of experience in diplomacy – as ambassador to the tiniest country in Europe, the Grand Duchy of Lichtenburg. Kenneth Gibson, an enthusiastic young press attaché, is assigned to be her aide. When Mrs. Sally Adams finally figures out how to find the Grand Duchy, she is greeted by its foreign minister, Cosmo Constantine (“Welcome to Lichtenburg”), whose manner is far more formal and less friendly than she would prefer, and who furthermore refuses to accept American foreign aid (“Can You Use Any Money Today?”). The Duke and Duchess themselves are working on a plan to marry their daughter Princess Maria to a wealthy suitor, thus fattening the royal exchequer (“Marrying for Love”). But Princess Maria (“Dance to the Music of the Ocarina”) and Kenneth Gibson are meanwhile falling in love with one another (“It’s a Lovely Day Today”), even though she is forbidden to speak to commoners. Sally thinks it would be a good idea to get Cosmo promoted to Prime Minister, so that he can be replaced as foreign minister by someone more sympathetic with her American ways. Cosmo finds out about Sally’s plans and resigns, and now the country faces its first general election in twenty years. Sally campaigns openly for Cosmo (“The Best Thing for You”), causing Washington to recall her for being involved in the internal affairs of a foreign government. Kenneth is despondent (“Once upon a Time Today,” “I Wonder Why?/You’re Just in Love”). However, the spirit of democracy is coming alive in Lichtenburg: Cosmo is elected Prime Minister and the Duke and Duchess grant Princess Maria permission to ask Kenneth to marry her. Cosmo visits Sally in Washington (“They Like Ike”) to decorate her with the Royal Order of Dame and refresh their acquaintance. Historical note by David Foil: Some Broadway musicals are timeless. Some are best described as a snapshot of the era that produced them. Call Me Madam is a pure adrenalin shot of circa-1950 zeitgeist, a screwball comedy pulled from the headlines with impeccable timing. The show was conceived as a vehicle for Ethel Merman, at that moment arguably the biggest star in Broadway musicals. It reunited her with Irving Berlin, composer/lyricist of her blockbuster 1946 hit Annie Get Your Gun. The book for this new musical was by Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay, loosely inspired by the unlikely diplomatic mission of Washington’s “hostess with the mostes’” Perle Mesta, whom President Harry S. Truman had made U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg in 1949. A red-hot ticket when it opened on October 12, 1950, at the Imperial Theatre, Call Me Madam – the madcap adventures of Mrs. Sally Adams, the U.S.’s new Ambassador to Lichtenburg – proved to be the blockbuster Merman and Berlin hoped for. They were in the very best of hands: George Abbott directed, Jerome Robbins choreographed and the casting was supervised by Abbott’s new young assistant, Harold Prince. The cast included an Oscar®-winning leading man (Paul Lukas), the bright new presence of Russell Nype as Mrs. Adams’s lovelorn attaché and – as Merman’s underutilized understudy – the young Elaine Stritch. The capitalization for the entire show came from NBC and its record division, RCA Victor. So – great cast recording for RCA Victor, right? A big problem loomed: Merman, at the zenith of her fame, was under contract to Decca Records. Decca simply refused to release her to star in what was sure to be a hit record for RCA Victor. Instead, the label sent her into their studio to record her songs from Berlin’s score with Gordon Jenkins and His Orchestra, to be released on a 10” Decca LP. Eileen Wilson, the new star of TV’s Your Hit Parade, and pop idol Dick Haymes were brought in to join her, to amp up the record’s appeal. Merman and Haymes’s cover version of “You’re Just in Love,” the infectious duet that was the score’s breakout hit, reached as high as No. 30 on the Billboard singles chart. RCA Victor turned to one of its hottest singers, Dinah Shore, to step into Merman’s shoes for the original cast recording. Shore had remarkable qualities as a singer and personality – easygoing Southern charm, ladylike warmth, a fun and infectious sound that seemed “friendly” – that were almost the opposite of Merman’s. When RCA Victor announced their recording, Decca had Merman tape even more songs from the Call Me Madam score, to create a 12” LP that essentially has never been out of circulation. RCA Victor’s recording, with Shore’s gentle vocals and a narration spoken by Paul Lukas, sold reasonably well at first. It rose to No. 6 on the Billboard album chart but, by the late 1950s, it had been deleted from the catalogue. The recording got an LP reissue in 1977, in a collector’s group of long-unavailable cast recordings, but it disappeared again until this Masterworks Broadway release – the first and only authorized CD version of RCA Victor’s Call Me Madam digitally remastered from the original tapes.

– David Foil, 2012

Credits

Narration: Paul Lukas Mrs. Sally Adams: Dinah Shore Cosmo Constantine: Paul Lukas Kenneth Gibson: Russell Nype Princess Maria: Galina Talva Senator Gallagher: Ralph Chambers Congressman Wilkins: Pat Harrington Senator Brockbank: Jay Velie All music composed by Irving Berlin Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse Directed by George Abbott Musical Numbers and Dances by Jerome Robbins Musical Direction by Jay Blackton Orchestrations by Don Walker, Joe Glover and Hugo Winterhalter