When Porchlight Music Theatre chose the musical Call Me Madam for their sole Porchight Revisits offering this season, they probably anticipated that the lite political satire of the story would be a pleasing funny bone tickle and tension relief valve for our increasingly toxic political times. But, OMG!—how uncanny is their timing to stage a musical spoof about an Ambassador, in just the fortnight when we saw more Ambassadors on TV than we likely had the entire year /s before!
Chicago diva Donica Lynn plays this title-referenced role, socialite Sally Adams a.k.a. Madam Ambassador. Or perhaps you too will likely be thinking she is playing Ethel Merman playing that role, with perhaps a touch of Gracie Allen and Judy Holliday thrown into the charm mix. Charm she does, especially with a slow fish eye pose here and there, that invites us to linger in the not so inside joke of how politics and money are intertwined. Not unlike real-world Madeleine Albright, her main pre-qualification was to be a socialite who gave the best Washington D.C. parties that everyone- Democrat and Republican alike—wanted to be in on. Unlike Albright though, this Hostess with the Mostess (a song she makes her entrance with), charms more with malapropisms than intellect. Throughout the story, she is on and off the phone with “Harry”, a.k.a. President Truman, who sends her to be Ambassador in a tiny European country known for its cheese, a delicacy its impoverished inhabitants no longer get to eat. She falls in love with soon-to-be-Premier Cosmo Constantine (Matt Keffer). Meanwhile, her young assistant who landed his job through family connections, Kenneth Gibson (NikKmiecik) ,is on a parallel track to fall in love with the tiny country’s high kicking Princess Maria (Laura Savage).
All this falling in love goes far to give Irving Berlin a chance to show his stuff with songs like You’re Just In Love, It’s a Lovely Day Today, and Marrying for Love. There are fifteen song and dance numbers--- and dance they do! (Choreography: Jenna Schoppe) How fun especially to see the Roosevelt University – Chicago College of Performing Arts Acting Ensemble Apprentices in perpetual costume changes and different dance styles, including a smile-inducing Washington Square Dance. For this frequent Chicago theater reviewer, it felt like an early warning system alert on new talents to track in the coming years. History buffs--and reportedly one who came to see this production all the way from Ohio sporting an I Like Ike button!!--will recognize the tune that became that Truman follow-on President’s campaign anthem, They Like Ike.
As fun feeling as the production was, the gem within the gem was Porchlight Artistic Director Michael Weber’s Behind the Show Backstory, the multimedia presentation that prefaced the performance. In rapid fire, Weber frames the times (1950) by sharing cost of living trivia and then moves on to details of the ins and outs, and rewrite after rewrite, of this specific production, and the work by legendary Jerome Robbins (choreographer), Irving Berlin (composer), Ethel Merman (née Zimmerman, we learn), among others. Vintage black and white photographs intermingle with colorful show posters. Gossip is woven into statistical snapshots. What we get is a time capsule of 1950 musical theater history that could be the main course meal, but is actually only a scrumptious appetizer.
Porchlight Music Theatre Shines Love on Broadway’s Golden Age
Director Christopher Pazdernik and Artistic Director Michael Weber’s love of Broadway’s Golden Age was conveyed, and then some, by the loving attention to every detail in this production. For this writer, the most astounding aspect of Call Me Madam was that such high production value was poured into a three performance run!
Call Me Madam was the only Porchlight Revisits offering this season. The good news is that next year there will again be three. This program is not just Highly Recommended. It should be on any musical theater lover’s short list of Chicago culture gems not to be missed.
Note: This will be added to the upcoming Picture This Post Best Play Picks for November, 2019 — Look for it on the Picture this Post YouTube channel
Donica Lynn, Matthew Keffer, Nik Kmiecik, Laura Savage, Bill Larkin, Chris Baum, Cortez Johnson, Elliot Sagay, Larry Baldacci, Tom Shea, Michelle McKenzie-Voigt, Connor Giles, and Taryn Skoda, Adit Marciano, Drew Mitchell, Tanner Garmon, Ashton Norris, Katie Kotila and Emma Murphy
Christopher Pazdernik, director
Micky York, music director
Jenna Schoppe, choreographer
Rueben Echoles, costume designer
Rachel West, lighting designer
Keegan Bradac, sound designer
Kaitlin Moser, stage manager
Sean Michael Mohler, stage manager assistant
Hai Alvarez-Millard, stage manager assistant
Jack Breslow, stage manager assistant apprentice
Samantha Treible, wardrobe supervisor and Jamie Davis, audio engineer.