When classic Irving Berlin musical Call Me Madam gets a rare London revival at Highgate’s Upstairs at the Gatehouse this month, it will be Olivier Award nominee Rosemary Ashe stepping into a title role written for Broadway legend Ethel Merman, who originated it on both screen and stage. Have you seen the Hollywood version? Watch the 1953 trailer here!
In Call Me Madam, a comedy about love and diplomacy, Sally Adams (Rosemary Ashe) is the unconventional ‘queen of Washington society’ who is appointed US ambassador to the tiny Grand Duchy of the mythical Lichtenburg. She’s intent on refusing to shore up that country’s finances with American money.
That is, until she meets Cosmo Constantine (Richard Gibson), the Lichtenburg foreign minister, and finds his charms irresistible. Political chaos ensues, not helped by the budding romance between Sally’s aide, Kenneth, and Princess Maria, heiress to the Lichtenburg throne.
Irving Berlin’s score for Call Me Madam features the hit songs ‘It’s a Lovely Day Today’ and ‘You’re Just in Love’. And Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse’s book sparkles with political satire as pertinent today as it was when President Harry Truman ran the White House.
The new London production returns director Mark Giesser to Upstairs at the Gatehouse after his success with two other rarely-seen Broadway musicals: Strike Up the Band and Once Upon a Mattress.
On stage & screen
The character of Sally Adams was based on a real-life Washington DC hostess and Democratic Party fundraiser named Perle Mesta, who became the US ambassador to Luxembourg in 1949. Book writer Howard Lindsay was inspired to write the musical during a vacation he and his wife took with Ethel Merman and her family. One day at the swimming pool, he was watching Merman while reading a magazine article about Mesta and was struck by how “typically American” the women were.
Call Me Madam, starring Merman, got its Broadway premiere in 1950 at the Imperial Theatre, where it ran for two years. Merman reprised her performance in Walter Lang‘s 1953 Hollywood version, in which she starred alongside Donald O’Connor, George Sanders and Vera-Ellen.
Other renowned actresses who have played the role of Sally Adams include Elaine Stritch, Joan Blondell, Tyne Daly and Kim Criswell in the US. In the UK, where the musical’s West End premiere opened in March 1952 and ran for 486 performances at the London Coliseum, Billie Worth starred.
Call Me Madam runs from 9 September to 10 October 2021 at London’s Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate, London N6 4BD, with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm, Sundays at 4pm. Tickets are priced £15-24. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!