Saturday, June 17, 2006

Dames at Sea (Porthouse)

‘DAMES AT SEA’ floats happily into dock at Porthouse

Unless your are a theatre buff, while viewing the Porthouse Theatre production of ‘DAMES AT SEA,’ you’ll probably assume that the George Haimsohn, Robin Miller and Jim Wise show was written in the 1930s. The show is filled with depression day references, and celebrity names of that era pepper both the song lyrics and the dialogue.

Don’t be fooled. The show was written in 1969 and is actually a spoof on the 30s style escapist Hollywood and Broadway musicals which had one production number follow another and a slight story line that loosely hooks the songs and dances together.

Another little know fact is that the original show starred 17 year-old Bernadette Peters in the leading role. Peters went on to become a major Broadway star (‘THE MOST HAPPY FELLA’, ‘SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE,’ ‘INTO THE WOODS,’ GYPSY,’ ANNIE GET YOUR GUN,’ and ‘THE GOODBYE GIRL.’

The campy, musical is a small cast tongue-in-cheek tribute to the large cast Busby Berkeley film musicals. Pithy lyrics, staging that mainly consists of stylized over-acting, lots of shticks and gimmicks, tap dancing, kick-lines, and contrived events complete the picture.

The story (?) concerns Ruby, a just-off-the-bus showbiz hopeful who rockets to stardom by stepping in for a Broadway star. Ruby, named for Warner Brothers' film dancer Ruby Keeler, falls in love with hometown boy Dick, named for Dick Powell. This happens as Dick goes from wide-eyed swabby to celebrated Broadway composer in the same lickety-split time span. Also on hand are the good-natured Joan, named for Joan Blondell, and Lucky, who represents every sidekick who ever sang and/or tapped alongside a leading man (think Donald O’Connor, the sidekick to Gene Kelly). (I told you this wasn’t a great story line.)

The lines are often stilted, which is part of the writing style, but that doesn’t matter as you may not hear much of the spoken words as they are often drowned out by the production’s overly loud musical accompaniment.

The show is filled with hummable tunes, some of which have become minor Broadway classics. The score includes: “It’s You,” “Broadway Baby,” “”Good Times are Here to Stay,” “Star Tar,” and the finale, “Let’s Have a Simple Wedding.” Most of the songs are show-stopper dance numbers, with a few pretty ballads snuck in.

To work, the show has to be in the right hands. In general, Porthouse’s production is on target. Director Eric van Baars (who ironically starred in this show some years ago on the Porthouse stage with Terri Kent, the theatre’s Artistic Director), has a nice feel for the show, but is often too restrained in giving his cast the green light to really ham it up. That is, with the exception of Mary Ann Black, who dominates the goings-on with her appropriately over-done Mona Kent, the drama queen of drama queens. Black is nothing short of wonderful in “The Beguine” in which she makes a scarf into a major performance piece. Her “That Mister Man of Mine” is another delightful interlude.

Emily Leonard is picture perfect as Ruby. She is tiny, adorable and compelling. She lights up the stage. Her “The Sailor of My Dreams” was charming, as was her “Raining in My Heart, which featured umbrellas with twinkling lights on the ribs.

Though he physically fills the role of Dick, Ruby’s beau, Alex Jorth’s “aw shucks” Iowa sound becomes a bit grating after a while. He sounds like he is holding back air as he speaks. He has a very pleasant, but slight singing voice.

Jodi Beck is delightful as the outspoken Joan. She looks and sounds like Bette Midler, in the very best of ways. She is brash, brassy and sings and acts and dances well.

Erik Floor should have been given freer reign to really let loose as Lucky, Dicks’ happy go-luck side-kick. At times he sparkled, especially in some of his antics, but he needed to be more the male counterpart of Joan. His dancing was easy and loose and well done.

Sean Morrissey’s choreography was good. There were times, however, when some more razzle dazzle could have been added. Strongest numbers were “Star Tar” and “Good Times are Here to Stay.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you like dancing and singing and don’t give a darn about a believable story line, you’ll go away from ‘DAMES AT SEA’ a happy theatre goer.000000