Monday, November 09, 2015

DAMES AT SEA—a happy flashback to the musicals of the 30s

The musicals of the 1930s were tap-dancing, bright-lights, happy music, and slight plot-driven spectaculars.  Watching DAMES AT SEA is a flashback to that era.  But, to the surprise of many, the script is not as old as might be perceived.  DAMES AT SEA, with book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller, and music by Jim Wise, actually opened off-off-Broadway in 1966, and moved to Off-Broadway in 1968.  Though billed as a revival, it is now in its on-Broadway premiere. 

Another aspect of the present staging that might surprise is that there are no long lines of scantily dressed chorus girls or a tuxedoed kick line of studly young men.  There are only seven performers in the production.

Director and choreographer, Randy Skinner, a three-time Tony winner, has formed the septet into a joyful assemblage that sings, dances, and entertains for two-hours in a format of songs and dances hooked together by a hokey farcical slight story-line.

The musical, which is supposedly based on the “Gold Diggers” movies, starred Bernadette Peters in its original incarnation.  Others who appeared in the role were Bonnie Franklin and Pia Zadora.  A movie version, starring Ann-Margret, Anne Meara, Ann Miller and Dick Shawn was made in 1971.

The story-line centers on Ruby, fresh off the bus from Utah.  She wanders into a Broadway theatre where the rehearsal of a show is in progress.  She, of course, has a pair of tap shoes, and, since one of the show’s dancers has just quit, she displays her dancing skills and is hired. 

Add Mona Kent, the show’s temperamental diva, Joan, a chorus girl turned bosom-buddy, Dick, a sailor and aspiring song writer, who found Ruby’s lost suitcase and turns up at the theatre accompanied by his friend Lucky, add a wrecking ball that is about to knock down the theatre, a hysterical producer, the Captain of a ship who is Mona’s former lover, and you have all the elements needed to “put on a musical.”  At least a musical entitled DAMES AT SEA.

The score is catchy, full of toe-tapping rhythms, and includes “It’s You,” “Broadway Baby,” “That Mister Man of Mine,” “Good Times are Here to Stay,” and “Let’s Have a Simple Wedding.”

Though the original production had only 2 pianos and percussion, the present staging goes big time with a full orchestra of keyboard, woodwinds, brass and percussion.

The cast is talented, knows how to showcase farce, and are dancing machines.

Adorable Eloise Kropp lights the stage as Ruby.  The triple threat performer sings, dances and acts with playful “aw-shucks”ease.  Her renditions of “Sailor of My Dreams” and “Raining in my Heart” are endearing.

Mara Davi is a master at farcical quips and double-take looks.  Her Joan delights. 

Lesli Margherita is diva-delicious as the self-impressed Mona.   She sets the mood for the show with her “Wall Street.” 

Cary Tedder, in the manner of Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelley, is the All-American handsome leading man who is a master dancer and displays the right charmer qualities as Dick. 

Danny Gardner is spot on as Lucky both Joan and Dick’s second banana.

John Bolton as both Hennesey, the over-wrought producer and The Captain, is farce right.

Capsule judgment:  DAMES AT SEA is a slight musical that delights.  The dancing is dynamic, the stage explodes with enthusiasm, the orchestra produces toe-tapping sounds. It’s an escapist type of production, though not a great Broadway musical, which will allow the audience to leave the theatre humming the music and adding a little dance gait to their exit out of the theatre.

DAMES AT SEA is in an open-run at the intimate 597-seat Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 West 44 th Street.