Dames at Sea - A Review - Theater Throwback from the 1930's and 1960's comes alive in 2015



I sometimes wonder why critics are 'so' critical.  I guess they need to even the score and set the great shows as the bar for the success of all the 'others.'  Not every show is a "Hamilton" or "The Lion King."  Yet, we have to figure why we go to the theater in the first place.  I would say "to just have a good time and enjoy."  Which is exactly what I did when I went to see Dames at Sea.

 

 

This 597- seat theater is an intimate setting. The stage, compact as it is, presents us with a dynamic, toe-tappin' production of Dames at Sea. This remake from the 1930's and then in 1968 with Bernadette Peters, manages to present us with a thoroughly enjoyable, tap dancing, hell of a good time, 2+ hour show that transforms the spectacle it was and present it on a small stage with great sound, inventive scenery and 6 actor-dancers who could put Donald O'Connor to shame (Donald who?)  The (only) 6 actors that star in this production are relatively unknown.  But, don't let that dissuade you in any way.  There was a time no one heard of Barbra either. 

 

 

I had the privilege of covering the Drama Leagues' 100th anniversary celebration on Nov.1st. at The Plaza Hotel. The Drama League honored  Bernadette Peters for her lifetime work in Broadway and in the arts.  On this evening, the entire cast of Dames at Sea from the original production starring Ms. Peters, joined with the present cast in a musical tribute.  It was outstanding as I had the opportunity to talk with both sets of cast members during the red carpet session.  It has been 47 years between productions and although the cast may have changed, the story stays the same. 

 

You will hear a lot of famous actors mentioned from the 1930's you may not know, but who really cares?  Throwback Theater is great.  It brings you back to the time when you understood what singers were saying, and costumes were glitter and gold.  It puts those tap shoes to work. And the actors are never tapped out.  They break into song and dance and then actually have enough breath to hold adorable conversations.

 

If you are looking for a plot, it's thin, but you don't have to turn around to the person next to you and ask them to explain to you what was just said and what it means.  It's pure pleasure with goofy and exaggerated dialogue but so cute you want to pinch everyone's cheek.  And this lovely, talented six-pack, is just as cute in person.

 

Mona Kent (Lesli  Margherita), is a self-involved, over the top star that is about to headline the opening night premier of Dames at Sea.  Ruby, (Eloise Kropp) happened into the theater after getting off a bus from her hometown of Centerville, USA, with nothing but her ruby red taps, a plain-Jane dress and a dream of being a star.  How lucky can you get?  It's opening night and one of the 'girls' ran away with one of the 'boys' and Ruby gets her job.  She even gets a place to live from her co-star who only knows her for 2 minutes.  But wait!  Dick, (Cary Tedder) who is in the Navy and on Broadway, walks in, sets his eyes on Ruby and they find out, OMG, they are both from Centerville.  She actually served him an Eskimo Pie at the luncheonette her uncle owned.  What a coincidence!  They are in love.

 

But, alas, Mona has other plans.  She wants "Dick" for herself, so he can write lots of hit songs for her.  Mona is pushy and Ruby is upset.  But that doesn't last long.  The theater is being demolished and no one told the producer, who is also the captain of the ship, and sometimes at the same time.  What do they do?  The suggestion to use the ship that the guys are on is a good one.  How do they get hundreds of tons of scenery from the theater to the ship in a few hours?  They do.  Maybe it's magic.  But it is fun.

 

Lucky (Danny Gardner) and Joan, (Mara Davi) the other tap dancing geniuses, are also in love.  Although they play other parts at other times, the costume changes are flawless as they roll into their other roles just as flawlessly.

 

The Captain, who is also Hennessey (John Bolton), is quite funny when he sees Mona.  They once had a torrid affair so they break into song and dance about what was and what could still be.  They're in love. 

 

Ok, so, the show goes on, Mona gets seasick, Ruby fills in for her and they are a smash as their audience is composed of a band of men in a sinking ship that happened to be on lifeboats with nothing else to do, I guess, than watch the show.

When they took their final bows, it was another classy deal as they did it as a group, where no one actor received special attention.  I  mentioned that to the cast at the Bernadette Peters tribute.  I told them I felt it was selfless as none of the 6 individually wanted the attention as the 'star.'  Several of them told me that, originally, the director didn't want them to bow as a group, but they insisted that they wanted to be recognized at the cast, together as one.  That made a great impression on me, as I am sure it did on other audience members.

Randy Skinner did a superb job of choreographing and directing this darling of a show.  Anna Louizos designed the set which was simple, yet told the story in all the details. Rob Berman is responsible for the vocal and dance arrangements and golly-gee they were just the cat's meow.

And all this happens in less than a day.  C'mon, in the frustrating, stressed-out world we live in, take a break.  Go see Dames at Sea if you want your glooms to go away. 

Dames at Sea is currently playing at the Helen Hayes Theater, 240 W. 44th Street.  It is an open-run production.  You may find more information about "Dames at Sea"  damesatseabroadway.com

Photos:Courtesy of Dames at Sea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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