Dames at Sea
While most musical theatre enthusiasts might not term the sweet but slight musical comedy Dames at Sea a classic, Seattle's newest theatre company, Classics Unlimited, obviously thinks it is one and has mounted a spunky, late summer production of the show at Broadway Performance Hall.
When Dames at Sea premiered Off-Broadway in 1968, it was most notable for introducing an up and coming kewpie doll named Bernadette Peters as its heroine Ruby (as in Keeler) who comes to NYC, a la Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street, and meets a songwriting sailor named Dick (as in Powell), and in 24 hours this tap-happy pair become the toast of, if not Broadway, well at least a battleship near Broadway where their big show is ultimately forced to play. The show's book by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller is just a hook for their pleasant pastiche of a score, with hummable types by Jim Wise. Thanks to video, DVD and cable, not to mention the two subsequent runs of the real 42nd Street on Broadway and around the U.S., younger audiences attending this production will probably get what this show is spoofing.
Under E.S. Webster's sprightly direction, David Maddux's melodious musical direction, and with simple yet snappy choreography by Eric Esteb and Jennifer Lin, the agreeable cast of six make this Dames a quite agreeable hot weather charmer. As the starry eyed Ruby, Joanna Hardie has a warmly charming vocal style and knows not to over-camp her character. She is well matched by Harry Turpin's agreeably doe-eyed Dick. Crystal Dawn Munkers' Joan snaps her gum and taps her toes in the best tradition of every movie cynical sidekick from Joan Blondell to Ann Miller, and is amiably partnered by Mark Chenovick's Lucky. Kathleen Stoll as dragon-lady star Mona Kent is vampily imperious and obnoxious, and looks grand in the best and most humorous of Michael Pacciorini's well-chosen costumes. Charles Crowley holds his own as a singer/dancer with the rest of the ensemble, but fails to find much contrast in his dual roles of the harried producer Hennesey and the Mona-manipulated Captain. Crowley, however, gets the sight-gag of the evening as a Joan Crawford type in the interpolated "You Ought to Be In Pictures" number (an actual thirties ditty which supplants the distinctly non-P.C. Comedy number "Singapore Sue."
Jeffrey T. Cook's set design is attractive and appropriate, though the shift from a suggestive "less is more" approach in act one to a full-on battleship set in act two is jarring and makes for a long intermission. But overall, in a world that, as Cole Porter wrote "has gone mad today" the nautical nonsense of Dames at Sea is still a welcome escapist diversion, classic or not.
Dames at Sea runs through August 18 at Broadway Performance Hall, 1625 Broadway. Tickets are $14-$19.00. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, with Saturday-Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. For reservations call (206) 325-3113.