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Dames at Sea
Manatee Players

Also see Bill's reviews of Lend Me a Tenor and The Chosen

Sarah Baeder, Rachel Knowles and Kris Sethi
Manatee Players has chosen Dames at Sea as its second production of the season. This gentle satire of 1930s Warner Bros (and others) musicals was born in 1966 in one of the many tiny Greenwich Village cafes, and eventually played a successful Off-Broadway engagement two years later, staring a then not so well known Bernadette Peters in the role of ingénue Ruby (read Keeler). The songs by Jim Wise, George Haimsohn and Robin Miller are a delightful homage to the early songs of Harry Warren ("42nd Street," "We're in the Money," "Lullaby of Broadway"). They include "It's You" (He: It isn't Jean Harlow, it isn't Gretta Garbo, it's you. She: It isn't Leslie Howard, or even Noël Coward, it's you.), "Good Times Are Here to Stay," and "Star Tar." Another, "Raining in My Heart" remains a centerpiece of Ms. Peters' concert repertoire.

Nick Drivas, Jeff Sargent and Bill Shideler
Dames at Sea is a dance-heavy show, often a challenge for community theater. Choreography by Pat Ross plays to her cast's abilities, which are stronger on the vocal side. Nick Drivas as Lucky is the strongest dancer, making "Choo Choo Honeymoon" a show stopper. I have not seen him before, but I find that he has quite a resume with Manatee Players and other theaters—and he is only 17. Opposite him in the Joan Blondell-like role of Joan is Rachel Knowles who contributes the other half of the show stopper. The older couple, Kris Sethi as star Mona Kent and Jeff Sargent as Hennessey/The Captain, anchor the show with their showbiz savvy. Sarah Baeder delightfully graduates from supporting roles (24 previous productions at Manatee Players) to her first lead. She proves more than ready. Bill Shideler as Dick her romantic interest provides lots of aw-shucks charm.

Steve Dawson has directed the show briskly, not allowing the clichés (intentional) to slow things down. Music director Phyllis Gessler gets wonderful singing from everyone and fine playing from her five pieces ensemble, all Manatee Players regulars. Costumes by Becky Evans are effectively done on a tight budget. Scenery by Michael Newton-Brown is very reminiscent of Warner Bros décor.

Dames at Sea is really a kick for those of us who can instantly visualize Miss Ginger Rogers stepping out of the chorus line to sing a chorus of "We're In the Money" in Pig Latin. I enjoyed myself immensely.

Manatee Players presents Dames at Seaat Manatee Center for the Performing Arts through September 28, 2014, at 502 3rd Ave W., Bradenton; 941 748-0111,

Mona Kent: Kris Sethi
Joan: Rachel Knowles
Hennesey/The Captain: Jeff Sargent
Ruby: Sarah Baeder
Dick: Bill Shideler
Lucky: Nick Drivas

Conductor/Keyboard: Phyllis Gessler
2nd Keyboard: Christine Allen-Bruno
Reeds: Teri Booth
Trumpet: Victor Mongillo
Percussion: Tony Bruno

Director: Steve Dawson
Choreography: Pat Ross
Music Director: Phyllis Gessler
Lighting Design: Mike Wood
Costume Design: Becky Evans
Scenery: Michael Newton-Brown
Production Stage Manager: Jill Hinds

Photo: Denny Miller/Manatee Players

--William S. Oser

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