Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Dames at Sea
Hale Centre Theatre

Also see Gil's reviews of A Tribute to Marvin Hamlisch, What He Knew About Women: The Music of Cy Coleman, Pippin and Oklahoma!

Vinny Chavez, Laura Pyper, Emily Giauque Evans, Kate E. Cook, Tedd Glazebrook and
Julian-Sebastian Peña

Dames at Sea is a fun and frivolous musical send-up and homage to 1930s movie musicals like 42nd Street where an understudy must step in to fill the shoes of an incapacitated lead and become the star of the show. With a good measure of the "let's put on a show" exuberance from the films of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney and a large dose of the elaborate musical numbers from the Busby Berkeley movie musical extravaganzas, Dames at Sea manages with just a small cast of six to provide plenty of fun and high energy musical moments to the well-known story. It was a modest hit when it originally premiered Off Broadway in the late 1960s and featured Bernadette Peters in one of her first starring roles. The Hale Centre Theatre production running through April 29th features a hardworking and multi-talented cast, sure-footed direction, rich and varied choreography, and some impressive costumes.

Ruby is a small town tap-dancing girl, just off the bus from Utah and now seeking fame and fortune in the big city of New York. With just a pair of tap shoes in her suitcase, she's ready for success on Broadway as she makes her way to a theatre to audition. Fortunately, after she forgets her suitcase on the bus, a young sailor named Dick follows her to the theatre, with her suitcase in tow, and they manage to fall in love while singing a lovely duet. Now that she has her tap shoes back on her feet, and with the help of Dick and the brassy Joan, who co-stars in the show, Ruby is ready to audition. However, the Broadway show stars the self-centered Mona Kent, who has taken a liking to Dick and isn't too keen on having Ruby in her show. But there are even bigger threats to both Ruby and Mona as it looks like the theatre the show is playing in is about to be torn down—just when Ruby is ready to make her Broadway debut.

With lines like "You're going out on the poop deck a chorus girl, but you've got to come back a star!" Dames at Sea might seem to have ripped off not just the characters and situations but also some of the actual dialogue from 42nd Street. Yet it does so in such a loving way that the end result is a heartwarming show, albeit one with many contrived situations, cartoon characters and a mostly forgettable score.

Fortunately, the cast of six in this production manage to make the corny dialogue and contrived plot points work, by providing the right amount of humor and a bit of a wink to the spoofing nature of the show. And while the book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller and Jim Wise's music are mostly ordinary, the numbers are amusing and move the show forward. Two numbers that feature Ruby, "It's You" and "Raining in My Heart," are charming, entertaining and memorable.

As Ruby (the Bernadette Peters role), Emily Giauque Evans is appropriately innocent yet spunky, with nice dancing skills and warm vocals. Joan, the chorus girl who takes Ruby under her wing, is played by Kate E. Cook. Cook is doing double duty at Hale, playing Ado Annie in Oklahoma! on the nights that Dames isn't playing, and she embodies the wise-cracking comic part of Joan effortlessly. With superb tap skills, a large stage presence and a matter of fact delivery of her lines, Cook really couldn't be better. Laura Pyper's Mona is appropriately cold and manipulative yet also has a few moments where she shows us Mona's soft side. Pyper has nice vocals, assured dancing and a clear delivery of the character.

Vinny Chavez brings a nice "aw shucks" mentality to sailor and aspiring songwriter Dick and, like Evans' Ruby, he projects the appropriate amount of eagerness for his character. Like everyone else in the cast, his vocals and dancing abilities perfectly match the requirements of the score and he even does a nice job of "playing" the fake on stage piano when singing and playing one of Dick's original songs. Julian-Sebastian Peña and Tedd Glazebrook round out the cast as Joan's beau Lucky and Hennessy, the director of the show within a show. Glazebrook also plays the captain of a navy ship in the second act. Both are skilled dancers and have nice moments to show off their dancing and singing skills. "Choo-Choo Honeymoon" features Pena and Cook delivering some comical tap variations while Glazebrook and Pyper provide lush and romantic dancing and vocals for "The Beguine." All members of the cast play multiple roles with ease and with so many quick changes they have to be the hardest working cast in town.

Director and choreographer Cambrian Jones does a nice job of grounding the cast in the 1930s period of the show, making the humorous moments pop and also providing a nice range of dance steps. I especially like his inventive choreography that involves the use of a ladder during "Good Times Are Here to Stay" and the lovely use of umbrellas in "Raining in My Heart." He provides an abundance of fancy footwork in this production. Jones adds a nice creative directorial touch to the act one closer when bricks of the theatre being demolished appear to fall from the ceiling and he also designed the wigs for the show which are perfectly in line with the period as are the make-up designs for the women. I also really appreciate the decision to not expand the cast, using only six actors, as was done in the original Off-Broadway production in the late 1960s. Mary Atkinson's costumes provide a nice range of styles and looks, from pleated skirts and embroidered tops to cleanly designed sailor outfits. She also designed some colorful and sparkling costumes for the finale. With a minimal set design by Adam DeVaney, this theatre in the round production still manages to provide plenty of spectacle with the use of anchors and life preservers surrounding the audience and the front of a ship in one corner of the theatre.

Dames at Sea might have a series of overly contrived situations, a mostly lackluster score, and a second act that is much better than the first, but it is a show that is enjoyable, fun, silly fluff. It is also a charming valentine to the big movie musicals of the 1930s. The Hale Centre Theatre production is fun and frivolous with clean and clear direction, a cast that easily plays both the comical and serious moments and has no problem in essaying the abundance of fun, high energy choreography.

The Hale Center Theatre production of Dames at Sea runs through April 29th with performances at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert. Tickets can be ordered at or by calling (480) 497-118

Director / Choreographer: Cambrian Jones
Music Director: Lincoln Wright
Set Designer: Adam DeVaney
Costume Designer: Mary Atkinson
Lighting Designer: Jeff A. Davis

Dick: Vinny Chavez
Joan: Kate E. Cook
Hennessy/Captain: Tedd Glazebrook
Lucky: Julian-Sebastian Peña
Mona: Laura Pyper
Ruby: Emily Giauque Evans

Photo: Sam Miller

--Gil Benbrook

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