Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Dames at Sea
freeFall Theatre Company
William S. Oser | Season Schedule (updated)

Kristina Huegel, Tyler Fish, Kyra Smith, Alex Jorth,
Ephie Aardema, and Erick Ariel Sureda

Photo by The Photo Ninja
freeFall Theatre was late announcing their 2021-2022 season schedule and when they finally did, I was a little surprised to see George Haimsohn and Robin Miller (book and lyrics) and Jim Wise's (music) Dames at Sea as the season header. It's not that I don't like this Off-Broadway size tribute to Warner Bros. backstage musicals, because I do. In fact, if done well, I love it, but I didn't remember anything in it that would make me choose it for such an exalted position, first full-scale production after almost two years. Well, during the overture, a few projected title cards and the audience are brought in synch with Eric Davis' always mercurial mind.

Mr. Davis is often an out of the box director and that is being understated. Sometimes he throws everything but the kitchen sink into his productions, some things work well (a brilliantly reimagined The Fantasticks) and sometimes not so much (Pippin). For this musical he realized that there is no way to play it except as the sweet loveable throwback it was conceived to be. It has an almost perfect pastiche score and the book and lyrics will have knowledgeable audience members remembering backstage movies like 42nd Street and The Gold Diggers of 1933. There are only a couple of Eric Davis directorial touches and both work well. During the opening duet, "It's You," which contains the names of many stars long gone, projections show these stars of yesterday intermingled with photos of our lead romantic couple. It works perfectly. He also raises the kitsch in "Raining in my Heart." He gets excellent 1930s stylized performances from his cast, no mean feat when you realize that their parents were born well after the period. Usually, Mr. Davis choreographs as well, but here he has wisely brought in Kristie Kerwin to do the honors, and she does them splendidly. I haven't seen so much tapping in one place at one time since attending the filmed version of the West End stage version of 42nd Street in my local movie theater.

freeFall's cast is, across the board, terrific. Kristina Huegel leads things off as Mona, singing "Wall Street." She is the perfect diva, sings wonderfully with a great sense of period style, and wears her multiple costumes beautifully. Kyra Smith is Ruby, fresh off the bus from Centerville, Utah. She sings in a lovely light soprano and brings a fair approximation of the charm that Bernadette Peters did when this role launched her to stardom. Alex Jorth is Dick, her leading man, tall and looking muscular in his Navy whites. He sings and dances well and mimics playing the piano in an over the top manner, just as Dick Powell would have in the flickers. Ephie Aardema and Erick Ariel Sureda are the second couple, Joan and Lucky. She is perfectly Joan Blondell-ish and he is a fantastic dancer, so that "Choo Choo Honeymoon" is the highlight of the first act, just as it should be. Tyler Fish rounds out the cast as Hennesey, the director of the musical at the center of all this nonsense and later Captain of the destroyer that everyone commandeers as a stage for the show. He plays the comedy well, but the role is the weakest in the show.

Resident musical director Michael Raabe leads the band from the piano, which is very important because electric keys would simply not have the right sound for this show and yet many companies do not pay attention to this detail. He is assisted by Sarah Tellier on 2nd piano and Burt Rushing on drums and percussion. The band is perfect for this show and plays with stylistic pizzazz.

The gorgeous costumes are not credited in the program, but I am pretty sure they are the work of Eric Davis. They are colorful but not as outlandish (often wonderfully outlandish) as some of his past work. Tom Hansen is responsible for the gorgeous Art Deco set and lighting design, Premier Postiche has designed the extraordinary wigs. Stephan Kraack is credited for sound design, and if that includes the musical soundtrack for before the show and intermission, bravo. A stream of great songs in complete period performances delights my ears, I just wish I had been able to hear just a little better, so to identify more of the performers.

Having been to several of the companies in my region, I am noticing that audiences are still a bit reluctant and attendance is still a bit small. I fear that it is going to be several years before theaters fully recover with sold out performances. This freeFall production is top notch, wonderfully entertaining.

Dames at Sea, through November 21, 2021, at freeFall Theatre Company, 6099 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg FL. For ticket and performance information, visit

Joan: Ephie Aardema*
Hennesey/Captain: Tyler Fish*
Mona: Kristina Huegel*
Dick: Alex Jorth*
Ruby: Kyra Smith
Lucky: Erick Ariel Sureda*
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association