If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So the adage goes. So why give the delightful DAMES AT SEA an overdose of growth hormones that turns the charmingly tiny 1968 Valentine to 1930’s backstage musicals that had style to spare, ingenious direction and choreography by Neal Kenyon that introduced the lovable and funny star-in-the-making Bernadette Peters into a big Broadway extravaganza of a show that turns into what it is supposedly spoofing albeit with the same small cast of six?
The sets are bigger. The orchestra is fuller. The costumes are more day-glow colorful. And every number becomes a production number with lots of dancing under the guidance of Randy Skinner. Most routines are just that. Routine. There is little in the way of ingenious creativity going on – although the production is enjoyable and entertaining.
The one spark of inspiration is the opening VITAPHONE movie credits introducing the cast.
It’s just not what the original creators had it mind. A small spoof. That’s what made DAMES so endearing with a knowing book and clever lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller and music by Jim Wise. DAMES AT SEA has a terrific score. Tuneful. A spot on take-off of the period with witty words that are uplifting and leave one humming and in a fine mood.
It was all so simple then. Innocent. An ode to the tap happy Busby Berkeley musicals starring Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell and Joan Blondell.
Young girl arrives by bus from Utah with only a small suitcase wanting ever so much to be in a Broadway show. Voila! She’s in making best friends with hoofer Joan and falling head over tap shoes for Dick – a sailor/songwriter. And he for her. However…
The star of the show takes a liking to Dick, becomes ill and can’t go on leaving an under rehearsed Ruby to save the day on board a battle ship cause the theatre that was supposed to house opening night is being torn down to make room for a roller rink.
Mr. Skinner however seems to be at sea with his direction. The book scenes mostly fall flat while racing into the next musical number that become a bit repetitive and more 1940’s than 30’s.
Casting also is questionable. The diva Mona Kent is portrayed by an overly mugging Lesli Margherita in an over the top cross between Norma Desmond and Ethel Merman. John Bolton in the dual roles of Hennesey and The Captain mugs his way through the show with not much distinction between the two men.
Mara Davi as the wise cracking Joan comes off best. She has the style of the period and a powerhouse voice with natural tap abilities that charm down pat. Her cohort Lucky is also excellent – Danny Gardner is Donald O’Connor opposite Cary Tedder as a Gene Kelly inspired Dick who is smooth sailing all the way.
Then there is Ruby. A miscast Eloise Kropp. How unfortunate. She’s pert. Sings well and taps up a storm with a frozen smile on her face throughout even while singing “Raining in My Heart” which left me feeling seasick. At The Helen Hayes Theatre.
Photos: Jeremy Daniel
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