Dames at Sea - Elizabeth Ahlfors
Eloise Krrop as Ruby
Helen Hayes Theater
240 -West 44nd Street
Previews: September 24, 2015, Opened: October 22, 2015
Two hours, 10 minutes. One intermission
Reviewed October 27, 2015
I think I've seen this musical before, the one about a hopeful girl who gets off the bus in New York City with stardust in her eyes and a dream in her heart. Yes, it's stereotyped, hokey and dated. However, Dames at Sea has a small but mighty crackerjack cast of six and they put on a darned swell send-up of those hopeful innocents who capture the brass ring with convincing affection.
The era is the early 1930's and all the familiar characters are there, Ruby, the young hopeful from Utah, played by Eloise Kropp, who happens to be an indefatigable tapper. Think Ruby Keeler. She meets Dick (Cary Tedder), a dancing sailor/songwriter who catches her eye (someone like Dick Powell). There's Joan, her wisecracking new bestie, who takes Ruby under her wing and reunites with Dick's sailor pal, Lucky. They all persuade tough producer, Hennesey (John Bolton) to put Ruby in the chorus. Of course, you need the glamorous star of the show, Mona Kent, with a high-octane sex drive. Played by Lesli Margherita, Mona is balancing on the edge of over-the-top, with a broad, bawdy performance.
With love and show biz in the air, it looks like "Good Times Are Here to Stay."
Not so fast. Suddenly, the theater is going to be torn down. What to do? Dick and Lucky, volunteer their battleship but during rehearsals, Mona gets seasick. Luckily, Ruby already knows the whole show and steps into the part. A star is born. Fortunately, stardom does not threaten romance. Ruby and Dick, Joan and Lucky, and even Mona and the ship's captain (in a second role by John Bolton) all declare their love. Singing, "Let's Have a Simple Wedding," they end the show.
Like the plot, the music is predictable. Jim Wise's melodies with George Haimsohn's and Robin Miller's book and lyrics, provide catchy but derivative songs. Many are hummable, fit the plot and are recognizable. Several can easily be picked out of the show and performed in a cabaret but it's fair to predict that they will never be the standards that Harry Warren and Al Dubin created in the 1930's. The writers play around with some familiar tunes but the subs don't quite make the grade in cleverness or imagination. "Wall Street" is a stand-in for Warren and Dubin's "We're in the Money" from 42nd Street. "The Beguine,” reminiscent of Cole Porter's “Begin the Beguine” is just silly, and the torch song, "That Mister Man of Mine" is a poor take-off on "The Man I Love" by George and Ira Gershwin.
On the other hand, there is a sentimental charm in several tunes, such as Ruby and Dick's, "It's You" ("It's not Amos or Andy or Little Orphan Annie or Sandy. It's you, it's you, it's you.") Lucky and Joan dream of their "Choo Choo Honeymoon" ("We'll go clickety, clacking, clickin' on that love express"). "Singapore Sue," however, is uncomfortable with lyrics like "Of all the Chinese lasses, (she's) the only one that passes."
Directed and choreographed by talented Randy Skinner, who kept the '30's in mind, stressing the sunny side up. He emphasizes the energetic dancing and an vivacious cast with creative staging on Anna Louizos' two-dimensional sets. Like Tom Watson's hair and wig design, costumes by Donald C. Woolard were true to the era, putting Joan in tap pants and a sweet plain dress on Ruby while the diva, Mona sashays in sequins and lush fabrics. Woolard shines with the "Raining In My Heart" sequence's colorful yellow slickers and twirling umbrellas. Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick and Rob Berman's music arrangements/supervision are outstanding.
Dames At Sea started life off-Broadway and while the Helen Hayes Theatre is small, this musical would be better served in the smaller, more casual and economical houses away from the Great White Way.
This review also appears in TotalTheater.com