by Beki Pineda
DAMES AT SEA – Book and Lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller; Music by Jim Wise; Directed by Bob Wells. Produced by Town Hall Arts Center (2450 West Main Street, Littleton) through March 17. Tickets available at 303-794-2787 or townhallartscenter.org.
I have a serious question to ask. If we can put a man on the moon and machinery on Mars, why can’t someone in the industry invent a body mic that lays flat against the skin and not leave that ugly battery bump? Costumers work their little fingers to the bone to make beautifully fit gowns and dance costumes only to have the line destroyed by an unsightly bulge in the middle of the back. It must drive them crazy and certainly takes audience members out of the scene when a dancer turns his or her back.
Ok, enough grouching! Especially at the beginning of the review of this silly, fun-filled show. If you like tap dancing – and who doesn’t? – this is the show for you. This is a parody of so many of the great 30’s and 40’s musicals that featured sweet faced farm girls making it big on Broadway, usually with the help of a more experienced guy who falls instantly in love with them. This show celebrates that moment of recognition with the song “It’s You.”There’s always a diva in the way who gets dispatched by sea sickness or a twisted ankle. She – either Peggy or Ruby or Millie or whoever – has another dancer as a best friend and usually only has 24 hours to learn the whole show. Realistically, a total impossibility.
DAMES AT SEA takes all those clichés, adds its own special brand of brass, and gives them a BIG MUSICAL treatment with a cast of six! And what a cast they have assembled for this production. First, we have the brilliant Mary McGroary as Mona, the determined diva who starts the show with a sparkling solo tap number that takes its cue from “We’re in the Money” from 42ND STREET. Mary was either born in the wrong era and should have been a star performer in the 30’s and 40’s or, even better, she was born in the right era to show the millennial world what the 30’s and 40’s looked and sounded like. She channels her recent role as Helen Sinclair, a similar diva in BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, to bring Mona to glorious life with a Tallulah Bankhead flair and Betty Boop eyes.
Her female cohorts in this little romp are two relative newcomers to Denver theatre – Chrissy Keane-Schmidt as the irrepressible Ruby and Carie Millard as her tap happy best buddy Joan. Both bring a blonde bounciness to their roles and fall into the charm of this parody with ease. The men in the cast are led by local favorite Matt LaFontaine as Dick, the “sailor of my dreams.” His boyish appearance exudes charm which he complements with top notch dancing and singing. John Mackey as Lucky wins the heart of Joan and promises her a “Choo-Choo Honeymoon.” Stephen Turner is back and rested after his turn as Scrooge over the holidays to play the director of the show being rehearsed and the Captain of a naval battleship that becomes a Broadway stage.
As usual, the technical team at Town Hall comes through and joins in on the fun of bringing this big musical to their small stage. Bob Wells directs with his always sure hand, comic gifts and theatrical confidence. Michael Duran’s set pieces capture the opulence of a Busby Berkeley number and include confetti bombs for the battleship. Susan Rahmsdorff-Terry’s costumes glitter and shine (although the “Singapore Sue” cheongsam’s could have used the help of an iron). It is always easy to hear the lyrics and dialogue at Town Hall because Sound Designer Curt Behm knows how to balance both equally. Rob Costigan and Bob Bauer provided hand written musical scores and transparent umbrellas as well as all the other props to make the show bright.They all help Town Hall present the total picture
This little show that could had an arduous journey to a Broadway opening. Originated as a short cabaret sketch, it opened at Caffe Cino, an Off-Off-Broadway coffee house/performance space in 1966 after being pitched by its creators all over town. Its success there resulted in it being beefed up with more songs to a full fledged musical and it moved to an Off-Broadway theatre in 1968 where it enjoyed a long run. In the original production, the show featured the talents of a 17-year-old real life Ruby, Miss Bernadette Peters in her first New York role. While it enjoyed hundreds of professional and community productions, a run in London’s West End, a TV adaptation (with Ann Margret as Ruby and Ann Miller as Mona), and an Off-Broadway revival, it wasn’t until 2015 that it finally made it to Broadway. While the three creators enjoyed careers in the arts, they never managed to match the success of DAMES and by the time it reached Broadway, all three had gone to their big opening night in Heaven. Denver audiences don’t have to wait that long to see it again.
A WOW factor of 8.5!!