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|A CurtainUp Review
Dames At Sea
When the Cocteau Repertory's artistic director David Fuller decided to stage The Three Penny Opera, he had to make a big musical fit the Bouwerie Lane Theatre's physical constraints. With a big assist from his design team, Fuller's little big production held its own in a season of several other Three Penny revivals and, in fact, enjoyed a comeback summer run.
The Fall season has now opened with another musical Dames at Sea. It seemed like a particularly apt choice as it was intended as an intimate production and has a historic link to the theater's earliest days. Dames first docked at the Bouwerie Lane in 1969 and proved that small scale musicals with unknown performers could be big hits. To add to its timeliness: We are once again at war and eager for escape entertainment . . . and Forty-Second Street , which is one of the extravaganzas Dames at Sea spoofs, continues its must successful revival in the theater district. Unfortunately, director Fuller and his Dames and their guys have not landed as smoothly as the original production.
Since that initial triumphant Cocteau-deLys run (575 performances) Dames at Sea has sailed on to many regional, dinner and community theater productions. While I can't think of a Ruby who's achieved Bernadette's super stardom, many talented young performers have played the role she created with enough sass and style to build the show's following. The same can be said for the actors portraying the other characters. Which brings us to the main reason the Cocteau's revival falls short of being the delightful breath of nostalgia it should be.
Kathleen White is an appealingly naive and enthusiastic Ruby but her tapping and singing are hardly the stuff to make her a convincing Utah version of Forty-Second Street's Peggy Sawyer. Energy and enthusiasm is also the only thing to praise in the other five actors. All manage to sing off key often enough to diminish even such lovely tunes as "It's You", "The Sailor of My Dreams" and "The Beguine." Judith Jarosz is a major miscast as the overbearing Mona. Chrytsten Peddie's brash showgirl, Joan, is more shrill than brash. The men simply don't make strong impressions. The tap routines are underwhelming and coarsely executed.
The good news about this bad news is that traces of the clever book and songs are evident despite the limitations of the performers, most thanks to the excellent work of the design team. Roman Tatarowicz manages to provide suitable scenery for the back stage action as well as the Anything Goes style shipboard setting of the second act. Joanne Haas's authentic costumes and Giles Hoyga's lighting contribute towards making the two amusing production numbers "Singapore Sue" and "Raining in My Heart" fun.
Parody can be difficult to bring off. The concept of six unknown actors doing a take-off on a whole genre of musicals associated with big, glitzy sets and a large, star-studded cast takes a delicate directorial touch and actors who make you feel that they could indeed be tomorrow's stars. Too bad, Fuller's direction lacks the necessary subtlety and his actors that sense of possibility. I should add to my negative nattering that I've liked many of the young actors this artistic director has brought into the company, and I wouldn't be surprised if one of these days his ambitions for the Cocteau will result in another star being born on this venerable old theater's stage.
Review of the Cocteau's ThreePenny Opera
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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