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A CurtainUp Review
Dames at Sea
This is the show that first catapulted Bernadette Peters to stardom Off-Broadway 47 years ago. It's been a long wait for those time-stepping dames and fleet-footed tars to get their act together. They have and are now back where they belong as they rehearse for a mini-spectacular (maxi in our minds) show on the deck of a battleship, actually on the stage of the wonderfully intimate Helen Hayes Theatre.
You may have fond memories of the original, the Off-Broadway revival in 1985, or perhaps have only heard about those legendary Dames at Sea . You only need to know that it is time for you to get in step with this terrific company for (as one of the many joyous numbers tells us) a "Choo Choo Honeymoon."
The principal creative force behind this revival, actually its first production on Broadway is Randy Skinner. He has beautifully and imaginatively recreated that delicate balance of parody and reverence that made these "dames" such a delight originally. But he has added just enough more exuberant dancing and production values to make it now the most irresistible musical in town.
As we all know, the Great Depression that hit America in the eleventh hour of the 1920s was no real cause for singing and dancing. But George Haimsohn's and Robin Miller's book and lyrics and Jim Wise's music is the sum and the substance, literally in a nutshell, all those Busby Berkeley movie extravaganzas that helped, as much as F.D.R. to lift American into a new deal and a new desperately needed optimism.
The laughs begin as our little hoofer from Centerville, Utah announces to a tough Broadway producer, "Hi, my name is Ruby, I just got off the bus and I want to be in a Broadway show." As played with the most demurred determination since La Keeler herself, Eloise Kropp as Ruby gets my nod as the number one "Broadway Baby" of 2015. Kropp, just like Ruby, has come from the chorus of the recently closed On The Town to take the town now in a starring role as the pert and perky and sometimes poignant Ruby. She's adorable.
As Dick, an aspiring songwriter as well the sailor of Ruby's dreams, Cary Tedder has the right touch of hometown wholesomeness. He keeps on singing and dancing all the while banging out hit tunes. Best of all, he whisks Kropp twice around the floor in the charmingly sung and danced "It's You," and "There's Something About You." Tedder also has his hands full fighting off the femme fatale leading lady of the show, Mona Kent. She's played with comical sensuality by Lesli Margherita. Margherita, who just finished 1,000 performances as Mrs. Wormwood in Matilda and is sensational without being a cartoon. Her hilarious delivery of the scorching torch song "That Mister Man of Mine" is one of the show's many highlights. As much as she would like to get rid of Ruby, Mona would settle for a marriage proposal from the Captain. He is played winning by John Bolton who also gets into the thick of all the singing and dancing while also doubling in the role of the frantic director of a show in peril.
That's the basic conflict. The theater they are rehearsing in is about to be demolished and their only hope is to get their lavish show produced aboard Dick's battleship. Sidekicks often save the day and this case it is Danny Gardner, who is making his Broadway debut, as Lucky, a tap-happy gob with flying feet and a flair for wooing the wise-cracking gum-chewing chorus girl Joan, as played by a terrific Mara Davi. It may be a toss-up whether the song and dance numbers by Kropp and Tedder top those by Davi and Gardner.
Wise's music, from torch song to beguine, is a loving and melodic echo of the ‘30s. Skinner's direction and choreography are as witty and fresh as you could ever hope they would be. Anita Louizos's gloriously cheesy scenery and David C. Woolard's whimsical costumes (ooh that day-glow) willingly respond to Ken Billington and Jason Kantrowitz expert lighting. From the reaction of the audience on the night I attended, it looks as if (as one of the rousing numbers announces) "Good Times Are Here to Stay."