250 Word Reviews: Dames At Sea

Originally published on 250 Word Reviews.

Dames At Sea

(Broadway: The Helen Hayes Theatre)

Dames at Sea first delighted audiences in 1966 with its low-budget, can-do spunk. A gentle spoof of 1930s movie musicals, the show prefigured the nostalgia crazy of the 1970s and introduced the world to Bernadette Peters as the ingénue-who-becomes-a-star, Ruby. Now making its Broadway debut, the show’s been gussied up with fancier sets (by Anna Louizos) and costumes (by David C. Woolard) and a major infusion of tap dancing by director/choreographer Randy Skinner, the contemporary master of the form. Can this extra dose of razzmatazz make up for the lost intimacy and proximity to its antecedent? Only intermittently. Eloise Kropp, this production’s Ruby, is a fine singer and dancer, but she lacks “it.” Thankfully, Lesli Margherita as overbearing diva Mona is full of “it,” and she walks away with every scene she’s in. The rest of the tiny cast get the job done, but the show is so light and frothy it leaves little lasting impression. The book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller are heavy on references that will be lost on contemporary audiences and surprisingly light on jokes. Jim Wise’s melodies do the heavy lifting; audiences are sure to hum the tunes for weeks. Some of the show’s old-fashioned features, like the song “Singapore Sue” (despite its uncredited new lyrics) and the decision to cast only white people, might have better been left in the past. Ultimately: a fun but inconsequential diversion of just about two hours, but who wants to pay $155 for that?

Production photograph by Jeremy Daniel. Pictured (l-r): Danny Gardner, Mara Davi, John Bolton, Eloise Kropp, Cary Tedder, and Lesli Margherita.

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: Dames at Sea – Original London Cast Recording

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

damesDames at Sea is the quintessential “little show that could,” growing from a sketch to a nightclub show to a proper off-Broadway musical to an international hit that’s spawned multiple cast recordings, a television production, rumors of a forthcoming Broadway revival, and, oh, it helped launch the career of an ingenue by the name of Bernadette Peters. Originally performed with two pianos and percussion, the original off-Broadway cast recording featured sumptuous new orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick.

Ironically, the presence of those gorgeous charts and the unmistakable Peters are two of the best arguments for adding the London Cast Recording to your collection. The London production, which opened a year after its off-Broadway progenitor, features no such breakout performance, enabling the entire ensemble to shine. (Sheila White, who plays the part originated by Peters, does a fine job, but her biggest credit was Brigitta in The Sound of Music.) The London cast recording doesn’t return to the show’s two-pianos-plus-drums orchestrations, but the new charts by Bill Shepherd are closer to the “let’s put on a show” aesthetic of the show. Continue reading