Review: ‘Dames at Sea’

Musical numbers: "Wall Street," "It's You," "Broadway Baby," "That Mister Man of Mine," "Choo-Choo Honeymoon," "The Sailor of My Dream," "Singapore Sue," "Good Times Are Here to Stay," "Dames at Sea," "The Beguine," "Raining in My Heart," "There's Something About You," "The Echo Waltz," "Star Tar," "Let's Have a Simple Wedding."

Musical numbers: “Wall Street,” “It’s You,” “Broadway Baby,” “That Mister Man of Mine,” “Choo-Choo Honeymoon,” “The Sailor of My Dream,” “Singapore Sue,” “Good Times Are Here to Stay,” “Dames at Sea,” “The Beguine,” “Raining in My Heart,” “There’s Something About You,” “The Echo Waltz,” “Star Tar,” “Let’s Have a Simple Wedding.”

Nostalgic appeal and low-tech/small-cast demands have made “Dames at Sea” a community-theater staple since the musical spoof launched Bernadette Peters’ career Off Broadway in 1968. First-class revivals have thus been in short supply; but producer Charles Duggan’s new staging is classy indeed, and a thorough delight. This may turn out a rare S.F.-originated commercial-house long-runner, with potential for remountings elsewhere.

“Dames” sends up ’30s movie musicals, in particular the plot-formulaic, spectacle-surrealistic ones Busby Berkeley devised for Warner Bros. Those films (especially the racy pre-Code entries) were seldom as dopey or naive as implied here. But script’s satire is all in affectionate good fun, as are Jim Wise’s blatantly purloined melodies (“That Mister Man of Mine,” for instance, is a direct “Man I Love” lift).

Fresh off the boat from Utah, Ruby (Andrea Chamberlain, very much in Peters’ moon-faced naif line) finds herself line-kicking in tough-loving director Harry Hennessey’s (David Eric) latest Broadway spectacular, with fellow chorine Joan (Paula Leggett Chase) providing tips on survival in the big city “jungle.”

As if this all weren’t heady enough, Ruby goes gooey over Dick (Joel Carlton) , a sailor who just happens — gosh! — also to be a swell songwriter. But his attention is waylaid by the show’s vampy star Mona Kent (Ellen Harvey). Needless to say, cliches (and U.S. Navy intervention) ensure that Ruby gets Mona’s spotlight on opening night, along with her seagoing Mr. Right.

The “cast-of-thousands” nature of famed production numbers in “42nd Street,” etc., is shrunk down to a stage roll call of six (also including Cleve Asbury as Joan’s own sailor beau, Lucky), making their spoofing here all the more ingenious. Director-choreographer Scott Thompson doesn’t allow a millisecond’s flab — every moment, musical or otherwise, ekes maximum cartoonish mileage out of the material’s wit.

Cast is well-nigh perfect down the line, with vocal, tap and comic chops to burn. Tech package is also superb without violating the material’s need for simplicity; set and costume designers Michael Bottari and Ronald Case hew mostly to classic celluloid black-and-white. Conducting a five-piece pit orchestra, Donald Eldon Wescoat keeps the dreaded synthesizer element as low-profile as possible. Vocal miking is likewise unobtrusive.

Dames at Sea

(MUSICAL COMEDY; MARINES MEMORIAL THEATER; 650 SEATS; $ 44 TOP)

Production

SAN FRANCISCO A Charles H. Duggan presentation of a musical comedy in two acts, with music by Jim Wise, book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller. Directed,

Crew

Choreographed by Scott Thompson. Set, costumes, Michael Bottari, Ronald Case; lighting, Tony Tucci; sound, Ken Huncovsky; music supervisor, Donald Eldon Wescoat; production stage manager, Milt Commons; assistant director-choreographer, Richard Byron. Opened, reviewed June 1, 1998. Running time: 1 HOUR, 55 MIN.

With

Mona Kent ..... Ellen Harvey Joan ..... Paula Leggett Chase Hennessey/The Captain ..... David Eric Ruby ..... Andrea Chamberlain Dick ..... Joel Carlton Lucky ..... Cleve Asbury
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