Dames at Sea
|Dames at Sea|
Original Cast recording
1969 West End
1973 New Jersey
1989 West End revival
2004 off-Broadway Revival
Dames at Sea is a musical with book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller and music by Jim Wise.
The musical is a parody of large, flashy 1930s Busby Berkeley-style movie musicals in which a chorus girl, newly arrived off the bus from the Midwest to NYC, steps into a role on Broadway and becomes a star. It originally played Off-Off-Broadway in 1966 at the Caffe Cino, starring newcomer Bernadette Peters and then played Off-Broadway beginning in 1968 for a successful run. The show has enjoyed a London run, a television adaptation and a number of revivals, before its Broadway premiere in October 2015.
The musical was originally a short sketch, based loosely on the Gold Diggers movies, written by George Haimsohn, Jim Wise, and Robin Miller. The character of "Ruby" was suggested by the Ruby Keeler-type from those early movies. It was lengthened to a 50-minute production, and director Robert Dahdah prepared it for its first staging. After the original actress who was to play "Ruby" withdrew during rehearsals, choreographer Don Price recommended newcomer Bernadette Peters for the role. The show opened in May 1966 as Dames at Sea, or Golddiggers Afloat at the Caffe Cino, a small coffee house/performance space in New York City's Greenwich Village, where it continued for 148 performances. The original Caffe Cino cast featured Peters as Ruby, Joe McGuire as Frank, David Christmas as Dick, Jill Roberts as Joan, Norma Bigtree as Mona and Gary Filsinger as the Director and Captain. Peters was replaced by her sister, Donna Forbes (now DeSeta) during the run.
Retitled simply Dames at Sea, the musical re-opened at the Bouwerie Lane Theatre on December 20, 1968, and transferred to the larger Theater de Lys on April 22, 1969, and closed on May 10, 1970 after a total of 575 performances. Directed and choreographed by Neal Kenyon, the show again featured Peters in the role of Ruby and David Christmas as Dick. The cast also featured Steve Elmore as the Captain, Tamara Long as Mona Kent, Joseph R. Sicari as Lucky, and Sally Stark as Joan. After Peters left the show, the role of "Ruby" was played by Loni Ackerman, Bonnie Franklin, Janie Sell, Barbara Sharma, and Pia Zadora.
Peters appeared in a regional production at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey in early 1973. Subsequent revivals have been staged at the Lamb's Theatre in Manhattan (1985) (with Stephen Flaherty playing the piano), the Haymarket Theatre, Leicester, London (1989), and at the theatre where the musical first played off-Broadway, the Bouwerie Lane Theatre, produced by Jean Cocteau Repertory and directed by David Fuller, from September 3, 2004 to November 28, 2004.
The show began previews on Broadway on September 24, 2015, and officially opened on October 22 at the Helen Hayes Theatre, with direction and choreography by Randy Skinner. A workshop for this production was held in January 2014 with Laura Osnes, Rachel York, Mara Davi, John Bolton, Cary Tedder, and Danny Gardner. The Broadway cast featured John Bolton as The Captain/Hennesey, Mara Davi as Joan, Danny Gardner as Lucky, Eloise Kropp as Ruby, Lesli Margherita as Mona Kent and Cary Tedder as Dick. The show is described as "a tap-happy gem of a show that celebrates the golden era of movie musicals". Among the producers are Infinity Theatre Company and Perry Street Theatricals. The show was produced in 2012 by Infinity Theatre Company, Annapolis, Maryland with direction and choreography by Randy Skinner. This production closed on January 3, 2016 after 85 performances and 32 previews.
After a brief musical introduction the curtain rises on the dress rehearsal of a Broadway show, Dames At Sea. Hardboiled star Mona Kent is going through her opening number. ("Wall Street") Enter Ruby, fresh off the bus from Utah and looking for a part in a Broadway show. She has left her suitcase on the bus and hasn't eaten for three days. Hennessey, the show's harassed manager - he has just produced 12 flops in a row - is turning her down when big-hearted show girl Joan informs him that one of the chorus eloped with a millionaire that morning. He gives Ruby the job.
Overcome with the excitement and lack of food, Ruby faints - right into the arms of Dick, a handsome sailor who has found her suitcase, containing her tap shoes, and followed her.("It's You") Ruby and Dick fall instantly in love. Dick, an aspiring songwriter, composes a love song for Ruby right then and there.("Broadway Baby") Kindly Joan takes Ruby off for a meal. The glamorous Mona, wanting to get her hands on Dick for both his music and his looks, starts flirting with him - not for nothing is she known as 'the Lady Macbeth of 42nd Street'. Ambitious Dick, all too eagerly gives her one of his songs to sing. ("That Mister Man of Mine")
Dick's fellow sailor, Lucky, arrives. He turns out to be a former boyfriend of Joan and greets her in astonishment. Finding their earlier love rekindling, they imagine their honeymoon. ("Choo- Choo Honeymoon") To express her love for Dick, Ruby writes a letter to President Roosevelt, explaining just how much she loves the American navy in general and Dick in particular. ("The Sailor of My Dreams") Hennessey confounds the company when he rushes in with the news that the theatre has been sold and is scheduled for demolition. With opening night only hours away, the sturdy troopers sing as they pack up their belongings and the bulldozers move in.
Dick and Lucky hit on a brilliant idea to save the show: they will persuade their commander, Captain Courageous, to allow the show to open on the deck of their battleship, which is anchored in the nearby docks. Dames At Sea will be staged at sea! ("Dames At Sea") Favouring a subtle approach, the two sailor boys start by lamenting the lack of girls on board ship. But their efforts are to no avail. It is Mona who vamps Captain Courageous into capitulating and allowing them to put on the show. Planning her entrances, Mona is astounded to see that the Captain is none other than 'Kewpie Doll', a former beau. She reminds him of their first meeting in Pensacola, Florida, when she, the as-yet-undiscovered singing waitress, Grace Topolovsky from Flatbush, served him chilli-con-carne. Passion flares anew as they recall that fateful night when she gave her all under the tropic stars. ("The Beguine")
Dick arrives as the Captain leaves. Ever on the lookout for more songs, Mona persuades Dick to kiss her. Just at that moment, Ruby enters and sees everything. Plunged into the blackest despair, she pours out her feelings. ("Raining In My Heart") Dick explains the misunderstanding and the couple make up. ("There's Something About You")
During last-minute rehearsals, the excitement at fever pitch, Mona becomes seasick and has to retire to the Captain's cabin. ("The Echo Waltz") Hennessey is devastated. Who could possibly replace the star at such short notice? All turn to Ruby: "It's a chance in a million, but it might just work." The plucky girl goes on and wows the audience. ("Star Tar") After the show, Dick showers her with congratulations and they kiss and make up. There is nothing else to do but to plan the wedding. Joan and Lucky, and Mona and Captain Courageous refuse to be left out. The show ends with the three pairs deciding that simplicity should be the keynote amid cheers and a 21-gun salute. ("Let's Have A Simple Wedding")
Note: In some cases, the show is fleshed out to include chorus boys and girls, and other sailors. Some productions also omit the song "Singapore Sue".
The music is a mixture of parody, such as the torch song ""That Mister Man", pastiche ("Raining in My Heart"), and the real thing. The joke was that, while spoofing the large, lavish movie musicals, Dames at Sea did it with a cast of six, 2 pianos and percussion, and a tiny stage.
In the 2015 Broadway production, director Randy Skinner noted that this was "...the first time in New York that 'Dames at Sea' will be heard with an orchestra, and the show will have more dancing than ever before with all new dance and vocal arrangements by Rob Berman...' " In a clever touch, this production opens with movie credits projected onto a screen, reproducing exactly the font used by Warner Bros. in the early 1930s.
In his review in the New York Times of the 1968 production, Clive Barnes wrote " 'Dames At Sea' is a real winner, a little gem of a musical. The show is wonderfully helped by its cast. The star I suppose is Bernadette Peters as the wholly sweetly silly small-town chorine who taps her way from the bus station to stardom in 24 hours." Walter Kerr, in his Sunday Times feature article, added "You'll find the show cheerful and ingratiating, I think... Miss Peters is a real find... She is extremely funny, and endearing on top of that." The Time Magazine review noted that the show had "three thoroughly engaging stars and some of the most ingenious staging currently on or off Broadway. Tamara Long, as the slinky heavy, brandishes a flaming Morganitic torch for her Mister Man, and Sally Stark, as Ruby's peroxided pal, belts a note almost as plangent as the great Merman's. The comic delight of the show, though, is Bernadette Peters, whose Ruby can simultaneously sing and dance up a storm that puts all New York (including Queen Mane of Rumania) at her feet."
The review of the production at the Off-Broadway Bouwerie Lane Theatre (2004) in the Gay City News:
Director David Fuller has filled his production with such subtle touches, which make the show seem intriguingly contemporary, and far from the saccharine and serious treatments this chestnut usually receives, he’s restored the true Off-Broadway spirit that used the establishment’s own forms to tweak its foibles. First staged during the Vietnam War era, the musical seems more relevant than ever as it takes precise aim at the sunny outlook that comes from near-psychotic denial of reality.
The review praises the cast: "The cast does a great job... Individually, Kathleen White as Ruby is deliciously comic, with expressions and physical comedies that recall Lucille Ball... Chrysten Peddie as Joan has the tough dame attitude down cold. She’s got a warm presence, is a great dancer and has a strong voice."
The USA Today reviewer of the 2015 production wrote: "So why bring this trifle to Broadway, for the first time, 49 years after its downtown premiere? Never mind; just check your cares and pretensions at the door of the Helen Hayes Theatre, ... and prepare to be thoroughly charmed. Through it all, happily, Skinner keeps everyone dancing, providing exuberant tap routines that his cast executes with joyful facility."
Steven Suskin, in reviewing for the Huffington Post wrote: "The surprise, today, is that the show remains viable; this first Broadway production is impeccably staged and loaded with entertainment, and should delight its target audience ... The songs ... hit all the bases, reminding us of all those wonderful Harry Warren songs; but they are mostly lightweight pastiches, never quite as memorable as the real thing. It should be noted that the show--which was heretofore performed with two pianos and a drummer--is now fully orchestrated."
An adaptation for television starred Ann-Margret as Ruby, Ann Miller as Mona, Anne Meara as Joan, Harvey Evans as Dick, Fred Gwynne as Hennesy and Dick Shawn as the Captain. It was broadcast on the Bell System Family Theater on NBC on November 15, 1971. The cast had extra chorus girls and boys, and there were full production numbers, turning into the very thing it was spoofing. Ann Miller was singled out for praise, especially when "she was allowed to tap out her brassy...temperamental star..."
The original off-Broadway Cast Recording was released in 1969 by Columbia Masterworks Records (Columbia OS 3330) and issued on CD by Sony. The Original London Cast Recording is also available on CD.
Awards and nominations
Original Off-Broadway production
|1968||Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Performance||Bernadette Peters||Won|
|Outstanding Director of a Musical||Neal Kenyon||Won|
|Outstanding Lyrics||George Haimsohn and Robin Miller||Won|
|Outer Critics Circle Award||Best Off-Broadway Musical||Won|
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- According to Ethan Mordden in Open A New Window (2002), p. 184, Shawn played the Captain
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- Plot, song list, and production information on guidetomusicaltheatre.com
- Robert Patrick's Dames at Sea Page