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 an understudy 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.
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, Peters reprised the role of Ruby as did David Christmas, co-starring as Dick. The cast 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), 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.
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 show is expected to open on Broadway in October 2015 at The Helen Hayes Theatre, with direction and choreography by Randy Skinner. A workshop was held in January 2014 with Laura Osnes, Rachel York, Mara Davi, John Bolton, Cary Tedder, and Danny Gardner.
In the early 1930s, a Broadway musical is in rehearsal. Mona Kent is its temperamental diva star, Joan a wise-cracking chorus girl, and Hennesy the producer/manager/director. The naive Ruby arrives from Utah, with "nothing but tap shoes in her suitcase and a prayer in her heart", determined to be a Broadway star. She promptly faints into the arms of Dick, a sailor and aspiring song writer ("It's You"). Ruby gets a job in the chorus, but Hennesy informs the cast that the theater must be torn down, and they must find another place for the show. Joan and Lucky, another sailor and her former boyfriend, renew their romance ("Choo-Choo Honeymoon") while Ruby admits her feelings for Dick ("The Sailor of My Dreams"). Dick and Lucky persuade their Captain to volunteer the use of their ship ("Dames at Sea"). Mona recognizes the Captain as a former boyfriend ("The Beguine"). When Mona kisses Dick, to persuade him to give her one of his songs, Ruby sees and is despondent ("Raining In My Heart"). Dick explains the misunderstanding and the couple make up ("There's Something About You"). While rehearsing on the actual ship, Mona becomes sea sick ("The Echo Waltz"); Ruby steps in to save the show and becomes a star ("Star Tar"). The three couples decide to marry ("Let's Have A Simple Wedding").
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.
Musical numbers (1968)
In his review in the New York Times, 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."
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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- Kerr, Walter. New York Times, January 5, 1969, p. D1
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- Mordden, Ethan. Open a New Window: The Broadway Musical in the 1960s (2002), p. 184, Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 1-4039-6013-5
- Original 1968 Cast recording amazon.com
- Barnes, Clive. The New York Times, December 22, 1968, p. 54
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- Dames at Sea (1971) (TV) imdb.com, accessed July 21, 2009
- According to Ethan Mordden in Open A New Window (2002), p. 184, Shawn played the Captain
- O'Connor, John J. "T.V. Some Network Specials Do Not Always Turn Out To Be So," New York Times, November 17, 1971, p. 94
- New York Times, John Wilson, "Happily Afloat with 'Dames at Sea' ", July 6, 1969, pg. D4
- "Dames at Sea" on amazon.com
- Drama Desk Awards2006 - Winners 2001 dramadesk.com
- "Awards 1968-1968" Outer Critics Circle, accessed August 20, 2013