BWW Reviews: Otterbein's DAMES AT SEA a Loving Tribute to a Bygone Era
DAMES AT SEA is listed as a parody of the Busby Berkley musicals of the 1930s but the Otterbein University's production of the George Haimsohn and Robin Miller musical comes across as a loving tribute than a skewering of the glitzy, style-over substance musicals.
The summer season closing show opened to a sold-out audience on July 17 at Otterbein's Fritsche Theatre (30 S. Grove Street in Westerville). If one can get past the often hokey script, the two-hour performance is a delightful diversion to a summer night.
The show revolves around the tired cliché of Ruby (played by Haley Jones), a fresh off the bus actress who comes to Broadway from Centerville, Ore. and tap dances her way to becoming a big star on Broadway. Her first stop is the set of DAMES AT SEA, a musical being directed by Hennesey (the always entertaining Jordan Donica). She immediately runs afoul of diva Mona Kent (Erin Ulman) but her plucky spirit wins over Hennesey and fellow chorus member Joan (Courtney Dahl).
Ruby is swept off her feet by Dick (Sam Parker), a sailor from her hometown in Oregon and an aspiring song writer. When Hennessey's theatre is demolished, Dick suggests a natural change of venue: the battleship he is stationed on. On the eve of the show, Kent becomes seasick and Ruby, of course, is thrust into the spotlight.
DAMES AT SEA features the school's most tap dances numbers since it on 42nd STREET in 2006. Ulman, Jones and Dahl guide the cast through Molly Sullivan's spirited choreography.
Each one of the cast brings something unique to the show. Jones brings a sense of Judy Garlandish sense of vulnerability and passion, especially to the song "Raining In My Heart" after her character feels she has been cheated on by her fiancée. Parker adds a strong voice to the show, alternating between being star struck by Kent and overwhelmingly in love with Ruby.
Ulman is terrific as an outlandish diva that treats the whole cast as her assistants. Particularly amusing is her straining to keep an onstage smile as things are collapsing around her. Donica showcases his range, playing an aging, slumping director in the first act and an authoritative Captain Courageous in the second. Dahl continues to deliver as quirky sidekicks as Joan, rolling her eyes after every over-the-top demand of Kent. Ian Taylor serves as a strong complement to Dahl as Lucky, Joan's on-again, off-again boyfriend.
Anthony Cason (George), Jeff Gise (Norman) and Emma (Emily Vanni) round out the talented cast while musical director Lori Kay Harvey and Dennis Davenport share keyboard duties.
Although it's not quite a parody, DAMES AT SEA is a great throwback to the golden age of dance spectacular musicals and the Otterbein cast brings its normal perfection to the show.
DAMES AT SEA will be performed 8 p.m. July 18-20 and 23-26 and 2 p.m. on July 20 and 25 at the Fritsche Theatre at 30 S. Grove Street in Westerville. Tickets are $25 each and can be reserved by calling the Otterbein University box office at (614) 823-1109 or purchased online at www.otterbein.edu/drama.