BWW Review: DAMES AT SEA Creates Waves of Smiles at The Winter Park Playhouse
I silently tap danced under my seat as I waited for the show to begin. Opening night of the 2015/2016 season in The Winter Park Playhouse, with its intimate setting and alluring lounge, promised to be a delight. The lounge/lobby was just recently expanded and the comfort factor has more than doubled. Long-time patrons are sure to be pleasantly surprised by the spacious feel and open atmosphere resulting from this upgrade. Now, on to the show.
DAMES AT SEA, with book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller and music by Jim Wise, is a spoof on the 1930s Busby Berkeley movie musicals (think extravagant dance routines and kalediscope screen shots). The show opened for the first time Off-Off Broadway in Greenwich Village in 1966. As many audience members quietly whispered on opening night, this show helped to make Tony Award-winner Bernadette Peters a star, playing Ruby, in one of her first leading performances. The show then premiered Off-Broadway in 1968, followed by a run in London, a few revivals and even a television adaptation in 1971. The Playhouse's Director of Marketing and Public Relations, Lisa Melillo, confirmed that DAMES AT SEA was selected as the opening show of the season before the Playhouse knew that it would open on Broadway for the first time in the fall of this year. Great timing for this fan-favorite venue.
The storyline is relatively easy to follow: small-town girl seeks stardom in Broadway show, girl falls for sailor/songwriter boy, girl lands role in chorus, diva-star of show detests girl, show must move from land to sea, diva-star cannot perform, girl receives lead, and crowd goes wild. As I'm sure you can imagine, there is more to the plot, but let's leave something to the imagination. The first act takes place behind the scenes of our soon-to-open Broadway show; the second act moves us to the battleship (why not?) where the show is forced to migrate due to funding issues.
The leading duo included newcomer, 22-year old, Molly Jackson as small-town girl, Ruby, and Playhouse veteran Brian Wettstein as sailor/songwriter, Dick. Jackson was glowing with youthful delight and angelic vocals from the moment she stepped on stage. She delivered her lines with delicate ease and brought a graceful presence to each number. She really lit up the stage in one of the show's concluding songs, "Star Tar." Whether or not you are impressed by the lyrics, you may find yourself leaving the show singing this amusing song. I am eager to see Jackson grow and develop as a professional performer. Wettstein was instantly lovable as well and extraordinarily comfortable on stage. He outperformed his counterpart from the 1971 film version of the show by a longshot.
Broadway veteran, Jan Leigh Herndon, played diva and prima donna, Mona Kent. She exceled at bringing to life the humorous and paradoxical moments in the show. While her singing voice didn't seem to fit the role, her experience stood out in numbers such as "Mr. Man of Mine" in the first act and "The Beguine" in the second. The latter was my favorite number of the night. It was dramatic and sultry and received a boatload of audience laughs (pun intended). In this number, Herndon epitomizes the love-to-hate, over-the-top, glam star who convincingly seduces the battleship captain, Hennesey, into granting her desire of using his ship as the new set for the show. David Thome delivered an excellent Hennesey and commands your attention when he is performing. Thome was last seen in The Playhouse's PUTTING IT TOGETHER earlier this year. I really enjoyed his confident performance, particularly his work in "The Beguine" where his frosty demeanor melted nicely into love-sick fool. I hope he continues to entertain us with performances in Central Florida.
Longtime fan-favorites Roy Alan, as Lucky and choreographer, and Heather Alexander, as Joan, were right at home on stage and shined in their duet, "Choo-Choo Honeymoon," in the first act. This number included clean, crisp taps and an adorable, appealing connection between real-life husband and wife, Alan and Alexander. Alexander stood out with great energy in the memorable number, "Good Times Are Here to Stay." Alan's choreography for the show was right in tune with a 1960s tap musical and his use of classic dance steps seemed to work well for all of the performers. In one of my favorite moments in the second act, the duo connives to induce sea-sickness in leading lady, Mona. This couple is loved both on and off the stage; Central Florida is fortunate to have their talent working hard for our community.
The costumes really stood out in this production, especially those of Mona Kent. I have always been a big fan of the 60s style and am now a big fan of Linda Shorrock, Costume Design, who made charming and shrewd choices for this show.
Musical Director, Christopher Leavy along with Ned Wilkinson on keyboard and Sam Forrest on percussion, were absolutely spot-on for opening. Live music always comes with its risks but the quality of sound was flawless. The rhythmic melodies flowed in sync with the direction throughout the entire show.
The decision to include the song, "Singapore Sue" in the production was questionable for me. This number contains borderline offensive, wartime content and is sometimes left out of the show. In my opinion, it was out of place and somewhat distracted from the overall lighthearted feel of DAMES AT SEA. That being said, most of the audience roared with laughter during the song. One thing I love about theatre is how it affects different people in different ways, so I respect the choice despite my opinion.
Director/Stage Manager, Michael Edwards, made some clever choices to bring home the humor in the show. Alongside choreographer, Roy Alan, Edwards successfully turned some of the almost cheesy/cliché lines into laugh-out loud, endearing moments. "Mr. Man of Mine" in the second act was hysterical. While there were a few jokes that sailed right over my head, those moments didn't detract from the likeability of the production. The cast was obviously having a great time on stage, which ensures those of us seated in the audience were having a great time as well.
DAMES AT SEA is certain to entertain musical theater fans, especially fans of Busby Berkley's work and 1960s musical comedies. The show was a pleasant two hours, including the 15 minute intermission. Ticket prices are $40 evenings, $36 Senior evenings, $30 matinees, $15 student and industry professionals. Also notable, the "Student rush" special offers $10 tickets for students 25 years and younger 10 minutes prior to a performance when seats are available. There is some sexual innuendo and thus the show may not be suitable for all ages.
To set sail with the cast and crew of this enjoyable and energetic summer musical, call 407-645-0145 or visit Winter Park Playhouse's website, http://www.winterparkplayhouse.org. Plan to arrive a few minutes early to enjoy a drink in the new, expanded lounge space. The ship will be returning to port on August 22, so get your tickets today.
From This Author April Montgomery