Review Roundup: DAMES AT SEA Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
The first Broadway production of Dames at Sea opens at Broadway's Helen Hayes Theater (240 W 44th Street), tonight, October 22, 2015, at 6:30pm. With a book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller, music by Jim Wise, orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, and music supervision and vocal & dance arrangements by Emmy Award winner Rob Berman (Irving Berlin's White Christmas, Finian's Rainbow), Dames at Sea is directed and choreographed by three time Tony Award nominee Randy Skinner (42nd Street, Irving Berlin's White Christmas).
DAMES AT SEA stars John Bolton as The Captain/Hennesey, Mara Davi as Joan, Danny Gardner as Lucky, Eloise Kropp as Ruby, Laurence Olivier Award winner Lesli Margherita as Mona Kent, and Cary Tedder as Dick. The Dames at Sea company includes Tessa Grady, Kristie Kerwin, Ian Knauer and Kevin Worley.
DAMES AT SEA is a tap-happy gem of a show that celebrates the golden era of movie musicals with dazzling dances, spectacular songs and delightful dames! Ruby steps off a bus in Manhattan, and into her first Broadway show, but hours before the opening night curtain is to rise, the cast learns their theater is being demolished, so it is "all hands on deck" to find a stage to put on the show. Featuring rollicking tap dancing, love at first sight, joyful music and a boatload of laughs, Dames at Sea has everything you need to sweep your glooms away.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: Nearly 50 years on, however, with Broadway having thoroughly strip-mined the songs and styles of the shows that made up the so-called Golden Age of the musical, the little show that could, and did, seems to give off a faint whiff of mothballs. But it still provides lively diversions for those in search of yesteryear's delights, particularly the skillful pastiche songs by Jim Wise (music) and George Haimsohn and Robin Miller (lyrics)...And there's a whole lot of hearty hoofing, although the exuberant choreography by Randy Skinner, who also directs, had so many dance breaks that I eventually found myself pining for a break from all the breaks...While the producers' decision to cast relative unknowns in the principal roles is certainly in keeping with its little-big-show ethos, and the ensemble is entirely charming, none of the performers are likely to emerge with halos of stardust spinning around their heads.
Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld:
By Broadway standards, the intimate Helen Hayes theatre might be considered the Main Stem's version of an eight foot by eight foot platform, so Dames at Sea's premiere Broadway production is also a tiny affair featuring six actors with more or less equal-sized roles. Anna Louizos' fine set changes at intermission, but stays just the way it is for each of the two acts. There are no dark moods in Ken Billington and Jason Kantrowitz lighting and director/choreographerRandy Skinner's staging plays out to the house. Under such conditions, actors have no production values to cling to.Dames at Sea offers only one special effect. Talent. Lots of it. And it's right smack in the middle of the stage for all to clearly see.
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: It's taken almost half a century for "Dames at Sea" to come to Broadway. There really was no rush. This insubstantial musical, which sits awkwardly between celebration and parody, opened Thursday at the Helen Hays Theatre like a riff off a long-forgotten joke. And its bad identity crisis lets down one of the most hard-working casts in the business...It's the 1960s laughing at the 1930s, but in this century, it comes off as hopelessly hidebound. The music by Jim Wise is so light and derivative that it leaves no mark on the brain or heart...The show is weighed down by references to old stars...Randy Skinner directs and choreographs very tidily, keeping the hijinks bright, the hoofing electric and the "Golly gee willickers" delivered at a rosy, Technicolor level...But while everyone is sweating up a storm, the purpose is unclear. The dames are all at sea.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: How cruel, to make comparisons with a legendary star! How unkind! How unfair! Well, tough luck, because here it comes: the new leading lady of "Dames at Sea" is no Bernadette Peters. There's nothing wrong with this revival that Peters, who played the role of Ruby in the original 1968 production, couldn't fix. But musical theater stars of her caliber don't grow on trees, and although newcomer Eloise Kropp is a power tapper par excellence, she hasn't the saucy charm of a Broadway Baby like Ruby -- or the magnetic appeal of a star like Peters.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Whether there's an audience for this effusive salute to a kitschy, corny genre that most Broadway theatergoers have either forgotten or never knew remains an open question...The musical is right in the wheelhouse of director-choreographer Randy Skinner, who never met a nostalgic dance interlude he didn't like...The central role of the cute ingenue might have benefited from a more captivating presence -- the fresh-faced Kropp is no Peters, her dance ability outweighing her tentative acting -- and Tedder and Gardner are perhaps too interchangeable. But Skinner has assembled a likeable cast that fits the material, both in terms of the stock types they're playing and the kind of screen stars associated with them...The show's over-the-top scene-stealer...is Margherita...Her Mona is classic Brooklyn trash reinvented as a grand thespian, turning on a dime from high melodrama to an ingratiating megawatt smile.
Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: Dames at Sea was launched in 1966 at the downtown coffeehouse Caffe Cino, where its affectionate send-up of 1930s movie musicals tapped -- or, rather, tap-danced -- into nostalgia for the busily silly spectacles of yesteryear. Now it's on Broadway, where it lands like a harmless piece of wet fluff. The first 20 minutes of wide-eyed antics are cute; then your mind starts to wander. Dames at Sea's mild pastiche...is passable but passé -- imagine a revival, half a century from now, of a Fringe show about the '80s -- and it's presented with tongue so far in cheek that it can't say much at all. The cast of six works hard to sell it, though...Director-choreographer Randy Skinner gives them furiously fast tap numbers to perform, as though they were pumping invisible air pedals to keep the show from deflating. In the end, no such luck: pfffffft.
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: 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. Eloise Kropp, the appealingly wholesome and lavishly athletic performer who plays Ruby, may not have the kewpie-doll allure that Peters surely brought to the part; but it's hard to imagine many leading ladies who could provide the inexhaustible tap prowess demanded here -- or deliver the understated sweetness that makes Kropp a pleasure to watch even when she's standing still. Less is required, at least physically, of Lesli Margherita's Mona, though the actress plays the tyrannical vamp with infectious relish.
Linda Winer, Newsday: So the current big-time revival does what its late creators -- composer Jim Wise, author/lyricists George Haimsohn and Robin Miller -- apparently wanted their modest takeoff to accomplish. The production, directed and choreographed by Randy Skinner, has a hard-tapping, hardworking cast of six and enough varieties of I-love-to-dance smiles to become their own emoticons. What the musical does not have -- in addition to a breakout ingénue to elevate the unrelentingly, cheerfully lame nonsense -- is charm. This is, to put it gently, a one-joke show. And we get the joke -- we get it, we get it -- over and over the tap-happy two hours.
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: "Dames at Sea" is a technicolor, tap dance-filled tribute to the movie musicals of the 1930s. It's delightful, and it doesn't take itself seriously for a minute...After an evening with the "Dames" ensemble of dancers and singers, directed and choreographed by Encores! vet Randy Skinner -- he also worked on the 2001 revival of "42nd Street" -- you will surely agree. It works..."Dames at Sea" opens with Margherita in a flashy, affectionate and snark-free tribute to Wall Street. With that as a bar, it falls to Margherita to set a tone of ironic distance to everything that comes after...Six actors do all the work. "Dames at Sea" is a small-scale musical, crammed into Broadway's teensiest theater, but with the gumption of a mighty battleship.
Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: "Dames at Sea," the ultra-campy 1966 musical about the you'll-come-back-a-star backstage movie musicals of the early '30s, has finally made it to Broadway. I'm not sure why, since the point of the show...is that it's a low-budget miniature send-up of the genre...though this gussied-up revival...is nothing if not charming. If you like high-velocity tap dancing, you'll see (and hear) plenty of it, and Mr. Skinner flings his tiny cast across the smallish stage of the 597-seat Helen Hayes Theatre with endless visual ingenuity, aided and abetted by Jonathan Tunick's flawless period-style orchestrations for the eight-piece band. So what's not to like? Nothing whatsoever -- but there isn't enough to love about "Dames at Sea," which may have seemed sufficiently witty a half-century ago but has long since been outclassed...
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: "Dames at Sea" is a mid-1960s musical trifle that works overtime to be cheeky good fun. Thanks to a cast with twinkle-toes and polished pipes, it succeeds -- for a while. Before long, though, monotony sets in and won't go away. Even top-notch tap-dancing can get repetitive...Now on Broadway for the first time, in this revival choreographed and directed by Randy Skinner, the cast is still small but the production values are beefed up. In some ways, this "Dames at Sea" mirrors what it's lampooning, so it's neither fish nor fowl. Put another way, "Dames at Sea" doesn't make a big splash or sink. It treads water.
Matt Windman, AM New York: In a mind-boggling move, the show (which has not aged all that well) is being revived on Broadway, where it is uncomfortably out of place...The score has a few hummable melodies, but it's hardly top-drawer work. The jokes, which were intended for a gentler sensibility and an audience that was familiar with the 1930s films being evoked, land flat, as do all the references to celebrities from the period. Staged by director-choreographer Randy Skinner with lots of pep but little personality, the hardworking six-member cast tries to overcome the lackluster material by aggressively playing up the campiness, to the point of relentless irritation.
Jesse Green, Vulture: Rather than comment on the quirks or shortcomings of their models, [the songs] merely copy them, in presumably deliberate and definitely third-rate imitations...What once made this mediocre material work, if anything did, was the panicky contrast between the outsize ambition of the '30s originals and the downsized reality of the spit-and-cardboard tribute...The camp, in other words, was genuine. And while it's lovely to hear the score orchestrated (by Jonathan Tunick, no less) for eight instruments instead of two pianos and a drum set, the material's internal wiring gets tangled when mounted at the scale -- and with the bland polish -- of Randy Skinner's Broadway production...Not to pile on, but I was surprised to find most of the dancing, and for that matter the performances in general, so ineloquent...Camp, it turns out, can't be faked; without deprivation and desperation, there is no wit.
Marc Snetiker, Entertainment Weekly: Boiled down to basic ingredients, the most cheerful tuners often share the same quirky, classic DNA: tap-dancing showstoppers, Broadway chorus lines, and for an inexplicable reason, boats. All are on display in Dames at Sea...but optimism alone can't keep a one-note ship afloat for too long...Under Skinner's uneven direction, the production waffles between a nicely prepared inside joke and the clunky result of its own satire. He vacillates between parody and earnestness, with the former offering genuine moments of humor for the very precise breed of fan who will appreciate them and the latter landing with something of a confusing, elongated thud...Fortunately, the piece's performers are perfectly cast to deliver the very long joke...As this very solid production stands, it's not particularly nautical and not particularly naughty, either. B-
Robert Hofler, TheWrap: In 2015, how are we supposed to enjoy "Dames at Sea"...?...With its modest cast of just six, the show doesn't even attempt to replicate Berkeley's big art-deco productions numbers...What we're left with in "Dames at Sea" are the plots of movies like "Footlight Parade" and "The Golddiggers of 1933"...In the new revival of "Dames at Sea," Eloise Kropp and Cary Tedder play Ruby and Dick, respectively. Unlike Keeler, Kropp can sing and dance; unlike Powell, Tedder probably won't go on to play Philip Marlowe...Book writers George Haimsohn and Robin Miller make jokes that play on the leading man's name or that rhyme Louis XIV with V.I.P. It's not fun to feel superior to such material; it's numbing. As for Jim Wise's "Dames at Sea" score, quick: Hum a tune from this nearly 50-year-old musical. The repetition of the music is in a contest only with the repetition of the Dick jokes.
Steven Suskin, The Huffington Post: Skinner directs Dames at Sea as well, but it is his choreography which keeps the show on its toes from beginning to end. He has stacked the deck with an ingratiating cast, including two standout performances. So there is plenty for musical comedy audiences to be happy about, especially at a time when there is nothing else on Broadway in this category...The big joke, in the case of Dames at Sea, was that the creators -- along with a cast of six and designers working with a crimped budget in a crimped space -- were giving us a tongue-in-cheek, postage-stamp version of those Warner Bros. movie musicals of the 1930s...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.
Christopher Kelly, NJ.com: Originally staged in 1966, but never before on Broadway, "Dames at Sea" is a spoof of those old-fashioned, Depression-era "backstage" musicals...It's one of those wink-wink, nudge-nudge shows...that seeks to make fun of corny Broadway conventions, all the while luxuriating in the cornfields...Even the silliest spoof, though, demands a measure of humility, whereas from the shrill opening number, "Wall Street," "Dames at Sea" is pitched at those sitting in the balcony of the theater across the street. The frantic pacing never allows us develop even the slightest emotional connection to the characters, and the brassy, cutesy songs...soon start to blur together. Points to the impressive cast of six, especially in the breathless tap dancing numbers...But a little of this elbowing-in-the-ribs goes an awfully long way.
Jonathan Mandell, DC Theatre Scene: Fun and funny, full of rousing melodies and exciting bouts of tap dancing performed by six true talents, the revival at the Helen Hayes is, according to the show's website, "reimagined for the bright lights of Broadway and taken to glamorous and spectacular new heights." To the extent that it delivers on its marketing hype, Dames at Sea largely loses what made it distinctive in the first place...the Broadway version isn't staged with exceptional ingenuity; it doesn't have to be. The production values are ratcheted up...What remains constant is the opportunity Dames at Sea offers to gifted performers to strut their stuff...In a great example of art imitating art, Krupp, a world-class tap dancer, can herself count as a Broadway discovery...The marvelous Mara Davi plays the wise-cracking chorus girl Joan...The reliable Broadway veteran John Bolton hams it up winningly in two roles...If there can be said to be a standout in such a cast, it is Lesli Margherita...the biggest change on Broadway is that the show somehow no longer feels like an ironic if loving send-up of a 30's extravaganza, but something closer to an imitation of one.
Stephen Collins, BritishTheatre.com: ...Dames At Sea may lay claim to being one of the silliest, sweetest, most ridiculous musicals of all time. It makes no real pretence at plot or character, preferring to stay firmly in the world of parody, emphasising great, catchy tunes, swell dance routines, risqué jokes, and gooey love affairs between showgirls and randy sailors which would make Roger de Bris call for a wrist massage. And it's terrific with a capital T...Skinner ensures, with impeccable timing, and just the right level of cheese, that every bad joke lands, that the good jokes garner big laughs, that the dance routines are snappy and cute, and that sauciness, naivety, and vamp camp ensure an ebullient trifle, fruity, textured, and creamy, but never, ever, soggy. It's a real treat for all palates.
Steven Suskin, Huffington Post: The preview audience at the performance I attended was more or less over the moon; but they appeared to be a "friendly" audience of backers and relatives, with many of the older-skewing patrons clearly getting all the film references. Dames at Sea has the makings of a popular Broadway hit, providing that uninitiated audiences react half so favorably.
Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: The revival of Dames At Sea that opened on Broadway Thursday night is a lot of fun and a tribute to the city's inexhaustible pool of inexhaustible talent, if not actual stars. In the District's smallest house, recently acquired by the Second Stage nonprofit company but not yet rehabbed, the fit is just right for Anna Louizos' humorous sets and the company of six, which includes a dazzling tapper named Eloise Kropp as Ruby, the ingenue. She's nicely partnered by Cary Tedder as the sailor who falls for Ruby. Randy Skinner is the director and choreographer, and by the end of the show you'll be praying that these hoofers have shock absorbers for joints, because the pounding is relentless (and for a tapdance lover like me, exhilarating)
Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel