By: Sandi Durell
Take a trip to the Broadway port of the Helen Hayes Theatre and sail on crystal clear waters! It’s a cutesy, kitschy, corny romp and you can’t help but smile, chuckle and ooh and aah at the Busby Berkeley style that makes this small, but powerful triple-threat, six person cast seem like a giant production.
With book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller, and music by Jim Wise, some of the tunes might have a familiar ring and, if you were around in 1966 (Caffee Cino) or 1968 (off Broadway run), you may reminisce even further recalling a very young newbie, Bernadette Peters as the ingénue Ruby, the little sweetie just off the bus from Utah eager to become a star on Broadway with nothing more in her suitcase than a pair of red tap shoes. Yes, one could have instant success in those days! Or better still, in the fantasy world created by the wonderful movie musicals from which Dames finds its characters.
It’s an easy trail to follow: Broadway producer Harry Hennesey (reminiscent of Ray Bolger, the fabulous John Bolton) is rehearsing his cast of Dames when starry-eyed Ruby (sugary innocent top-tapper Eloise Kropp) arrives and he has no choice but to cast her as a replacement for one of the chorus girls who just ran off. Ruby falls in love with sailor Dick (Cary Tedder), a songwriter, and, would you believe, he’s from her hometown in Utah! Tedder is a smooth as silk dancer who made me think of Astaire floating on air. Joining in the fray is brassy tough-girl big-voiced tapping Joan (Mari Davi) with whom Ruby instantly bonds. Next comes Lucky (Danny Gardner), another sailor, who happens to be an ex-boyfriend of Joan’s. Hot stuff diva Mona Kent (a multi-personality scene stealer Lesli Margherita) is ready to get her claws into Dick when she finds out he’s a songwriter. Her spoofy “That Mister Man of Mine” (think Jerome Kern) is memorable.
In the mix is the fact that the theater in which they’re rehearsing is being razed to the ground (end of Act I, the wrecking ball). But when you want to put on a show, you put on a show . . . even on the deck of a Navy ship as Act II opens.
When Mona becomes ill (she’s subject to sea sickness), Ruby has her moment to shine, although Mona still comes out a winner when the snooty rich ship’s Captain (also Bolton) presents her with the biggest diamond you’d ever seen.
Meantime, this talented tapping cast sparkles with impressive rhythms in “Choo Choo Honeymoon” and floats effortlessly under umbrellas in “Raining in My Heart.” It’s all due to Randy Skinner’s remarkable choreographic and directorial skills (he must have had another life in the 20s and 30s) on Anna Louizos’ wonderful backstage theater set and Navy ship. The colorful costumes by David C. Woolard are perfection.
PS: Post show, I said hello to my friend John Bolton and we were all entranced meeting and listening to the tales of original cast members David Christmas (taller gentleman – original Dick) and Joseph R. Sicari (next to Christmas -original Lucky).
Helen Hayes Theater, 234 West 44th St., runs 2 hours with intermission.
Photos: Jeremy Daniel