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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Dames At Sea
Union Theatre Summer 2011

This perky little musical is a spoof of the Warner Brothers movies of the 1930s, right down to having a central couple named Ruby (as in Keeler) and Dick (as in Powell).

It's tuneful and funny and wants nothing more than to entertain you, and the only criticism to make of the current revival is that it occasionally makes the error of taking itself seriously, missing some of the satirical tang.

In a plot that borrows openly from 42nd Street, a country girl arrives in New York, gets a job in a Broadway chorus line, meets a boy and takes over from the ailing star, all in one day. Along the way there are musical numbers that are original but allude wittily to counterparts in such movies as Dames, Footlight Parade and the Golddiggers series.

There's a just-pretend-the-Depression-isn't-there number ('Wall Street'), a shuffle-off-to-Buffalo song ('Cho-cho Honeymoon'), a mock Oriental ballet ('Singapore Sue'), the obligatory South American number ('The Beguine') and a Busby Berkeley salute in 'The Echo Waltz'. 

The writers – book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller, music by Jim Wise – even finessed a digression to Rodgers and Hammerstein with the title song, a camp take-off on 'Nothing Like A Dame'. 

And it's all silly, and it's all fun and, as I said, the only small complaint to make is that director Kirk Jameson has opted for a little more sweet and a little less tart.

The blues song 'Raining In My Heart', which is meant as a parody, is played seriously – and while it surprisingly works quite well that way, you sense the missed opportunity. Generally, Gemma Sutton as Ruby and Daniel Bartlett as Dick play absolutely straight, lacking the touch of – what's the word I'm looking for? - idiocy built into their roles and into the show as a whole.

That parodic quality is there in full force in Rosemary Ashe's romp as the egotistical and sexually ravenous star, and one catches glimpses of it in the secondary couple played with verve by Catriana Sandison and Alan Hunter and in the comic characters of Anthony Wise and Ian Mowat. 

So what we have here is a musical that sometimes seems to forget that it's supposed to be a parody, and discovers to its surprise that it works quite nicely in both modes. 

And here's a bit of theatrical trivia. Dames At Sea was one of the very first small-scale fringe musicals, getting its start in 1966 at New York's tiny Caffe Cino, the fabled birthplace of off-off-Broadway. That means that, probably for the first time in the Union Theatre's history, its revival is a grander production on a larger stage than the original.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   Dames At Sea - Union Theatre  2011

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