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Review: A ship-shape 'Dames at Sea' belongs to the ladies

April 19, 2012|By Philip Brandes
  • Shanon Mari Mills, left, Heather Ayers and Tessa Grady in "Dames at Sea."
Shanon Mari Mills, left, Heather Ayers and Tessa Grady in "Dames at… (Michael Lamont )

Buoyed by a ship-shape cast, the Colony Theatre Company’s “Dames at Sea” revival broadsides the 1930s movie musicals of Busby Berkeley with tongue firmly in cheek. It’s no coincidence that the creators of this 1966 lullaby of off-off-Broadway -- George Haimsohn and Robin Miller (book and lyrics) and Jim Wise (music) -- christened their romantic leads Ruby and Dick after “42nd Street” co-stars Keeler and Powell, and that’s only the start of the similarities.

This is a lightweight dinghy at best for those in search of cerebral ballast, but Todd Nielsen's breezy, energetic staging keeps the show afloat with wry self-awareness of its own paper-thin plot, and his six-member cast certainly knows how to work a crowd. With a consistently winning mix of naïveté and polished talent, Tessa Grady’s small-town showbiz wannabe Ruby hops off a bus in the Big Apple with nothing but a pair of tap shoes in her suitcase and a prayer in her heart, and…well, you know the rest.

Heather Ayers camps it up with panache as Ruby’s nemesis, self-centered stage diva Mona Kent (“The Lady Macbeth of 42nd Street”), while Shanon Mari Mills exudes canny street smarts as Joan, the jaded chorus girl who takes Ruby under her wing.

Following in the leggy footsteps of Berkeley musicals, the show belongs to the ladies, but they’re gamely supported by Jeffrey Scott Parsons and Justin Michael Wilcox as Ruby and Joan’s respective sailor beaus, and by Dink O’Neal doubling as ship’s captain and the highly stressed Broadway producer.

With piano and percussion accompaniment under Dean Mora’s skilled musical direction, Lisa Hopkins’ splendidly choreographed tap dance and production numbers liven up a score that for the most part serviceably advances the story without much in the way of character revelation.

Low-budget production values are the weak link here, though there’s something goofily apropos about a pair of skyscrapers adorned with dollar signs doing a celebratory Wall Street soft shoe in the midst of a grim Depression-era economy -- some things never go out of style.

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Dames at Sea,” The Colony Theatre, 555 N. 3rd St., Burbank. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. Ends May 13. $20-$42. (818) 558-7000 or www.colonytheatre.org. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

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