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A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

DAMES AT SEA

 

Book & Lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller

 

Music by Jim Wise

 

Director Kirk Jameson

 

Union Theatre

 

27 July – 20 August 2011

 

…..’And, Sawyer, you're going out a youngster, but you've got to come back a star!’.....42nd Street…..

Dames At Sea is a pastiche of the Hollywood film musicals of the 1930’s, featuring Busby-Berkley-style choreography and a girl-next-door-boy-next-door love story. Ruby tap-dances her way to stardom, while mercurial leading lady, Mona Kent, calls the shots from the stage. This production, directed by Kirk Jameson, is a delicious hotchpotch, a fandango of musicals and musical numbers, so that its appeal is in identifying the original source.

Owing much to 42nd Street, On The Town, Gershwin and Cole Porter,Jameson has assembled a talented cast made up of experience and youth, who sizzle with energy and enthusiasm. The goils lick the guys though, and are keen-edged in both the singing and the dancing, particularly in the second Act. Yet the big set pieces, ‘Singapore Sue’ ‘Good Times Are Here To Stay’ Dames At  Sea’ and ‘Star Tar’ are a treat, with ambitious, inventive choreography by Drew McOnie, and Jameson’s creative staging.  

Rosemary Ashe as Mona Kent is a larger-than-life presence who belts out the notes in true diva style, with a powerful voice which can be operatic, hacienda or Brooklyn as the need arises. She out-smarts ‘Cupcake’ in wicked, vampish fashion and gives us a dame who’s been round the block several times. Ashe’s Mona has got Bette Davis eyes, dines with Ethel Mermen, and is served up neat and on the rocks. The rendering of ‘The Beguine’ in Act Two, matched by the strut and thrust of Ian Mowat’s Captain Courageous, aka ‘Cupcake’, is a production highlight.

The main plot features Ruby (Gemma Sutton) and the sailor/song-writer Dick (Daniel Bartlett) and their supports - the wise-cracking, good-hearted Joan (a fabulous Catriana Sandison) and Lucky (Alan Hunter) her on/off boyfriend, who despite Mona’s machinations, schemes to put on Dames At Sea. The characters correspond exactly to the ingénue, soubrette and heroic roles in ‘the business.’ Mona Kent Hennesey, the hapless producer played by Anthony Wise, and ‘Cupcake’ provide the ‘character’ roles. In 1968 when Dames was first produced, this was the joke: a Busby-Berkeley style musical with a small cast, a tiny stage and two pianos.

Yet back in 1968 when hippies danced naked in Hair, an unknown Bernadette Peters stepped on to an off-broadway stage, tap shoes in hand, and into Dames. Since then anyone playing the naïve, enthusiastic Ruby from Centreville, Utah, is compared to Peters. Gemma Sutton as Ruby is a star. She’s a little bit Dorothy, a little bit Betty Boop, with an amazing voice. She is able to manipulate music and lyrics to serve style and characterisation, and sustains the same degree of motivation at the end as she does in the beginning. Sutton plays the pastiche, parody, and when she needs it ‘the real thing’, as in ‘There’s Something About You’, as if picking wild flowers back in Centreville. Wonderful...

The set and costumes have the feel of a bricolage as befits a show on a shoestring. Tea chests, cases and newspapers are stacked up to frame the action. Hung dresses and curtains wait to be used or seem like remnants from previous shows. The inventive dollar-bill curtains hang between a makeshift proscenium arch picked out in trace lights, to suggest a theatre in the opening number, ‘Wall Street.’ Two bronze trays double as portholes, and a picture of Roosevelt, once Assistant Secretary of the Navy, provides a clever contextual, theatrical thread throughout.

The strong musical direction by Richard Bates, ably supported by Harriet Oughton on the piano, sharp one-liners, a cracking chorus made up of Sasi Strallen, Meg Gallagher, Natalie Kent, Joshua Tonks, Matt Gillett, Jonny Godbold, snazzy lighting by Steve Miller, resourceful design by Kingsley Hall make Dames At Sea an uplifting, fun, inventive, toe-tapping, bon voyage

 

 
Union Theatre
204 Union Street, London SE1 0LX
Box Office and Admin: 020 7261 9876
Performances 27 July to 20 August
Tuesday to Saturday @ 7.30pm
Saturday & Sunday @ 2.30pm
All tickets £15

 

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