by Michele Markarian
“Dames at Sea”. Book and Lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller, Music by Jim Wise. Directed and Choreographed by Ilyse Robbins; Music Director, Steven Jones. Presented by Greater Boston Stage Company, 395 Main Street, Stoneham, through September 24.
As two pianists, flanking the stage, play the opening song of “Dames at Sea”, sung by a funny dancing vamp, Mona (the expressive Shana Dirik) a bored, gum-chewing chorus girl, the statuesque Joan (Sara Coombs) taps out the same dance routine in the corner. It’s an offbeat, charming opener, one where you know that what’s going to follow is going to be delightfully unexpected – after all, what is charm but the ability to deliver the unexpected? And like all of the musicals I have seen at this theater over the years, the characters onstage are not just singing and dancing, but have inner lives that make the action that much more exciting and real.
“Dames at Sea” is a Busby Berkeley send-up of 1930s musicals – “Anything Goes” and “42nd Street” the most obvious – with a stripped-down, “Fantasticks”-like feel. The two pianos, expertly played by Bethany Aiken and Music Director Steven Ladd Jones, provide the accompaniment. The talented cast of six comprise the players. And from start to finish, it’s just a whole lot of fun.
It’s opening night for the long-awaited “Dames at Sea”, a show written, directed and produced by Hennesey (the versatile Russell Garrett, who also doubles as The Captain). One of the chorus girls has run off and married a mogul, which is fortuitous for Ruby (Ephie Aardema), who has just come to Broadway from a small town in, of all places, Utah. At the urging of Joan, Ruby auditions for Hennesey on the spot, and lands the role. As she despairs about leaving her suitcase on the bus, a handsome sailor, Dick (Taavon Gamble) enters the theater, her suitcase in hand. A romance begins immediately, conveniently aided by the fact that Dick’s friend, Lucky (Michael Seltzer) is also having a romance with Joan. But all is not smooth sailing for “Dames at Sea”, as their theater space is being destroyed, and leading lady Mona has designs on Ruby’s new beau. The roiling plot that follows will leave you laughing; even if you don’t recognize bits and pieces spoofing other shows, the goofy physicality of the players is a hoot.
Ilyse Robbins has assembled a cast that’s loaded with talent, charisma, and chemistry. Aardema, who has impressive vocal range, and the dulcet-toned Gamble sound terrific together. The physical pairing of Coombs and Seltzer is wonderful – they lift one another, sit on each other’s laps, and appear to be having a whole lot of fun. Garret and Dirik perform one of the more hilarious numbers in the show, “The Beguine”. And the entire cast rallies around Aardema with raincoats and umbrellas in a gorgeously choreographed number, “Raining in My Heart”.
Eric Levenson’s simple scenic design harmonizes well with the show’s overall gestalt, and Emily Taradash’s costumes add glamour and authenticity. Whether you’re looking for a fun night on the town or an escape from the daily grind, “Dames at Sea” will put a smile on your face and a spring in your step. For more info and tickets, go to: http://www.greaterbostonstage.org/