Skylight fun and nostalgia with “Dames at Sea”
It’s September, but Friday’s season-opening Dames at Sea felt like New Year’s Eve at the Skylight Opera Theatre.
This big-hearted musical turns on a show-biz plot, as a dedicated cast tries to keep their show afloat as their theater faces demolition on opening night. There’s something of a metaphor here when looking back to last year’s troubles for the Skylight. Like the Skylight, the plucky characters of Dames at Sea sail resolutely ahead.
Dames, set in 1930s New York, blends earnestness with parody. This 1966-vintage show looks back at the ’30s and sends up over-the-top production numbers à la Busby Berkeley. It offers no complex character studies. The cast, led by co-directors Bill Theisen and Pam Kriger, goes straight to the musical comedy archetypes and plays them large, to great comedic effect. Meghan Deese’s fresh-faced Ruby, just off the bus from Utah, is all wide-eyed innocence. Samantha Sostarich is the brassy Joan, a no-nonsense, heart-of-gold chorus girl, who’s been around. Christy Morton’s Mona is the sexy, temperamental diva.
Song-and-dance fans will enjoy the tap numbers, by Pam Kriger, especially Ruby’s climactic Star Tar. The number shows her transformation from country girl to Broadway baby. Deese brings out both the innocence and the ambition in Ruby, in part through a singing voice as sweet as her character. Her Raining in my Heart, a tender torch song, especially shows off her beautiful clarity of tone. Sostarich’s vocal power, likewise, reflects Joan’s presence and attitude in Good Times are Here to Stay. Morton — as the sultry Broadway star — rekindles a flame with her Navy captain lover (Mark David Kaplan) through both music and dance in The Beguine.
But never mind. The story shies from conflict and cooks up a feel-good story of romance, lucky breaks, and can-do attitude.
Dames at Sea, by George Haimsohn, Robin Miller and Jim Wise, traded on a quaint sense of nostalgia when it was new. The passing decades have enhanced that nostalgia. The Skylight production keeps the saccharine at bay by accenting the inherent campiness of the plot and libretto and peppering the show with sight gags and clever prop comedy. A transforming piano, a bespangled dancing dollar sign, and feathers and sequins and galore lend the show glamor and call to mind the grand theatrical spectacles of days long gone.
Dames at Sea plays at the Broadway Theater Center through Oct. 3. The Skylight will sustain its nautical theme through the remainder of 2010; Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore launches its holiday voyage on Nov. 19. Visit the company’s website or call the BTC box office, 414-291-7800, for tickets.