Carol Benet

As I See It


“Dames At Sea” at 42nd Street Moon

“Dames At Sea” at 42nd Street Moon

Carol Benet

42nd Street Moon is one of those San Francisco traditions (now in its 25th year) – a company that is devoted to producing plays from the tradition of the Great American Musical.  Our American musicals have spread world-wide and they are an art form for which we can be most proud.

Currently, 42nd Street Moon is presenting “Dames At Sea”, a play that goes down in history as the first for the fledgling star Bernadette Peters who was 18 years old when she landed the part in the 60s as a replacement and then she stayed with the play to Off-Off. George Haimsohn (a UC Berkeley graduate) and Robin Miller wrote the book and lyrics and Jim Wise the music.

42nd Street Moon has a rule of not using microphones and that is a very happy situation since all too many musical performing arts organization use them. But like the SF Opera, Moon  eschews microphones.  Mikes always blur lines, erase nuance in volume, confuse the audience  as from where comes the singing and it often allows the the music to be too loud.  The current SF Playhouse “Mary Poppins”, despite its small theater space that could support the voices without mikes, makes the mistake of using them.  Best of Broadway in those barn-like theaters always mikes and that is one of the reasons that I have stopped going to their shows. There! I got my gripes out and we can go on with the review.

“Dames at Sea” is one of those delightful musicals that do not have even one famous song like those of Gershwin, Rogers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter and so on.  It survives because, yes the music is enjoyable and in this production well performed, but because it is a spoof on all the musicals to date.  The small cast of six able singers and hoofers (tap dancers and ballroom) ham it up to a ridiculous and very enjoyable extent.

Here a company is in its final rehearsal for a its show called “Dames At Sea”.  Lots of things go wrong including a sissy fit by its star Mona Kent (Ashley Cowl).  When one of the cast members runs off to get married, Ruby (Lauren Meyer)  just happens to come by looking for a job after just arriving by  bus from Centerville, Utah.  She wants to be a star.  Out of necessity, she’s in but not before she meets one of the two sailors Dick (Jeffrey Scott Parsons)  who has found her suitcase at the bus station and brings it to her. Coincidentally, he is also from Centerville, UT too.   Despite Ruby lament  that everything she owns is in this suitcase, when she opens it all there is there is a pair of red shoes encrusted with bright red sparkles, the reference being to Dorothy’s in the “Wizard of Oz”. Mona’s torch song “It’s You”, so well presented with her climbing all over the piano is a take on “The Man I Love”.   There are other musical comedy quotes.

The producer and director of the show Hennesey  played by Keith Pintodashes hither and fro’ with cigarette hanging out of his mouth at all times and a voice that barks directions.  He has had 12 flops so far so this is his big chance for a hit. The bombshell blond choristerJoan (Melissa Wolfklain) befriends Ruby.  Dick’s sailor friend Lucky (Chaz Feurerstine) encounters Joan and they remember their earlier fiery romance.  When Mona discovers that Dick is a song writer she entices him to go with her to her apartment so he can write some songs for her.  This is complication number one since Dick has sworn his love to Ruby who is now distraught.

Complication two is the noisy rumbling from the bulldozers that are destroying the building where the theater is located in order to make it into a roller rink.  What to do?

Dick has a solution to the problem and suggests they stage the show on his battleship that is in port.  Mona has had an affair with the captain (Keith Pinto again) so when she sees him she performs a sexy latino dance to excite him and induce him into saying yes to the show for, as they say on Broadway,  it must go on.

All the slapstick, gaffs, parodies of other musicals and cliched lyrics (“Pitter patter; what’s the matter”) make this show, with its excellent cast so talented in singing, acting and tap dancing. They are completely and utterly enjoyable.

The choreography by director Nicole Helfer is one of the reasons for its success.  Tap-dancing like this is not so common anymore.  Melissa Wolfklain, who also plays Joan, is the Dance Captain for the production.  Dave Dubrusky’s musical direction is perfect.  He and pianist Ken Brill keep the show running. They are placed at two concert grand pianos right in the middle of the stage where they sometimes interact with what is going on, but not too much as the steal the show.

Ashley Garlicks’s costumes are terrific and there are so many of them right down to the yellow rain slickers in the “Raining in My Heart”  song and dance.  Michael Palumbo’s lighting bathes the stage in the bright lights of the theater while Brian Watson’s Scenic Design with his artistic props and backdrops are brilliant.

The show runs until December 16 at The Gateway Theater, 215 Jackson Street.  Tickets from or 415 255 8207.

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