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THEATER REVIEW: “Dames At Sea” sparkles at North Coast Rep

A small-town girl arriving in New York with Broadway aspirations and a pair of tap shoes finds herself not only a star but a bride – in one day – in “Dames At Sea,” now playing through July 29 in an irresistible production at North Coast Repertory Theatre.

With book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller, “Dames At Sea” is a parody of the big, colorful 1930s musicals of Busby Berkeley, which featured platoons of dancers intricately choreographed into geometric shapes.

The plot is spare and most of it is well-used. Here’s the one-sentence version: Broadway show, canceled on opening night due to demolition of the theater, opens on a battleship, sparking three romances and making a new star out of the ingenue.

“Dames At Sea” spoofs the genre using a tiny cast (six), a tiny band (two pianos and percussion), and a tiny stage. The success of the show depends on the actors being in on the joke, exaggerating their intentionally stereotypical characters – and being capable of high-level dancing and singing.

Director Rick Simas has a sparkling cast, headed by Broadway veteran (and UCSD grad) Roxane Carassco as diva Mona Kent, the talented, lovely and demanding “Lady Macbeth of 42nd Street.” She can dance and sing with the best of them, and really shines in the torch song “That Mister Man of Mine.”

Natalie Storrs, with Brooklyn accent and wry humor, plays kindly longtime chorus girl Joan (think Blondell), who takes starry-eyed ingenue Ruby (think Ruby Keeler; perfectly played by Sarah Errington) under her wing, pushing her to “try” when her big break comes.

Jeffrey Scott Parsons plays Dick (think Powell), the sailor who falls for Ruby, with the assurance of someone who has recently played the role (which he did, at the Colony Theatre in Burbank). Luke Jacobs plays Dick’s friend and fellow sailor Lucky (who turns out to be Joan’s former boyfriend). He’s a terrific dancer, and one of the best scenes is a dance-off between Dick and Lucky.

Spencer Rowe is excellent, double-cast as beleaguered producer/director of the show Mr. Hennesey and as the Captain of the ship (a part reminiscent of Cary Grant).

Kudos to tap choreographer Lisa Hopkins, who created the terrific tap routines (a first at NCRT). The only drawback is the theater’s lack of a raised stage, which renders the footwork invisible to a portion of the audience.

Susan Jordan-DeLeon has created some fine dance routines as well, and Renetta Lloyd’s costumes are terrific. Marty Burnett’s backstage Broadway theater-cum-battleship set is simple but ingenious.

Ron Councell and his trio of fine musicians are excellent, producing more sound than one would expect from that size group.

The songs are cute, and some of the lyrics are quite clever. My favorites are Mona and the boys in the opening “Wall Street” (think: “42nd Street”), the women in “Dames At Sea” (with outrageous costumes decorated with life preservers, flags and an anchor), and Mona’s sex “The Beguine” number with the Captain.

Originally written as a short sketch, “Dames At Sea” was expanded and played off-Broadway in 1968. It is probably best known for introducing 18-year-old Bernadette Peters (playing Ruby) to the New York stage.

There are plenty of references here to old-style musicals. Don’t fret about not getting them all. You’ll love the show with or without them.

The details

“Dames At Sea” plays through July 29 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach.

Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday through Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

For tickets, call 858-481-1055 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.