Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dames at Sea Taps Your Troubles Away

Shannon Mari Mills, Heather Ayers, and Tessa Grady
Photo by Michael Lamont

If your kind of musical is an upbeat spoof with a never-in-question happy ending, The Colony Theatre’s Dames at Sea is your kind of good clean cheesy fun. The show is a parody of the Busby Berkeley musicals of the 1930s that featured endless chorus lines of beautiful girls, extravagant production numbers, lavish set pieces, and countless musicians.

The joke with Dames at Sea is that it was written to be done on a small stage with a cast of six, two pianos and percussion. Go with that and you’ll appreciate every detail the cast and crew has packed into the show, from the tap dancing cardboard Wall Street buildings to the pint-sized piano Dick obviously isn’t playing to the deck railings Ruby and Dick carry with them when they move together for their love duet.

Ruby (18-year old Tessa Grady), a wide-eyed ingénue from Centerville, Utah, arrives in New York with nothing but her tap shoes and a dream of making it on Broadway. Within 24 hours she lands a job in the chorus, gets fired, re-hired, steps in for the ailing lead, saves the show, and gee whiz folks, actually does becomes a star. She also sets sail on the high seas, wins the heart of a song-writing sailor named Dick (sweetie pie Jeffrey Scott Parsons), and finds her happy ending.

The energetic cast good-naturedly sends up this nostalgic romp while never losing sight of the show’s many charms. Todd Nielsen’s staging is choreographed almost as precisely as Lisa Hopkins’ dynamite dances, setting up laugh after laugh by staying true to the show’s over-the-top style. Bell tones mark the beginnings of numbers as actors innocently do a take to the audience flashing their pearly whites as if to say, ‘What, me sing?’

Songs in the style of other composers of the day will sound familiar, featuring musical director Dean Mora and Brent Crayon on piano and Brian Boyce on percussion. You’ll hear rip-offs of Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” re-invented as “That Mister Man of Mine.” “Beguine” sounds like classic Cole Porter and the show’s opening number “Wall Street” spoofs the wall-to-wall tappers from “42nd Street” using a single performer (Mona) belting it out. Heather Ayers finds so many comedic nuances as leading lady diva Mona Kent that you’ll wish she never left the stage. She’s hilarious singing draped over Dick’s piano and her scenes with Dink O’Neal, the crusty sea captain who immediately turns to mush when he realizes she is his “Consuelo” from long ago, are full of silly fun.

Justin Michael Wilcox channels his inner Gene Kelly as Lucky and if Mae West ever had a secret life as a dancer it would be in the form of Shannon Mari Mills playing Joan, the wise-cracking hoofer with a heart of gold. Together they are funny and smart, plus their dancing is terrific.

Justin Michael Wilcox, Dink O'Neal and Jeffrey Scott Parsons

is a frothy delight that doesn’t pretend to solve the problems of the world but rather seeks to simply keep you smiling. With its dewy-eyed go-get-'em attitude and a multitude of cramp rolls, wings, and shuffle off to Buffalos, you can bet it'll do just that. 

Dames at Sea by Jim Wise, George Haimsohn and Robin Miller runs through May 13 at the Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third Street, Burbank, CA 91502.

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