“Dames at Sea,” a small-scale, affectionate parody of and tribute to Depression-era movie musicals and their upbeat “Hey gang, let’s put on a show” spirit, opened at the legendary off-off-Broadway venue Caffe Cino in 1966. The cast was led by a young Bernadette Peters.
In a mind-boggling move, the show (which has not aged all that well) is being revived on Broadway, where it is uncomfortably out of place.
Based most directly on the film “42nd Street” (which was itself turned into a hit stage musical), Ruby (Eloise Kropp) arrives from Utah at a Broadway theater with nothing but her tap shoes and radiant optimism. After a quick audition, she lands a spot in a new musical and literally falls into the arms of sailor-songwriter Dick (Cary Tedder).
When their theater is suddenly torn down, the show is relocated to a battleship, Ruby is promoted to leading lady and a star is born overnight.
The score has a few hummable melodies, but it’s hardly top-drawer work. The jokes, which were intended for a gentler sensibility and an audience that was familiar with the 1930s films being evoked, land flat, as do all the references to celebrities from the period.
Staged by director-choreographer Randy Skinner with lots of pep but little personality, the hardworking six-member cast tries to overcome the lackluster material by aggressively playing up the campiness, to the point of relentless irritation. At my performance, I wanted to shout back at them, “Calm down. You’re not making the situation any better.”
It ultimately comes off like a low-rent, manic production of “42nd Street,” which by comparison had spectacular production values and contained the actual songs that “Dames at Sea” tries so hard to mimic.
If you go: “Dames at Sea” plays an open run at the Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 W. 44th St., DamesAtSeaBroadway.com.