Dames at Sea – Off-Broadway 1969
The action takes place in the early ’30s in any 42nd Street theater and on a battleship. Outside the Depression glooms, but inside a typical post-vaudeville theater, all is lights and bustle (Overture), in preparation for a new show called Dames at Sea. The star is Mona Kent (Tamara Long), “the Lady Macbeth of 42nd Street” (and the former Grace Tabolinsky of Flatbush). Mona, who seems to combine Dorothy Lamour, Bebe Daniels, and Helen Morgan, sings and taps through a rehearsal of “Wall Street.” Also on hand are Joan (Sally Stark), a blonde chorine patterned on Joan Blondell, and “Hard Luck” Hennessey (Steve Elmore, in the Warner Baxter role), who is producing the show despite having had twelve flops in a row. Enter Ruby (Bernadette Peters, and, yes, it’s the Ruby Keeler part) who gets to say, ”I’m a dancer and I just got off the bus and I want to be in a Broadway show.” Any bets she gets there? Wouldn’t you know, one of the chorus girls has run off with her sugar daddy, and Ruby is hired. Joan adopts her and gives her a Baby Ruth: Ruby is not only famished, but has also left her suitcase on the bus. And wouldn’t you know, just as Ruby is fainting from hunger, she finds herself in the arms of Dick (David Christmas, after Dick Powell), a sailor on shore leave who has found her suitcase. And they’re both from Centerville, Utah! Naturally, it’s instant love, as they immediately tell each other “It’s You.” Dick is also an aspiring songwriter – “a regular Broadway Beethoven” – which he proves by writing a song for Ruby, “Broadway Baby.” But Ruby isn’t the only girl to fall for Dick. It’s not clear whether Mona is more interested in Dick’s looks or his song-writing, but she’s interested, and in half a moment she’s taken him away, and he’s writing a song for her, “That Mister Man of Mine.” Next on the scene is Dick’s Navy pal Lucky (Joseph R. Sicari, in the spirit of Gene Kelly), a born song-and-dance man who also happens to be one of Joan’s old boy friends. Of course they reunite and imagine a “Choo-Choo Honeymoon.” Mona’s charms having worn off, Dick gets back together with Ruby, and Ruby responds, as any patriotic girl would, by writing a letter to the president (Roosevelt) about what a terrific guy Dick is – “The Sailor of My Dreams.” Everything is going well and Dames at Sea is shaping up as a one-act show after all, until Hennessey gets the news – more hard luck – that their theater has been sold and slated for demolition. But wait: how about staging Dames at Sea . . . at sea? Aren’t Dick and Lucky on leave from a battleship? Isn’t the ship’s captain an old boyfriend of Mona? As we contemplate the answer, bulldozers roll into the theater and begin to tear it down as Joan optimistically leads the company in “Good Times Are Here To Stay.” Curtain. A pint of domestic wine, anyone? As Act II begins, Dick and Lucky are back on shipboard, trying to persuade their Captain Courageous (also Steve Elmore) that putting on a show is the best remedy for the lack of Dames at Sea. The arrival of the three showgirls helps win the argument, as does Mona’s rekindling of her old romance with “Kewpie Doll” Courageous in “The Beguine,” perhaps the most memorable song ever written about Pensacola, Florida. As the show begins rehearsals, the ever-restless Mona has again set her sights on Dick. Ruby sees them embracing and, devastated once more, pours out her heart as umbrellas twirl around her “Raining In My Heart.” We need a break from all this tragedy, and Dick – who really does write very quickly – at once obliges, throwing together a production number for Lucky (“Singapore Sue”) that has nothing to do with the plot, but provides a pleasing diversion. Dick – who also really does have a short attention span – and Ruby now reconcile yet again (“There’s Something about You”), but this time it hardly outlasts the song, and as Dames at Sea prepares to debut, all seems bleak. But wouldn’t you know, Joan and Lucky have been scheming to get Mona out of the show, and, as she sings “The Echo Waltz,” she becomes seasick (an amusing twist on the 42nd Street formula) and must excuse herself. Where, oh, where, will Dames at Sea find a female lead at this late date? Hennessey, of course, sees the solution in a flash – “It’s a chance in a million, but it just might work!” – Ruby goes on and knocks ’em dead (“Star Tar”), winning Dick and President Roosevelt (who got her letter) with the same number. Which means there’s nothing left to do but get married, as Dick and Ruby, Joan and Lucky, and Mona and the captain all do, after a little planning – “Let’s Have a Simple Wedding.” Cannons fire, sailors cheer, and it’s time to consider how to get home from the Bowery.
(in order of appearance) Mona Kent: Tamara Long Joan: Sally Stark Hennessey: Steve Elmore Ruby: Bernadette Peters Dick: David Christmas Lucky: Joseph R. Sicari The Captain: Steve Elmore