A songwriting sailor, obtrusive actress, headstrong New York chorus girl and somewhat misunderstood theater owner can make for an interesting combination — and often cases for an uncommon musical in an uncommon setting.
The Allen Community College production of “Dames at Sea” begins its three-night run at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center today at 7:30, tickets are $6, or $4 for students.
It’s the story of Ruby, a young girl from Centerville, Utah, with “only tap shoes in her suitcase and a prayer in her heart.” After moving to Broadway to pursue her dreams as a dancer and singer, Ruby crosses paths with Joan, a spirited chorus girl who understands Ruby more than many of the people working in the cutthroat industry of theater.
Dick, a sailor who is also starry-eyed to have his songs sung by some of Broadway’s most talented actors and actresses, catches the eye of Ruby and sparks begin to fly.
After meeting up with Hennessey, an over-stressed theater owner, and Mona Kent, a famous actress who feels consistently entitled to have her way, the cast is assembled to begin production of “Dames at Sea.”
The setting of a “musical within a musical” breaks the conventional mold of many comedies. With musical numbers spectacularly sang by the cast members, the play never settles into a lull and always keeps you on your toes. The setting moves from an “endangered” (you’ll see) theater on Broadway to maybe the unlikeliest setting of all for a musical — a U.S. Navy battleship.
The role of Mona Kent is handled with easy confidence by Brianna Holliday — not to mention her powerful voice. She forces the crowd to believe her ego may be too big for the stage, a perfect blend of flamboyance and overbearance lend to the love-hate relationship between Mona Kent and the audience.
Joan, the feisty, loyal friend to Ruby, is played effortlessly by Mariah Nunley. Her beautiful singing voice contrasts her spunk and vitality. Her character’s positive attitude creates the perfect clash of contrast between her and Mona Kent.
The role of Hennessey couldn’t have been cast better than with Anthony Ellis. His reluctant attitude and overall cantankerousness are often understandable (and often hilarious), considering the circumstances with his theater, which eventually becomes something he never intended it to be.
Ruby is played by Emmaline Durand. Her character is almost as intriguing as she is funny, developing from a meek performer from Utah, to the “sweetheart of the U.S. Navy.” It’s amazing to see how well Durand allowed her character to develop throughout the performance, until she becomes exactly what you would hope — I won’t give the ending away, however.
Sailors Dick and Lucky are played gregariously by Archie Huskey and Nathan Hill. The chummy camaraderie of the two sailors is the perfect comic relief you’d expect from these talented actors. Both of their voices are an appropriate compliment to the voices of their female cast members during the numerous musical numbers.
And finally, the role of the battleship captain is played by Michael De Los Santos. His character’s blind infatuation with Mona Kent, coupled with the stresses of a new “addition” to his ship, lead to some of the best one-liners in the show.
Ted Clous, musical director for the production, said De Los Santos has not had formal voice training before — it’s a safe bet no one can tell in his musical numbers.
The sets are impressively constructed and a perfect backdrop for musical numbers like “The Sailor of My Dreams” and “Singapore Sue.” The construction of the battleship played a particularly important role in “Raining in my Heart,” an impressive song towards the end of the second act.
Susan McKinnis, director of “Dames at Sea,” said the play was challenging and fun for her and the cast. The play involves more tap-dancing than previous productions she has worked with, so they brought in choreographer Marielle Melvin to assist with training the actors.
McKinnis said productions are important to maintain the profile of the arts in the community, and “Dames at Sea” has done nothing but raise the profile. She said Iola shows great support through their attendance to the shows and the support of the Bowlus has been essential as well.
Clous worked with students vocally as well as musically. In addition, he conducts the orchestra in the pit — an irreplaceable aspect to a live comedy musical. Clous said musicals are always something he has looked forward to in the past, and this play has been no different.
Clous said he was impressed by the vocal talent of Allen Community College’s actors, especially with the songs in “Dames at Sea” — which he described as “hard songs to sing.”
The pit orchestra is made up of community members from Iola, Chanute and Fort Scott. Clous said the music for the production calls for much fewer instruments in the pit than a normal musical, which he said makes use of a “bare minimum” approach to support the songs.
The support of the pit orchestra was not unnoticed, however, and kept the energy high throughout the entire performance.
All in all, “Dames at Sea” is a play about taking chances and putting it all on the line. All of the characters in the show are stretched to limits that they never thought possible, and the results are hilarious and rewarding. This family-friendly production can be enjoyed by musical theater enthusiasts and casual attendees — it never ceases to impress.
The songwriting sailor with a heart of gold urges his fellow characters to give “Dames at Sea” a shot, and they won’t be disappointed.
Be sure to think about the sailor’s plea, because you won’t be disappointed, either.
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