When people talk about "Dames at Sea," they usually describe it as spoof or even a parody of sparkly old-fashioned musicals, the kind in which an ingénue hops off the turnip truck and immediately finds love and Broadway stardom.
But it's not really a spoof. Even though it pokes some fun at the cliches of that style of musical, it's really more of an affectionate send-up, even a celebration, of the style.
Best of all, it's crammed with great songs that stick in your head as you drive home from the theater. That's a pleasant surprise, since none of the songs are well-known.
The Manatee Players production that opened Thursday at the Manatee Performing Arts Center delivers the material with a nice touch. The design work is clever, the cast delivers lively and confident performances and director Steve Dawson delivers a nice balance of camp and earnestness.
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The five-piece pit orchestra (two keyboards, reeds, trumpet and percussion) plays well but sounds a little thin.
Unfortunately, the sound design leaves the orchestra drowning out the singers through most of the show. More often than not, lyrics are impossible to discern.
It's immediately clear that the show is light-hearted homage to a genre opens the shows with a clip from one of those "Gold Diggers" films mid-'30s. The clips ends, and the film gives way to a set of a New York City skyline. Shortly into the first song, "Wall Street," the arts deco buildings rise up and start to tap-dance.
We soon meet Ruby, a starving small-town girl who comes to New York with nothing but her tap shoes. She immediately meets Dick, a sailor and an aspiring songwriter.
George Hanson and Robin Miller, who wrote the book, are clearly poking fun at the implausible show-biz romances of those early musical films. By the time the compact show is over, Ruby and Dick are married, she's the biggest star on Broadway and he's written a hit musical in day.
But composer Jim Wise comes up with one seriously infectious show tune after another.
One of the show's hooks is that it uses a cast of just six people to re-create those feel of those lavish musical with the huge cats and kaleidoscopic dances. The entire cast of the Manatee Players production -- Kris Sethi, Rachel Knowles, Jeff Sargent, Sarah Baeder, Bill Shideler and Nick Drivas -- are completely enjoyable through out. All six have difficult roles, but they carry off the signing, dancing and acting confidently. Drivas and Shideler are especially strong, but Baeder plays Ruby with a charming Betty Boop touch.
Pat Ross' choreography, Michael Newton-Brown's sets, Mike Woods' lights and Becky Evans' costumes all make noticeably strong contributions.
Details: Through Sept. 26, Stone Hall at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $27-$37. Information: 941-748-5875, manateeplayers.com.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.