St Stephen’s, Stockbridge – until 11 November 2017
Guest reviewer: Martin Gray
Chorus girls and sailor boys fill St Stephen’s Stockbridge as MGA’s winter season of shows continues with the graduating Musical Theatre course students. It’s the opening night of Dames at Sea. Leading lady Mona is driving director Hennessy mad with her diva ways. One of the chorus line has gone awol. And little Ruby from Utah has come to Broadway with big dreams.
Yes, it’s a backstage musical and if you’re thinking Ruby will come in to replace the cracked chorine and wind up the star, you’d be spot on. That’s the way of things in pastiche shows and this is a pretty good homage to such early sound classics as Gold Diggers of 1933 and 42nd Street.
The students of the MGA Academy are, as ever, excellent. The kids have confidence, and the talent to back it up, singing, dancing and acting their socks off. Not that much acting is required, as Dames at Sea is pretty much a sung-through piece, the lines of dialogue that link the songs never lasting long enough to slow things down.
Mona, Ruby and Hennessey aren’t the only character types straight off the Warner Bros soundstage – there’s sailor Dick, who dreams his songs will light up the Great White Way. Joan, the seen-it-all-before dancer who takes Ruby under her wing. And her boyfriend Lucky, another seaman, who sails through life on his charm.
Then there’s the ship’s Captain, who comes in handy when construction work threatens to wreck opening night. And – of course – a cadre of dancing goils and tapping Jack Tars.
Jordan Watson has the showy role of Mona, a part that could be pure ham, but she finds the right touch, humanising a potential monster. Hannah McDonald combines small town earnestness and inner grit as Ruby, while Katie Lynch is a whirlwind of wit as sassy, savvy Joan. Kamen Brown channels enough charm that you can see why Ruby lets him away with being weak and self-serving.
Benji Collins has a ball as the Captain from South America besotted with Mona, while Kieran Wilson in splendidly puppyish as Lucky and Ross Jamieson amusingly frantic as Hennessey. Every one of the main cast sings well, and they blend their voices superbly in the big numbers.
McDonald impresses with her spot-on tribute to the likes of Ruby Keeler, her beautifully clear singing a joy, especially in Raining in my Heart, which starts small and sees the stage transform into an orgy of Pac-a-macs and brollies. Watson and Collins make a fine comic fist of The Beguine. And Lynch and Wilson make Choo Choo Honeymoon a corny delight.
Indeed, you may think the ship’s cargo is cheese, there’s so much of it in this show by George Haimsohn, Robin Miller and Jim Wise, but it’s tasty fare. While the acoustics of the venue aren’t always brilliant, and some of the costumes are a tad sketchy, Dames at Sea is a fun musical. It’s pleasingly staged by director Lisa Cottrell and musical director Marc McBride, whose secret weapon is pianist Simon Hanson, his deft playing jollying things along nicely.
Supposedly a satire of 1930s musicals, Dames at Sea is more a love letter to the genre; MGA might as well have staged one of the originals. But I’m glad they didn’t, because it’s nice to find something new.