Dames at Sea | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Dames at Sea, Drury Lane Oakbrook. This 1968 send-up of 30s movie musicals (the show that made Bernadette Peters a star) feels like a vintage distillation of the era. George Haimsohn and Robin Miller's cliche-rich homage both spoofs and celebrates hits like Footlight Parade and 42nd Street. Archly innocent, their cute camp is complemented by Jim Wise's infectious throwback score, its lilting tunes suited to Busby Berkeley at his spunky best. But anti-Depression wish fulfillment was never this blatant: in 24 hours a tap-dancing Utah ingenue becomes a bona fide star, opening not in a Broadway theater (it got bulldozed) but on a battleship that seems moored just off Times Square.

If Ray Frewen's romp of a revival is thin on spectacle, his eight plucky performers' overtime hoofing and belting suggest a full-scale show. As rube Ruby, perky Cristen Paige can do a buck-and-wing on a dime, and she croons the heart out of the very moist production number "Raining in My Heart." Her pile-driving enthusiasm is matched by Kevin Barthel's as the composer-sailor who falls for her in less than a ballad. Iris Lieberman vamps it up as the diva who captivates the captain (good-humored Roger Anderson), and Tammy Mader brings her usual sassy wisecracking to the Joan Blondell role, the girlfriend. She and Jerry Galante as a showbiz sailor who's keen on her positively tear into "Choo-Choo Honeymoon"--it's as if no one had ever shuffled off to Buffalo before. If all this is corn pone and moonshine, well, even fluff can be invigorating.

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