It might be the oldest story in the book. Dames at Sea, the musical parody of flashy 1930s Busby Berkeley-style movie musicals, centers on a young understudy who suddenly steps into a role on Broadway and becomes a star.
The musical was originally a short sketch,based loosely on the Gold Diggers movies, written by George Haimsohn, Jim Wise, and Robin Miller. The character of “Ruby” was suggested by the Ruby Keeler-type from those early movies. It was lengthened to a 50-minute production,and director Robert Dahdah prepared it for its first staging. After the original actress who was to play “Ruby” withdrew during rehearsals, choreographer Don Price recommended newcomer Bernadette Peters for the role. The show opened in May 1966 as Dames at Sea, or Golddiggers Afloat at the Caffe Cino, a small coffee house/performance space in New York City’s Greenwich Village, where it continued for 148 performances. The original Caffe Cino cast featured Peters as Ruby, Joe McGuire as Frank, David Christmas as Dick, Jill Roberts as Joan, Norma Bigtree as Mona and Gary Filsinger as the Director and Captain. Peters was replaced by her sister, Donna Forbes (now DeSeta) during the run.
Retitled simply Dames at Sea, the musical re-opened at the Bouwerie Lane Theatre on December 20, 1968,and transferred to the larger Theater de Lys on April 22, 1969, and closed on May 10, 1970 after a total of 575 performances.Directed and choreographed by Neal Kenyon, Peters reprised the role of Ruby as did David Christmas, co-starring as Dick. The cast featured Steve Elmore as the Captain, Tamara Long as Mona Kent, Joseph R. Sicari as Lucky, and Sally Stark as Joan.After Peters left the show, the role of “Ruby” was played by Loni Ackerman, Bonnie Franklin, Janie Sell, Barbara Sharma, and Pia Zadora.
On August 27, 1969, the show opened at London’s Duchess Theatre,where it ran for 127 performances.
An adaptation for television starred Ann-Margret as Ruby, Ann Miller as Mona, Anne Meara as Joan, Harvey Evans as Dick, Fred Gwynne as Hennesy and Dick Shawn as the Captain.It was broadcast on the Bell System Family Theater on NBC on November 15, 1971. The cast added extra chorus girls and boys, and the full production numbers, eventully turned into the very thing it was spoofing.
Peters appeared in a regional production at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey in early 1973.Subsequent revivals have been staged at the Lamb’s Theatre in Manhattan (1985), the Haymarket Theatre, Leicester, London (1989)and at the theatre where the musical first played off-Broadway, the Bouwerie Lane Theatre, produced by Jean Cocteau Repertory and directed by David Fuller, from September 3, 2004 to November 28, 2004.
The show is popular for schools and has been produced in many countries.
In some cases, the show is fleshed out to include chorus boys and girls, and other sailors. Some productions also omit the song “Singapore Sue”.
The show is scheduled to play Broadway in spring 2014, with direction and choreography by Randy Skinner.
Click below to watch scenes from the 1971 television production of Dames At Sea (1971).
Ann Miller “Wall Street”.
Ann Margaret and Harvey Evans “It’s You”.