Dames at Sea

Dames-OriginalOriginal Off-Broadway Cast, 1969 (Columbia/Sony) 5 Stars (5 / 5) Jim Wise, George Haimsohn, and Robin Miller’s ingenious salute to the Busby Berkeley movie musicals of the early ’30s never hits a false note. The show’s spoofing is so expert and affectionate that its first production in a Greenwich Village cafe soon made its way to the Bouwerie Lane and then to the Theatre de Lys, where it ran and ran. This album replaces the show’s two-piano accompaniment with wonderful full-orchestra arrangements by Jonathan Tunick, an orchestrator as talented as the hopefuls onstage. The central joke of the original production was staging huge production numbers in a tiny space with a cast of six. Of those original players, only Bernadette Peters went on to stardom. While she’s an adorable Ruby, the others are just as expert and lovable: Tamara Long’s temperamental star; Sally Stark’s best-buddy blonde; Steve Elmore as the producer and sea captain; and David Christmas as Dick, a songwriting sailor (“Why, I can see it now! As if it were happening on this very stage!”). As Lucky, Joseph R. Sicari partners Stark nimbly in “Choo-Choo Honeymoon” and is ingratiating in “Singapore Sue.” A nod to the CD booklet’s evocative production stills and to Marc Kirkeby’s smart notes. — Marc Miller

Dames-LondonLondon Cast, 1989 (JAY) 3 Stars (3 / 5) It’s hard to top the original cast album of Dames at Sea, and though this recording has its pleasures, it offers no real competition. However, it does contain more dialogue — lines that are so grin-inducing, you’ll wish the original recording had more. Josephine Blake is a terrific Mona Kent, a larger-than-life cartoon of the Temperamental Star with a snarling delivery and a versatile voice. Paul Robinson is appealing as Dick, and the other men are fine, too, but Tina Doyle’s Ruby lacks individuality, and Sandra Dickinson’s squeaky-voiced Joan lacks color. Jonathan Tunick’s orchestrations have been reduced and synthesized; the results have so little to do with a ’30s sound that going back to the original two-piano arrangement would have been smarter. Two chorus people have been added to the cast of six, and in a musical with a postage-stamp quality as the soul of its wit, that feels like cheating.  — M.M.