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Reviews

DAMES AT SEA

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Conventional wisdom has it that formulaic characters and stories lead to insufferable hokum. But the corn can be golden when it's infused with wry wit and a strong affection for cherished entertainment styles of yesteryear. This 1968 Off-Broadway tuner mines the conventions of 1930s movie musicals for an ebullient reminder of how much fun old-fashioned song-and-dance confections can be. Director Michael Sterling and a first-rate company parlay this vintage bon-bon into one of the most scrumptious guilty-pleasure treats within memory.

The hilarious book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller and jaunty music by Jim Wise make us forget there's not much plot here. The chestnut about the innocent ingénue replacing the bitchy star is trotted out in all of its 42nd Street glory. Heck, the demure damsel is even named Ruby (as in Keeler). What keeps this seafaring farce afloat are the pristine stylization of Sterling's staging and the spirited performances. Topping the list is song-and-dance master Dink O'Neal. Chewing the scenery with delicious abandon, he offers a virtuoso double turn as a blustery producer-director and a goofy love-struck sea captain. As the wide-eyed cutie from Utah, ready to take Broadway by storm, Bernadette C. Peters makes a delightful segue from weepy waif to charismatic chanteuse. Yes, you read correctly: She uncannily shares a name (except for the initial) with the show's original star and even resembles her at times. Yet this Peters puts her own charming stamp on the role. Theresa Anne Swain as Ruby's sassy but supportive best pal Joan and nimble Robert Pieranunzi as Joan's sailor beau Lucky sparkle in the second-banana roles. As the egomaniacal diva headlining the show-within-a-show, Donna Cherry belts out torch songs with bravado and delivers a humorous characterization, though there could be more venom in this vamp. As Dick, the handsome sailor-songwriter of Ruby's dreams, Chris Ciccarelli is likeable but not stellar; he could paint this stock leading man role in slightly broader strokes.

The singing and dancing ensemble is likewise buoyant, put through its zesty paces by choreographer Mark Knowles and music director Steven Applegate, who brings an amazing spontaneity to a show that uses prerecorded music. Knowles' numbers, ranging from spirited tap sequences to a lovely dance with umbrellas, glisten with Busby Berkeley inspiration. Glendale Costumes supplies rich colorful attire. Fun-filled shows can be a godsend during troubled times. As we revel in the dazzling first-act finale, "Good Times Are Here to Stay," MGM's slogan for That's Entertainment comes to mind: "Boy, do we need it now."

"Dames at Sea," presented by and at Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale. Wed.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 3 & 8 p.m. Aug. 31-Oct. 8. $18-22. (818) 244-8481.

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