DAMES AT SEA
As a show, Spring Awakening is one I blow hot and cold about.
When I'm in its presence, I have a sometimes-grudging admiration for it. When
I'm away from it, my feelings vary. And I think that's because it's what I call
a freak-of-nature musical, borne of a unique alchemy. More than that I won’t
say, having already said it here, in reviewing the original Broadway
engagement. Everything I wrote about the material previously still obtains.
the show’s youthy, rocky, primal strokes, that depend much more upon visceral
emotion than verbal elegance make it a perfect vehicle for a new DeafWest foray
into conjoining the performance techniques of the hearing impaired with hearing
actors and Broadway pizzazz. Director Michael Arden has very sensitively mapped out the double casting
(each of the lead teenage characters is played by a singing actor
and a signing actor, but which one is
the reality lead and which an alter ego varies from role to role); and Spencer Liff's choreography, infectious and exhilarating, extends the concept into the realm of the mesmeric.
The cast of kids is gifted, charming, touching…and the few grownups are
old pros who know it's their job to make the kids look like the smart
ones. And they do.
The set and lighting dazzle with versatile shorthand and the show is even more affecting than previously. Given the confluence of people and purpose, it’s just that kind of event.
The revival of Dames at Sea at the midsize Helen Hayes is a sweet, energetic surprise. A loving parody of old musical movies—They’re tearing down the theatre? I know the captain of the naval ship that just docked! We can do the show on deck!—campy in a way that stays on course in ribbing the tropes and doesn’t devolve into garden viariety gay camp (notwithstanding two or three double entendres so mild they’re barely there)—it aims at its target and hits the bulls-eye with spectacular frequency. The secret is that the show doesn’t take the parody too far; the authors recognize that the storytelling universe is already absurd; all they really heighten is its sincerity and narrative speed. The songs by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller are perfect period and style pastiches which can only be distinguished from the real thing by a hair’s breadth of tongue in cheek, which can be deected in titles like “Raining in My Heart” and “That Mister of Mine.” The book by Jim Wise is likewise fast and funny.
Director-choreographer Randy Skinner has achieved with his cast an absolutely remarkable balance, in that he has engineered a great many “reaction shots”—takes and postures, as choreographed and specific as any of the intricate steps. Under any other circumstances, it would seem like unconscionable mugging and even over-direction. But he has somehow melded it with the show’s overall style such that even in the most elevated moments of cartoonery, everyone seems to be playing it for real stakes. In fact, it’s a bit like a Warner Brothers cartoon writ live in that respect. Everything is big but nothing is phony.
This is all very hard for an actor to deliver—let alone when you add precision choreography into the bargain—but John Bolton, Mara Davi, Danny Gardner, Eloise Kropp, Leslie Margherita and Cary Tedder make it look insanely easy.
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