Temple review: “Dames at Sea”

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“Dames at Sea” represents a first for artistic director Peggy Taphorn.
Instead of running Temple Theatre from behind the stage and from the administration office (as she’s done the past two years), she’s putting the final show of the season’s hopes on her shoulders.
And it takes less than a minute into the opening number — a song and tap dance number called “Wall Street” — when two big questions arise … why is this the first time we’re seeing her perform, and when will we get to see this again?
Not a knock on her supporting cast, but Taphorn steals the show in the theater’s final show of the 2008-2009 season. The award-winning performer and Broadway veteran takes on the role of Mona Kent, another Broadway vet in the 1930s who’s none-too-pleased to see the “new girl in town” steal her spotlight.
Part Velma Kelly in “Chicago” and part Lucille Ball, Taphorn’s Kent is long on talent (even when she’s trying not to be) and short on smarts … one on-running bit has her mispronouncing French words while trying to sound well-traveled.
She’s only slightly threatened at the arrival of Ruby, a young girl from Utah with “nothing but tap shoes in her suitcase and a prayer in her heart.” Played by Margaret-Ellen Jeffreys (who made her Temple debut in December in Winter Wonderettes), Ruby’s happy for any part, and she finds love in the arms of sailor Dick (Drew Stark), who’s also new to New York City and looking to get his songs performed on the big stage.
As with most of the 1930s musicals “Dames at Sea” parodies, the plot is simple — Ruby and Mona tussle over Dick, Joan (Katie Deal, also from “Wonderettes”) and sailor Lucky (Chris Wright, Deal’s husband in real life) find true love; and theater director Hennesy (Ken Griggs) tries to put on a show despite the threat of his theater being demolished.
But also as with those musicals, the plot isn’t the most important thing … it’s the performances. Jeffreys’ Ruby reminds you of a young Bernadette Peters (who got her start playing the same role off-Broadway in the 60s), and Stark combines a little Gene Kelly with some Jerry Lewis. Wright, new to the Temple, is perfect as Dick’s “little buddy;” Deal entertains with her 30s vernacular (calling everybody “kid,” and saying “swell” a lot); and Griggs juggles the dual roles of a frazzled Hennesy and arrogant Captain Courageous well.
But in the end, it’s Taphorn you’ll remember most. In her first major role at the Temple (she played a bit part in the recent “Moonlight and Magnolias”), Taphorn’s experience is evident. She nails the ever-important “comedic timing,” and impresses by never breaking character, even during the more difficult performances. In other words, when she’s dancing, you can’t tell that her mind is on the dancing … and this, I imagine, isn’t easy to do.
In fact, if there is one beef to be had in an otherwise wonderful production, it’s that we have a tough time believing Kent has ever been “upstaged” by the younger Ruby.
Again, not a knock on the others … Taphorn’s just that good.

DAMES AT SEA
Starring (in order of appearance): Peggy Taphorn as Mona, Ken Griggs as Hennesy (and the Captain), Katie Deal as Joan, Drew Stark as Dick and Chris Wright as Lucky
Show times: Thursdays, 2 and 7 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. through June 14.
Tickets: Visit http://www.templeshows.com for ticket information
Review: If you’re a fan of Hollywood musicals like “Anchors Aweigh,” you’ll like “Dames at Sea.” And even if you’re not, the performances are great, especially theater director Peggy Taphorn.
This review will appear in Tuesday’s Herald.

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