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Ahoy! 'Dames' at Hale is securely anchored and seaworthy

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Dames at Sea sailed through opening night at Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert last night with ballast to spare for its pending run through April's end. The feather light off-off-Broadway musical kept it's kale-thin plot afloat with a sextet of local Arizona actors who danced and sang the crowds' cares away.

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The far-fetched storyline features naive, fawn-eyed Ruby (played by a sparkling Emily Giauque Evans) who tap dances her way from a remote Utah bus stop to Broadway stardom before the day is out, not to mention she meets and marries the songwriting, aw-shucks, sailor of her dreams in those same 24 hours.

Yet, the show cut through the rough plot waters like a streamlined frigate. The merlot-velvet voice of Laura Pyper, who plays the Dames' devilish diva, Mona Kent, opened the evening with 'Wall Street.' The audience couldn't help muted cheers and sporadic applause when Mona descended at the end of the number to join the ensemble in unleashing some seriously synchronized tap choreography by director Cambrian James.

Consecutive hummable tunes propelled the Broadway 42nd Street parody across Hale's sparse but creatively efficient set (necessitated by theatre-in-the-round). The grandest irony was perhaps that the glitzy, huge-chorus and dance ensemble 1930s movie musicals that Dames is spoofing, was heroically performed here by a mere dinghy-sized, all-feet-on-deck cast of six.

Joan (Kate E. Cook), a tough-as-barnacles showgirl who befriends innocent Ruby, rocked the house last night with her 'Good Times are Here to Stay.' Though the brick walls were literally crashing in on the little ensemble as the first act closed, the Pollyanna group gleefully soft-shoed through their Busby Berkeley-tinted choreography. The overwhelming true quality in Cook's huge, comfy voice no doubt buoyed the cast and audience alike.

Everyone knew it. Especially the highly capable crew and cast. The show is pure sugar -- not a line of dramatic substance to it. Yet, the six tread lightly on the fluff, never for a moment risking the weight that sarcasm or saccharine cynicism might create. Taking the lead from the actors, the audience embraced the illogical tale with sweet teeth unrivaled.

The three stellar guys are, by design, primarily supporting props for the dames. Nonetheless, in a happy surprise, Tedd Glazebrook got to steal a few shining notes. As a bolstered, blustering Captain, he rose with a vocal fortitude that matched his duet partner and heartthrob, Mona. The two tango to a 'Beguine' parody of Cole Porter's tune during which the supposedly washed-up Mona had her voice betray her stereotype. Evidenced by rich straight tones in her upper register, this singer is definitively no has-been.

Knowing 'newcomer' Bernadette Peters had debuted the Ruby role in the late 1960s suggested some pretty big galoshes to fill, but fill them Evans did. With an unforced chest voice that gave the impression of a ribcage-embedded amplifier, 'Raining in my Heart' became a show highlight.

Throughout the evening's voyage, Musical Director Lincoln Wright's ensemble was in tightly-spun-cotton-candy, ship shape. The acting rudders, too, remained steady to the end. Even through the concluding matrimonial schmaltz, the couples were blissfully true to the absurdity of their predicaments.

Spoken like a true Ruby, Evans said after the show, "I'll do this for the rest of my life." Though she's opted for husband and family over a show business career, she assured, "Arts will always be my outlet, for my own sanity."

Opening night of Dames at Sea was certainly unicorns-and-rainbows adorable. But don't be fooled. It only works because of the sugary, crystallized talent and the hours of concealed-beneath-the-tranquil-waters, arduous labors of love.

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