Tap, Tap, Here Comes Nostalgia

DAMES AT SEA at the Hampstead Theatre Club, Swiss Cottage, NW3. With nostalgia a key word in entertainment these days it is not surprising that someone had the bright idea of reviving DAMES AT SEA. This delightful parody of all those Busby Berkeley musicals of the 1930’s enjoyed a moderate success in London’s West End 3 years ago, and now it’s returned in a shortened version to the Hampstead Theatre Club, showing nightly at 11 pm, until early January.

This backstage musical has for its heroine a naive platinum blonde tap dancer who comes to a Broadway Theatre on the morning she arrives from out of town. She gets a job in the chorus line of a show due to open that night, and is immediately befriended by a tough wisecracking chorine. Our heroine falls in love with a young song writing sailor who momentarily gets involved with the star of the show being produced. The demolition squad arrive to pull down the theatre and somebody suggests that they open the show instead on board the sailor’s battleship. The star falls ill and the heroine goes on in her place that night, and of course, is an overnight success.

That’s the plot in a capsule, but there’s so much more. Firstly, the songs – many of them quite charming, and they rightly remind one of ‘Shuffle off to Buffalo’, ‘We’re In The Money’ and others of that era. Then there is the dancing – in those days no musical was complete without at least one tap dancing routine, and here there are several. How refreshing it is to hear again the clicking of tap shoes, reminding one of a bygone age. Gillian Gregory has done a fine job in arranging the choreography.

The intimate atmosphere of this theatre is admirably suited to this small show which features only 6 performers. Nicholas Bennett, Freddie Eldrett and Richard Owens are the male leads, and they all make their marks with their songs and dancing. As the dumb heroine who makes good, Debbie Bowen is very funny and in her song ‘Raining In My Heart’, is particularly touching. Barbara Young as her friend reminds one of both Joan Blondell and Ginger Rogers and uses her knowledge of revue work to good effect in her witty dialogue and in her singing of ‘Good Times Are Here To Stay’.

There remains Pip Hinton as the temperamental star of the show. I first saw her in INTIMACY AT 8.30 when she was an ingenue in support of the stars of that show, and even then she made her presence felt in every appearance. She has a great sense of humour and a bewitching smile and it delighted me to see her in a role that allows full scope for her fine singing voice and comedy playing.

Paul Ciani has ably directed this grand little show and a year’s membership is very reasonable, and as all seats are only 70p for the late night show I urge you to consider going along to enjoy the fun.

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