Above: “Dames at Sea” officially opens on Broadway on Oct. 22.. (contributed)
Two Tony-winning producers with Birmingham ties are teaming up for the Broadway debut of “Dames at Sea,” a 1966 musical that proved to be Bernadette Peters’ big break at the time.
Alabama Shakespeare Festival co-founder Martin Platt and his business partner, David Elliott, are producers of the show, along with Birmingham’s Louise Beard. Platt won a Tony Award for producing “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” Beard for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.”
Both came to the production because of their friendship with director-choreographer Randy Skinner, who is at the helm of “Dames at Sea,” about a struggling Broadway show and an unlikely understudy becoming a star. The show is in previews before its opening at the Helen Hayes Theater in New York City.
“Randy always had in his mind he’d like to do a Broadway revival of ‘Dames at Sea,’” Platt said. “He loves the show and has always wanted to do it.” The show’s original run was off-Broadway.
After Skinner directed “Dames at Sea” at the Infinity Theatre Company in Annapolis, Maryland, the producers there planned a Broadway run and Platt, then Beard, came on board.
For Beard, who for decades ran Birmingham’s Time Step Studio and presented yearly tap-dancing recitals by her students, the tap-dancing-filled “Dames” was a perfect fit.
“It screams everything about me,” she said. “And I’ve been amazed by the response I’ve had posting things on Facebook about it. Many people of a certain age or up know this show. It’s all happy and ends perfectly, of course, but there are many emergencies along the way. … It’s just pure enjoyment.”
Beard, in fact, used the original cast album of “Dames at Sea” in her tap-dancing classes.
“When I heard that soundtrack, I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is perfect,’” she said. “I never saw the show, but I choreographed ‘Star Tar’ and ‘Wall Street’ for two of my classes.”
With a book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller and music by Jim Wise, the score of “Dames at Sea” is not well known. It’s best-known for launching the career of Peters, who starred as Ruby, the ingénue. Eloise Kropp plays Ruby in this production, and others in the cast include John Bolton, Mara Davi, Danny Gardner, Lesli Margherita and Cary Tedder.
Beard, who began producing Broadway shows after retiring from teaching, and Platt, who left ASF and ran Birmingham Opera Theatre and Birmingham Repertory Theatre before moving to London and New York, had never met before “Dames at Sea,” and bringing it to Broadway was a long process.
“We did a workshop last January, which was very successful, and the next step was trying to get a theater, which took 14 or 15 months,” Platt said. “That’s just an awful process. It can go quickly if Hugh Jackman is in your show. Theater owners want a show that they know will sell tickets and will run for either a short time or a long time, whatever they’re looking for. … And when we have shows like ‘Wicked,’ ‘Phantom,’ ‘Les Mis’ and ‘The Lion King,’ which are running 15 years, 25 years, 30 years, the inventory of available theaters goes down.”
The timing worked out perfectly, though, Platt said.
“We’re really one-of-a-kind, certainly this season on Broadway,” he said. “We’re a kind of classic musical comedy and one based on 1930s movie musicals. … We’re also one of the biggest dance shows coming in this season. We’re the traditional Broadway show with tap-dancing and Fred-and-Ginger kind of dancing.”
For those who remember Platt’s work in Anniston, Montgomery and Birmingham, “Dames at Sea” may seem a surprising choice for a man who thrived on Shakespeare, but Platt says that’s not true.
“When I was in college at Carnegie Mellon, my nickname was ‘Martin L. Platt Presents,’ because all I wanted to do was present Broadway musicals,” he says. “Somehow I got sucked into Shakespeare and the classics, but now I’ve come full circle.”