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Dames at Sea' docks at Saint Michael's Playhouse

Joe Cino would have been happy. The Saint Michael's Playhouse production of "Dames at Sea" is cheerful and ingratiating, and Cino would be ecstatic to see the audience's continuing enthusiastic response to one of his children.

Cino gave birth to "Dames" in May, 1966. The musical was presented on a tiny stage at his "Caff Cino," the original Off-Off-Broadway playhouse on Cornelia Street in New York City's Greenwich Village. A parody of the lavish Busby Berkeley cinema spectaculars of the 1930s, "Dames" was one of the many successful shows that originated in Cino's miniscule storefront Italian coffee house.

It was not always a happy time for Cino. Constantly hounded by the City for ordinance violations because his business was not eligible for licensure as a theater, Cino survived because of alleged payoffs to the police and protection from the Mafia. The turmoil in his personal and professional life finally took its toll, and Cino committed suicide in 1967 at the age of 36.

Fortunately, "Dames at Sea" sails on.

The show's plot is simple. Na ve Ruby (Lindsay Sutton) arrives in New York with "nothing but tap shoes in her suitcase and a prayer in her heart." She yearns to make it big on Broadway. It's love at first sight (well, actually, second sight) when she meets Dick (David Rossetti), a sincere, songwriting sailor. She's also befriended by wisecracking Joan (Tessa Faye) and Joan's own singing sailor, Lucky (Marc Tumminelli). But watch out, Ruby--devious diva Mona (Abby Lee) has designs on Dick.

Ruby's theatrical future looks bleak when the theater is bulldozed before opening night. Should Ruby hang up her tap shoes? Can the Navy come to the rescue? Will the show go on?

Although "Dames" seems like tame fare today, the songs are still snappy, the second act set is cleverly constructed (thanks to Carl Tallent), and all the Playhouse performers are properly perky. You can't go wrong by spending a night on board.

Want to see some wonderful Busby Berkeley choreography before or after the show? Go to YouTube.com and catch "Young and Innocent Days" with background music by The Kinks. You'll smile when you see what the "Dames" parody was all about.

"Dames at Sea" will stay afloat at the Saint Michael's College McCarthy Arts Center until June 27. Shows are at 8 p.m .on Tuesday-Saturday with a matinee at 2 pm on Saturday. For tickets and other information, call 654-2281 or visit academics.smcvt.edu/playhouse. Anchors aweigh!

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