With the 1969 musical Dames at Sea making its Broadway debut in fall 2015, let’s take a fun look at some facts about the original staging:
The musical was originally a short sketch, based on the Warner Bros. Gold Diggers movies and the lavish production numbers staged by Busby Berkley—only on a tiny budget.
The part of Ruby was modeled—in a steal of a deal—after Ruby Keeler in 42nd Street and was suggested by the Ruby Keeler-type from those early movies.
The musical was lengthened to 50 minutes with Robert Dahdah directing.
When the actress portraying Ruby withdrew during rehearsals, choreographer Don Price recommended Bernadette Peters. And a star was born.
The original Caffe Cino cast featured Peters as Ruby, Joe McGuire as Frank, David Christmas as Dick, Jill Roberts as Joan, Norma Bigtree as Mona and Gary Filsinger as the Director and Captain. During the run, Peters was replaced by her sister, Donna Forbes. The show reopened with the shorter title at the East Village's Bouwerie Lane Theatre on December 20, 1968.
The show transferred to the Theatre de Lys (now the Lucille Lortel) on April 22, 1969, where it closed on May 10, 1970 after 575 performances. Dames was directed and choreographed by Neal Kenyon. Peters and Christmas (Ruby and Dick) reprised their roles. The cast featured Steve Elmore as the Director/Captain, Tamara Long as Mona Kent, Joseph Sicari as Lucky, and Sally Stark, who attended a recent preview of the Broadway revival at the Helen Hayes Theater, as Joan.
Later Rubys were Loni Ackerman, Bonnie Franklin, Janie Sell, Barbara Sharma, and Pia Zadora. The off-Broadway production won Drama Desk Awards for Best Performance, Outstanding Director, and Outstanding Lyrics.
In November 1971, Walter Miller directed a TV adaptation by the original creators starring Ann-Margret as Ruby, Ann Miller as Mona, Anne Meara as Joan, Harvey Evans as Dick, Fred Gwynne as Hennesy, Dick Shawn as the Captain, and with an added ensemble for the production numbers.
Co-creator Robin Miller, adapted Thackeray's Vanity Fair, with music by Julian Slade of Salad Days. He was an activist for "the beleaguered and the unfortunate members of society, espoused gay and lesbian rights, took care of homeless people and helped many asylum seekers find their way through the complexity of officialdom."
Writers George Haimsohn died in 2002 at age 77, and Jim Wise passed in 2000 at age 81. Wise, who wrote the musical Yankee Ingenuity in 1976, and the children's musical Olaf, with Don Price, in 1997, endowed Ohio's Wooster College with the Allardice-Wise Scholarship, in memory of his friend and classmate James Allardice. The scholarship continues to be awarded "to a senior Theater major of exceptional talent and interest in theater."