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'Dames at Sea' opens at Oregon Cabaret Theatre

Oregon Cabaret Theatre will celebrate its new beginnings with some sweet memories.

The opening show for the Cabaret’s 30th season — the first for new artistic director Valerie Rachelle — is “Dames at Sea,” the first show produced when a small group of thespians came together to produce musicals at the "old pink church" back in 1986.

“Dames at Sea” is a love letter to the old Busby Berkeley movie musicals of the 1930s in which an eager Broadway newcomer replaces the show’s ailing leading actress at the last minute and becomes a star. It has all the familiar plot devices — the naive ingenue, the love-struck hero, the temperamental diva and the wisecracking sidekick — along with lots of singing and dancing. And, of course, a happy ending.

“I’m very, very excited to do this show,” says Rachelle. “It’s not only a well written show. It’s also a show to make you smile, laugh and fall in love.” 

“Dames at Sea,” with book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller and music by Jim Wise, opened off-off-Broadway in 1966. It starred a young hopeful named Bernadette Peters, who stepped into the lead role when the original actress abruptly left. Peters became a star. Sort of like a Busby Berkeley musical.

“Dames at Sea” previews Thursday, Feb. 12, opens Friday, Feb. 13, and runs through March 28 at OCT, First and Hargadine streets, Ashland. Curtain is at 8 p.m.; 1 p.m. for Saturday and Sunday matinees.

Preview tickets cost $21. All other tickets cost $21 for bistro seating; $35 for table seating on the main floor and balcony. Dinner seating begins at 6:30 p.m. for evening shows; 12:30 p.m. for brunch matinees. Call 541-488-2902 or see www.oregoncabaret.com for ticket information and dinner or brunch reservations. Appetizers, beverages and desserts are available for service during intermission without reservations. 

OCT is offering family-friendly Saturday matinees, with ticket discounts of $10, and $7 brunch entrees for ages 6 to 12. 

“Dames at Sea” stars Cabaret veterans Jillian Van Niel and Jessica Blaszak, along with newcomers Lucas Blair, Emily Fisher, Scott Reardon and Billy Breed.

“I’ve worked with all of the performers, and it’s so good to be working with them again here at the Cabaret,” Rachelle says.

Artistic Director Rachelle and her husband, Rick Robinson, who is the theater’s new managing director, had reached an agreement to buy the Cabaret from owner Jim Giancarlo last summer. After Giancarlo passed away, the couple were able to complete the purchase with the cooperation of Giancarlo’s family. Then, they signed a 10-year lease with the theater building’s owner, Craig Hudson.

This 30th season sees the Cabaret with new carpeting and a new control booth for the stage manager, built in the balcony. A new sound system is coming this season, as well.

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.

Jillian Van Niel plays Ruby and Lucas Blair is Dick in Oregon Cabaret Theatre's production of 'Dames at Sea,' opening Friday, Feb. 13. Photo courtesy of Christopher Briscoe