Broadway’s Todd Michel Smith Stars in HSN and TR’s Sizzling Production of the Musical “Dames at Sea”

Broadway's Todd Michel Smith and Raleigh actress Emily Gardenhire will star as Dick and Ruby in "Dames at Sea" on July 5-8 and 11-15 in the Kennedy Theatre (photo by Lauren Kennedy)
Broadway's Todd Michel Smith and Raleigh actress Emily Gardenhire will star as Dick and Ruby in "Dames at Sea" on July 5-8 and 11-15 in the Kennedy Theatre (photo by Lauren Kennedy)
Broadway's Todd Michel Smith and Raleigh actress Emily Gardenhire will star as Dick and Ruby in "Dames at Sea" on July 5-8 and 11-15 in the Kennedy Theatre (photo by Lauren Kennedy)
Broadway’s Todd Michel Smith and Raleigh actress Emily Gardenhire will star as Dick and Ruby in “Dames at Sea” on July 5-8 and 11-15 in the Kennedy Theatre (photo by Lauren Kennedy)

Next up for Hot Summer Nights and its new parent company, Theatre Raleigh, is a light and lively rendition of Dames at Sea, a jaunty backstage and maritime musical mash-up, with music by Jim Wise and book and lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller. A parody of the spectacular 1930s movie musicals by legendary Hollywood director and choreographer Busby Berkeley (1895-1976), in which a plucky understudy becomes a huge star overnight, as the audience cheers every step of the way, Dames at Sea premiered Off-Off-Broadway in 1966, and opened Off-Broadway in 1968 and in London’s West End in 1969. There was an Off-Broadway revival in 1985 and a West End revival in 1989.

When the curtain rises on Dames at Sea, according to the HSN and TR news release, it is the early 1930s and “[a] group of performers are preparing for their upcoming show, Dames at Sea. Right before the show is to open on Broadway, the theater is sold and the troupe of actors and dancers need to find a new venue.

“With their gumption and ‘the-show-must-go-on attitude,’ they find a way to perform their show on a ship docked in the local port. The Diva [Cincinnati, OH actress Kate McMillan as Mona Kent] gets seasick; the ingénue [Raleigh actress Emily Gardenhire as Ruby] earns her chance to become a star!

“[Broadway star Todd Michel] Smith, who now resides in Raleigh, is elated to be a part of such a fun and high-energy production. But he admits, the show is definitely un-chartered territory when compared to his Hairspray days … a show he performed in for over seven years and 2,700 times from opening to closing on the Great White Way.

“‘Dames at Sea presented quite a challenge for me,’ says Smith. He adds, ‘Although I performed professionally for the better part of two decades, I never tackled a show set in this era, with a character of such interesting sensibilities and tap-dancing no less. I love a good challenge. Besides, who am I kidding? No matter where I go or what I do, performing will always be in my bones.'”

HSN and TR guest director and choreographer Tito Hernandez recalls, “The first time I was introduced to the show was in 1981 when [New York City’s] High School for Performing Arts, where I attended, was producing it on their main stage. I was cast as an ensemble member and understudied the role of Lucky. I later choreographed a production of it at the University of Houston in 1984.”

Hernandez, who is the dance department head for the Raleigh-based North Carolina Theatre Conservatory, adds, “Dames at Sea is about a show-within-a-show. It is every boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back storyline that everyone is all too familiar with. It includes all the dilemmas that go along with the problems faced by the consequences of the Great Depression of the early 1930s, but with an approach that always gives hope.

“The show also includes your typical vixen [Kate McMillan as Mona] which we all love to hate,” notes Hernandez. “In short, Dames at Sea offers every stereotypical situation and character known in American movie musical history.”

Besides Todd Michel Smith as the sailor and aspiring songwriter Dick, Kate McMillan as show-within-the-show’s temperamental star Mona, and Emily Gardenhire as the ambitious and talented newcomer Ruby, the HSN and TR cast for Dames at Sea includes Elon, NC actress Sara Spadacene as the sharp-tongued chorus girl Joan and Greenville, NC actor Jim Dadosky as her once and future sailor boyfriend Lucky. Raleigh actor and HSN and TR associate artistic director Adam Twiss doubles as the theatrical company’s producer/director/manager Hennessey and the battleship’s Captain; and the show’s ensemble members are Haley Richardson, Katie Bottomley, Zach Teague, Daniel Marhelko, Lydia Elaine Leggett, and Sean Powell.

Tito Hernandez confesses, “I like capturing the nostalgic moments in moviemaking history, then turning them into a satirical story that pokes fun of every typical silver-screen 1930s musicals. In addition, I enjoy the entertainment value of all the big production numbers, along with the smaller, more intimate ones. They are all a remembrance of a time that once was.”

In addition to director and choreographer Tito Hernandez and associate artistic director Adam Twiss, the Hot Summer Nights and Theatre Raleigh creative team for Dames at Sea includes artistic director Lauren Kennedy, assistant director and choreographer Sherry Lee Allen, musical director Julie Bradley, technical director and set and lighting designer Chris Bernier, costume designer Denise Schumaker, wig designer Patricia DelSordo, properties manager Lormarev Jones, sound designer Eric Collins, and stage manager Mike McGee. Also working hard behind the scenes are executive director Alan Campbell, publicity and media relations director Hilary Russo, and general manager Michele Weathers. The Dames at Sea band includes Julie Bradley and Julie Florin on keyboards and Brevan Hampden on percussion.

“The set will be the onstage and backstage [area] of a Broadway theater that gets transformed into a ship for the second act!” reports Tito Hernandez. He adds, “The light will be very ‘show business’! It is a show-within-a-show!…

“[Dames at Sea] is small by modern standards, Hernandez claims, “but [it is] a big challenge to costume in a small space on a limited budget. Set in the 1930s, and featuring dream sequences and show-within-a-show numbers for the cast of 12, there are over 60 costumes, including a fleet of sailor uniforms, period clothing, and theatrical performance garb, plus some surprises!”

He adds, “Our major challenge for this production is working with a lot of scenery, props, costumes, cast members, crew, and stagehands in a very small and intimate theater. Although it requires careful planning on all of the designers’ part, the reward for the audience supersedes the work we put in to make the magic happen….

“The best thing about this show is that it requires no explanation,” claims Tito Hernandez. “It’s a fun satire about an era of American innocence that will entertain young and old alike. Filled with explosive tap and dance numbers, it’s guaranteed to capture your attention!”

Besides Boeing-Boeing (June 13-17 and 20-24 in the Kennedy Theatre) and Dames at Sea (July 5-8 and 11-15 in the Kennedy Theatre), Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy and Theatre Raleigh‘s sizzling 2012 season includes David Mamet’s ripped-from-the-headlines drama Race (July 25-29 and August 1-5 in the Kennedy Theatre); Robert Lopez’s whimsical Broadway musical Avenue Q (August 15-19 the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater); the musical revue Oh, What a Night 2 (Aug. 31-Sept. 2 in the Kennedy Theatre); Stephen Temperley’s biographical drama Souvenir, starring Lisa Jolley as wealthy socialite and would-be singer Florence Foster Jenkins (Oct. 3-7 and 10-14 in the Kennedy Theatre); and Tracy Letts’ dark comedy August Osage County (Nov. 29-Dec. 2 and Dec. 6-9 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater).

SECOND OPINION: July 2nd Raleigh, NC BWW News Desk preview:

Hot Summer Nights and Theatre Raleigh present DAMES AT SEA at 8 p.m. July 5-7, 3 p.m. July 8, 8 p.m. July 11-13, 2 and 8 p.m. July 14, and 3 p.m. July 15 in the K.D. & Sara Lynn Kennedy Theatre in back of the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

TICKETS: $24 ($20 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel), except $30 on July 5th.

BOX OFFICE: 866-811-4111 or

INFORMATION: 919-480-5166 or






The Musical (background): (Wikipedia) and (fan page maintained by Robert Patrick).

The Script: (Google Books).

Jim Wise: (Wikipedia).

George Haimsohn: (

Robin Miller: (

Tito Hernandez: (North Carolina Theatre Conservatory).

Todd Michel Smith: (


Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).