Following the publishing of Metro's article highlighting “Dames at Sea” and its use of a pretty racist song called "Singapore Sue" in its production, Metro was invited to see a production of the show and to see how it handled the problematic number.
Before I get to that though, I must say that I enjoyed 95 percent of Dames at Sea and would highly recommend it. It’s a solid show.
Dames at Sea is a parody musical of sorts that lampoons the golden age musical theatre trope of a small town girl coming to New York City looking to make it on Broadway. Dames' small town girl, an obnoxiously naive but earnest character named Ruby, comes into town to make it big. About five seconds after appearing onstage she’s swept off her feet by a singing, dancing, songwriting sailor named Dick. The rest of the musical, which is as about as light and airy as sea foam, follows the couple as they save a musical from closing by performing it on the bow of a ship.
If it sounds ridiculous and hilarious to you, it's because it is.
Not only does Dames at Sea have a hilarious tongue in cheek and campy script to bring the laughs, the excellent tap choreography blew me away.
All I could think while watching the performers dance was, "Holy s--t. How are their feet not falling off? Clearly their feet should no longer be attached to their legs."
There was obviously a lot of work put into these numbers, but the cast made it look practically effortless on stage.
In addition to the masterful dancing and smart script is a cast that delivers it all with finesse. Lesli Margherita (previously on Matilda) who plays Mona Kent, an aging and outrageous diva in the lineage of characters like Jenna Maroney from '30 Rock,' is a gem and absolute highlight of the cast.
The only thing that anyone could take issue with in the show is the production's problematic song "Singapore Sue" about a woman who is forced to be a sex worker and then murdered.
The original song is racist. Plain and simple. The song’s original lyrics featured the word "Oriental" and relied on tired racist tropes of Asian women being delicate and sweet. It's an embarrassing number to watch and perform.
However, this production made sure to completely neuter the song-- gutting all the lyrics of any hint of racism or Orientalistism. Although there is no Yellow Face and there are no wigs or accents in this performance, to parade about in Asian inspired costumes is a lot like wearing a Native American headdress, or wearing a bindi on your forehead.
It’s a problem.
The number itself, which is a bit of a reverie in the plot, adds literally NOTHING to the musical itself. It is not integral to any of the show’s movement, is never referred to again later on in the dialogue and, to be quite honest, isn’t funny.
I really could have been knocked out cold by a rogue stage light, conked out for the number’s five minute run, woken up when it was all over, and still understood what was happening on stage.
However I’d probably be confused about the blaring pain coming from my head.
In short: the song is a strange hiccup in a show that otherwise coasts on superb dance numbers, catchy and clever songs, and on point acting.
Nix the song about a murdered Asian sex worker and you're golden, Dames.
Matt Lee is a Web producer for Metro New York. He writes about almost everything and anything. Talk to him (or yell at him) on Twitter so he doesn’t feel lonely @mattlee2669.