Dames at Sea, at Caffe Cino

Dames at Sea, at Caffe Cino

“A lot of the Cino scene was camp,” Jim Fouratt recalled. “Just look at Dames at Sea. That was the embodiment of camp.” Caffe Cino’s biggest hit was a play­ful homage to old 1930s and 1940s Hollywood musicals and, in particular, the black-and-white films of Busby Berkeley. “I think what made us such a hit was we were doing this homage to Busby Berkeley films, which had hundreds of dancers,” said David Christmas, who starred opposite Bernadette Peters in the Cino production. “But there were only six of us recreating all of that stuff in this tiny storefront coffeehouse.” Joe Cino almost always restricted productions to two-week runs in order to make room for the next play, but he made an exception for Dames, an inventive DIY show that raked in the money. “It’s quite amazing when you look back at how much originality was happening,” said Agosto Machado. “The stage area was tiny, and they did so much with so little.” Joe Cino painted his tiny eight-by-eight-foot stage with high-gloss black paint sprinkled with glitter, and the costumes, lighting, and makeup were also staged entirely in black and white. The Dames at Sea set used reflective Mylar to create the cheap illusion that there were many more people onstage during the dance numbers, and the other side of the rotating wall panels was decorated to look like a ship during other scenes. Show composer Jim Wise often played piano at the Cino, though sometimes his substitute was Barry Man. Later known as Barry Manilow, he accompanied Bette Midler for her cabaret shows in gay bathhouses during the early 1970s, and Midler also passed through Caffe Cino and La MaMa after she arrived in New York.

From Chapter 13 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Caffe Cino
31 Cornelia St, New York, NY 10014