Composer Jim Wise, who applied a brassy, sunny pastiche sound to Off-Broadway's Dames at Sea, the spoof of 1930s movie musicals that launched Bernadette Peters in 1968, died in his sleep at his Manhattan home Nov. 13, according to friends.
Mr. Wise was 81 and had a long illness.
Mr. Wise's famous collaboration with lyricist-librettist George Haimsohn and Robin Miller parodied the Depression-era Warner Bros. movies. The plot tells of a girl named Ruby from Centerville, UT, who dances circles around other kids and becomes star of a new show (which has to be presented on the deck of a battleship when the theatre is demolished). Jaded star Mona Kent has her eye on young Dick, but Dick is sweet on Ruby.
The score included such songs as "Wall Street" (reminiscent of "42nd Street"), "Choo Choo Honeymoon" (after "Shuffle Off to Buffalo"), "Star Tar," "That Mister Man of Mine," "It's You," "Sailor of My Dreams," "Good Times Are Here to Stay" and "Raining in My Heart." The musical launched Bernadette Peters, who played Ruby with a kewpie-doll cuteness. She still performs "Raining in My Heart" in concert.
Dames at Sea began Off-Broadway at the Bouwerie Lane Theatre Dec. 20, 1968 (after developing at the Caffe Cino) and became a long-running — in Off-Broadway terms — hit, closing in 1970. Jordan Hott & Jack Millstein produced, Neal Kenyon directed and choreographed. During the 575 performance run, Peters was succeeded by Pia Zadora, Bonnie Franklin and Barbara Sharma. Dames at Sea is one of the major international musicals to get its start Off-Broadway and is regularly revived around the world. An Off-Broadway revival played the Lamb's Theatre in 1985. As an extension of its original Off-Broadway run, the show played a downstairs room at the Plaza Hotel, according to Playbill historian Louis Botto, a friend of Mr. Wise.
Mr. Wise was born in Akron, OH, and majored in music and English at Wooster College in Wooster, OH, graduating in 1941. He spent six years in the Army, stationed in London and Paris. He earned a master's degree in English from Columbia University.
He taught at the New Jersey Institute of Technology for many years, retiring in 1989.
In addition to Dames at Sea, which was his major show, Mr. Wise wrote specialty material for Dodi Goodman, Gloria DeHaven, Pat Carroll and Jane Connell over the years.