St James Studio, London
Created by Jerry Herman and Larry Alford
Directed by Kate Golledge
After the relative failure of Mack & Mabel on Broadway, Jerry Herman took a break from composition and embraced interior design. It might seem an unusual departure for the writer of mega-hits such as Mame and Hello Dolly! but Herman was pragmatic about the highs and lows of the industry. In 1981 however, he teamed up with Larry Alford to create a small cabaret of his greatest hits called Jerry's Girls. The production was a modest success and when La Cage Aux Folles opened two years later, Herman was hot again and with a little tweaking Jerry's Girls was given a full-blown production, first in Florida and then on Broadway.
Perhaps embracing the original concept, Aria Productions puts the emphasis on the songs rather than spectacle and feature three diversely talented performers - Ria Jones, Anna-Jane Casey and Sarah-Louise Young - each of whom bring something very special to the table. Director Kate Golledge recognises the lightness of touch required for this style of cabaret and allows this triple-threat trio a relatively free hand to engage properly with their audience.
Musically, the highlights come thick and fast, from the clinking glasses that herald Tap Your Troubles Away to the edifying anthem I Am What I Am, delivered with steely determination by an exceptional Jones. Casey proves once again a truly versatile performer, clambering across the grand piano trilling the hilarious Nelson and yet bringing such poignancy to If He Walked Into My Life. Young's comic timing is very much in evidence throughout, no doubt honed through years on the cabaret circuit and lending an easy familiarity to the nature of La Cage Aux Folles.
In the intimacy of the St James Studio Matthew Cole's choreography only really comes to the fore with the Tap Your Troubles Away routine. What this number actually highlights is the versatility of Edward Court on piano and Sophie Byrne on woodwind, who gamely join in the routine and establish themselves irrefutably as part of the ensemble.
Jerry's Girls is however something of a misnomer. The book lists a few token references to the great performers Herman wrote for including Carol Channing, Angela Lansbury and Bernadette Peters and of course, there are his creations such as Dolly Levi, Mame Dennis, Mabel Normand, Countess Aurelia from Dear World and - somewhat ambiguously - Zaza from La Cage. Thankfully Jerry's Boys make a few appearances and it wouldn't really be a Herman retrospective without the lyrical signature tune from Mack and Mabel, I Won't Send Roses.
Whichever way you look at it, one thing Jerry's Girls will remind you of is Herman's mastery of the musical theatre idiom. A genius of lyric as well as music, you will leave Jerry's Girls anxious for a revival of Mame or at least a desire to check out Hello Dolly! on Netflix. Of course, dedicated Herman fans will have already caught the wonderful recent production of The Grand Tour at the Finborough and have probably already booked for Mack and Mabel at Chichester.
Runs until March 15th 2015
Guest Reviewer : Paul Vale