Sunday, January 17, 2010

Jerry's Girls

‘JERRY’S GIRLS’ gets serviceable proudction at Ensemble

‘JERRY’S GIRLS,’ which is now being performed by Ensemble Theatre, is a tribute to Jerry Herman and the women he wrote about. Herman penned such Broadway musical gems as ‘HELLO, DOLLY!,’ ‘MAME, ‘ and ‘LA CAGE AUX FOLLES.’ He also wrote such lesser works as ‘MACK AND MABEL,’ ‘MILK AND HONEY,’ ‘DEAR WORLD,’ and ‘THE GRAND TOUR.’ He has been nominated for the Tony Award five times, and won twice. Last year Herman received the Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre.

‘JERRY’S GIRLS,’ originated 1981 as a night club act. It was called a “brilliantly lively and scintillating evening of cabaret.” In 1984, the script was expanded and premiered at the Royal Poinciana Playhouse in Palm Beach, Florida, with Carol Channing, Andrea McArdle, and Leslie Uggams, backed by an all-female chorus. You can only imagine how the stage sizzled with that combo.

When the show was brought to Broadway in 1985, the cast included Uggams, Dorothy Loudon and Chita Rivera. It was not well received. None of the Big Apple cast was associated with any of Herman’s original shows and some of the songs were given questionable interpretations.

The conceiver’s choice of the songs seems strange. The review supposedly centers on Herman’s women, yet at least half a dozen of the songs were written for men to sing, and don’t lend themselves to a female view. “I Won’t Send You Roses” or “I Am What I Am” which has become the symbolic gay/transgender unofficial national anthem, aren’t female songs. Putting a fedora on a woman does not transition the gender of a lyric.

Many believe that a review is an easy theatrical piece to stage. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no story to hold the attention. There is just a series of songs which have to be creatively staged. In the case of ‘JERRY’S GIRLS,’ the requirements, besides a very inventive director who is blessed with choreographic skills, is a necessity to frame the songs in a concept that grabs and holds the audience. It also needs five divas with broad vocal ranges and the ability to suck the emotions out of many of the songs’ lyrics. This is a score which includes such gems as “It Takes a Woman,” “Bosom Buddies,” “Hello Dolly,” and “The Best of Times.”

Don’t go to the Ensemble production expecting “a scintillating evening of cabaret.” The production, under the direction of Frank Lucas, is serviceable. The show has no clear concept. Fun songs, such as “Bosom Buddies,” “The Man in the Moon,” and Gooch’s Song,” aren’t much fun, and some of the big emotion songs lack power.

The singers vary from possessing voices that are good to acceptable. Some don’t have the range to belt or give the pathos needed to fit Herman’s style. The vocal blendings don’t generally work.

There are some good individual vocal presentations. Kudos to: (one of the area’s best female performers) Adina Bloom, “If He Walked Into My Life,” and “I Don’t Want to Know;” Lindsay Pier, “It’s Today,” and “Before the Parade Passes By;” Jamie Finkenthaler-Has, “I Am What I Am; ” and Holly Feiler, “Mame” and “Look What Happened to Mabel.”

The band, Herczeg on piano, Mark Bussinger, percussion, and Tim Keo, bass, are very good. Martin Cosentino’s black and white set, complete with piano key risers, is very creative.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Ensemble’s ‘JERRY’S GIRLS’ gets a serviceable production at Ensemble. If you like Jerry Herman’s songs, you probably will find the evening/afternoon pleasant.