Hello Jerry! Revue of Broadway Titan’s Work Now at The Wick

By Mary Damiano

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Lauren Sprague, Susan Anton, Julie Kavanagh and Klea Blackhurst in Jerry’s Girls

Hello, Dolly!

If Jerry Herman had decided to rest on his laurels never compose another score or write another lyric after that show, his place in musical theatre history would have been firmly cemented.  Luckily, Jerry Herman isn’t that kind of guy.  His shows, from the cultish Dear World and Mack and Mabel to the beloved Mame and La Cage Aux Folles, are, simply, legendary.

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Lauren Sprague

Herman’s final show, Jerry’s Girls, now on stage at The Wick in Boca Raton, is a loving tribute to the career of a Broadway giant.

Jerry’s Girls began as a cabaret revue to showcase songs from Herman’s shows, especially Mack and Mabel, which was deemed a failure in its original run. After La Cage Aux Folles  premiered on Broadway, Florida impresario Zev Buffman approached Herman about expanding the cabaret revue, and Jerry’s Girls premiered at the Royal Poinciana Playhouse in Royal Palm Beach in 1984 before moving to Broadway the following year.

Director Lee Roy Reams, who has starred in two of Herman’s musicals at The Wick, La Cage Aux Folles and Hello, Dolly!, in which he made history but becoming the first man to play the titular role in a professional production, wanted to give Jerry’s Girls an update. So, instead of chorus girls, the leads are backed by Jerry’s Boys, including new Carbonell Award winner Elijah Word.

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Susan Anton

The star here—and The Wick loves to have a star—is Susan Anton, the tall blonde entertainer who gained fame in the 1970s through commercials and talk show appearances and notoriety in the 1980s for her relationship with diminutive British actor Dudley Moore.

Anton is joined onstage by Klea Blackhurst, Julie Kavanagh and Lauren Sprague. Word is joined in the chorus by a talented bevy of local boys, Anthony “AJ” Cola, Joshua Conner, James Giordano, Hugo Moreno and Mark Williams.

It’s a real treat to have a live band, musical director James Followell on piano, Julie Jacobs on drums and Rupert Wiawinski on bass—having the musicians on stage with the performers injects a lot of energy into the show. Emily Tarallo’s choreography is inventive and tailored to the needs of the cast. Jim Buff’s elegant costume design makes each woman look like a million bucks.  Randel Wright’s streamlined scenic design of  repeating rings and arches harkens to a simple club allowing the performers to shine.  The lighting design by Ginny Adams picks up nuances in the costumes and complements the setting of the songs.  The sound, by Justin Thompson, seems muffled at times.

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Julie Kavanagh

The show retains its cabaret roots.  The performers greet the audience as themselves and take the audience on a musical journey through Herman’s career, aided by tasteful projections by Josieu Jean, Jerry’s Girls is a primer on Herman’s work for newbies and a chance for seasoned theatre buffs to reminisce.

Most of the first act is devoted to Hello, Dolly! and Mame, the original two Jerry’s girls.  The second act begins with songs from Dear World but mainly features Mack and Mabel and La Cage Aux Folles.  Clever bits include a photo montage of performers who have played the iconic Dolly Levi over the years, which invites audience participation.  Another is a bit about the diverse things the song Hello, Dolly! has been used to sell, including Oscar Meyer products  (Hello Deli) and a president (Hello Lyndon). There is also a wonderfully staged homage to silent movies, which captures the essence of Mack and Mabel.

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Susan Anton and Jerry’s Boys

Anton is an affable performer who blends well with the other leads. Regarding solos, she is at her best on ballads—her rendition of And I Was Beautiful is lovely.  Her upbeat numbers include the title song to La Cage Aux Folles, which she does well, though her impressions of Mae West, Tallulah Bankhead and Marlene Dietrich mid-song fall flat and feel like the show has morphed into her own personal nightclub act rather than Georges’ emcee duties in the original musical.

Sprague delivers a beautiful version of I Won’t Send Roses from Mack and Mabel.  The lyrics have been tweaked to He Won’t Send Roses and offer a poignant female counterpoint to the original song. And Sprague’s duet with Blackhurst onKiss Her Now is stunning—their voices blend to form one gorgeous sound.  Kavanagh is terrific in Tap Your Troubles Away, accompanied by that bevy of boys and Look What’s Happened to Mabel.

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Klea Blackhurst

Blackhurst is the standout in Jerry’s Girls.  She and Anton have great chemistry in their duets, and her powerhouse voice wows.  Other singers reach for the rafters, but Blackhurst raises them.  She possesses both charisma and stage presence and fully inhabits whatever character she plays.  And when she sings the iconic I Am What I Am, she makes you believe the anthem was written especially for her.

The show is uneven—the pacing is off, some songs seem slowed down, and it doesn’t always sparkle as it should—but the good and great moments definitely outweigh the fair and flat ones. Negatives, though, can be put aside. Sometimes it’s dazzling and sometimes it’s cheesy, but this production of Jerry’s Girls is always entertaining.

Jerry’s Girls runs through May 13 at The Wick in Boca Raton.  For tickets and more information, visit TheWick.org.

Get Wrecked on TBS with Lela Elam

By Mary Damiano

So, I was having lunch at New York Grilled Cheese in Wilton Manors two weeks ago with The

Lela Elam

The Fabulous Lela Elam

Fabulous Lela Elam—yes, that’s her official title, at least as far as I’m concerned—when she caught me up on her current project, the TBS TV series Wrecked.  I had been seeing Lela’s Facebook posts about Wrecked for some time, but I thought it was a movie she’d done.  Lela being in a series makes me happy at the opportunity to see her on a weekly basis, because she’s so talented—she could sit on a stage and read the phone book and it would be entertaining.

I found all the episodes available through TBS and Sling through my Roku box and embarked on a binge.

Wrecked is a sitcom send-up of Lost, one of my favorite TV shows of all time.  In Wrecked, just like Lost, the plot centers on passengers who have survived a plane crash and must find a way to survive on a mysterious island.  Some of the characters on Wrecked pay homage to characters on Lost, some are composites, some are original.  The first shot of the show mimics the first shot of Lost, and the plots sometimes mirror Lost, and other times portray the what ifs that Lost fans probably asked while they watched the show.  But you don’t need to have ever seen an episode of Lost to understand or be entertained by WreckedLost may have been a jumping off point, but the show is forging its own identity.

Todd Wrecked

Todd Allen Durkin

Lela plays Diane from Toledo. Just the idea of getting stranded on a desert island with The Fabulous Lela Elam is appealing.  She gets some good lines and scenes.  So far Lela’s most pivotal scenes have been in the episode Always Meant to See That, which asks this question:  If you had to choose what could possibly be the last movie you will ever see, would you choose something wacky or something big and important?  Does it come down to entertainment or a moral imperative? Stupid fun or political correctness?

That’s the kind of stuff Wrecked explores. Other episodes have dealt with hoarding food, meting out justice and the question of attempting to escape or forming a society on the island.

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Wrecked Cast

Wrecked features other talented actors based in South Florida, including Mike Benitez and Todd Allen Durkin, who plays the unfortunately monikered Kurt Turdhole—pronounced, according to Kurt, Tur-doh-lay—who ends up as the constant butt of jokes, pun intended.

Wrecked is a fun show and definitely worth a look, especially if you’re a fan of Lost or a fan of The Fabulous Lela Elam.

New episodes of Wrecked air on Tuesday nights at 10:30 p.m. on TBS.  Catch up on older episodes on On Demand.

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix

By Mary Damiano

If you’re not watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, you should be.

Ellie Kemper as Kimmy Schmidt

Ellie Kemper as Kimmy Schmidt

The wacky sitcom, created and written by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, is original, funny, clever, heartwarming and features terrific performances by its cast. The show was first slated for NBC, but Netflix got it instead. Like other original Netflix, series, all 13 episodes were released at once, so you can binge-watch to your heart’s content

Here’s the premise: Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) has been living in an underground bunker in Indiana along with three other women by a self-styled preacher/DJ who told them the apocalypse came and the world was gone. In the first few minutes of the first episode, Kimmy and her bunker-mates are rescued and whisked away to New York to be interviewed by Matt Lauer on The Today Show. Realizing that there is nothing for her back in Indiana, Kimmy decides to take a bite out of the Big Apple.

Determined to begin a new life, Kimmy keeps her kidnapping and bunker life a secret. Soon, she has what every girl needs to survive in New York City—a gay roommate whose dream is to be on Broadway, (Tituss Burgess), a cranky but caring landlady, (Carol Kane), and a job as a nanny where her boss, (Jane Krakowski), is a pampered, out-of-touch socialite. And, of course, she has a nemesis, teenaged Xanthippe (Dylan Gelula), the stepsister of Kimmy’s young charge, who makes it her mission to uncover Kimmy’s secret past.

The 13 episodes follow Kimmy through her quest to live independently as an adult. Kimmy was kidnapped when she was in middle school, so she’s got some catching up to do. Her zest for life and plucky determination are infectious, as is the earworm of a theme song. There are some hints at the terrible reality of Kimmy’s life in the bunker, but they’re addressed with humor.

The good news is that a second season has already been ordered, so there’s more Kimmy to come.