By Mary Damiano
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.