Left – the cast of Jerry's Girls. Cover – Rhonda Burchmore and Virginia Gay. Photos – Jeff Busby
Jerry Herman is one of music theatre's most successful composer/lyricists. A man who has written some of the most memorable tunes for hit shows that include Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage Aux Folles. Shows that have showcased the talents of many a leading lady.
When Jerry's Girls was originally produced, it was compiled as a tribute to the music from Herman's shows, saluting the women it showcased. The revue was small in scale with a handful of leading ladies (the original Australian production starred five of our best), performing the material.
In reviving this work, The Production Company has decided to open up the 'revue' giving director Dean Bryant the opportunity to write a 'show' around the show. It's a bold move – with the production largely set in a rehearsal room with everyone playing themselves, revealing some of the rehearsal process, interspersed with Herman's tunes.
The problem that arises is that the 'story,' while often amusing, takes much of the focus away from the music and the leading ladies.
The great asset with this production, though, is the decision to litter the stage with no less than 11 amazing leading ladies (and one very talented male, Brent Hill, who holds it all together playing the director – Bryant). It's a rare opportunity to see this many of our finest female performers perform together on the same night – playing heightened versions of themselves.
Back to the story. The parts that do work are the sometimes very funny opportunities for seasoned performers to parody themselves. None do this better than Rhonda Burchmore, who has the totally lovable ability to laugh at herself, without fear. Comments about Rhonda's outfits and dance routines are an ongoing source of amusement.
Also clever is Christie Whelan Browne appearing as choreographer Andy (another heightened version of the show's actual choreographer Andrew Hallsworth). Very funny for the people who know who Andrew is, although I'm not sure that everyone will get the reference.
The additional leading talents, who all have moments to shine, are Silvie Paladino, Virginia Gay, Claire Lyon, Kirby Burgess, Chelsea Gibb, Debora Krizak (who's ageing stripper performing Take It All Off is hilarious), Natalie O'Donnell, Josie Lane and the remarkable Nancye Hayes. Mention should also be made of Stage Manager Meg Deyell who plays herself as well as actually stage-managing.
Matthew Frank, playing himself, does a fine job leading Orchestra Victoria, creating a rich sound, with great orchestrations.
Dale Ferguson's set design creates an authentic rehearsal room, but again, having so many of the numbers performed in this space, sometimes on top of the bare rehearsal table, detracts from the show and the great songs.
This production of Jerry's Girls will amuse and entertain, and still has a lot to offer the dedicated show tune fan. But perhaps less of the 'story' and more of the songs showcased within a glamorous production setting, would have been even more enjoyable.
The Production Company presents
music and lyrics Jerry Herman
Director Dean Bryant
Venue: Playhouse | Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 21 November – 6 December, 2015