By MARILYN LESTER****Never mind the dog days of August. For relief from a currently fraught political situation – or any of life’s woes – Jerry’s Girls is just the ticket. This special Summer Musicals in Mufti at the York Theatre, a celebration of the music of Jerry Herman, embodies all the attributes of the songwriter’s impressive body of work; it’s full of charm, melody, love, hope, wisdom and just the right amount of froth to make for a darn good, feel-good time.
The girls in question are the production’s singers of the Herman repertoire (left to right in photo at left) Stephanie D’Abruzzo, Christine Pedi and Stephanie Umoh, each bringing a distinctive style to the show. The trio works well together in this mufti format, where minimalism reigns and luxuries like costuming and scenic design take a back seat. The concept works especially well for Jerry’s Girls. In fact, before hitting Broadway in its fluffed-up version in 1985 (running for 144 performances), the show originated as a small cabaret act, conceived by Herman, who had written the music and lyrics for all the numbers [from his past musicals] and Larry Alford (Wayne Cilento is also credited for the Broadway production). For this mufti production, director Pamela Hunt smartly brought the show right back where it belongs, delightfully uncluttered, as a pared-down revue. With song, song and more song as the focus of the show, Herman shines with a bright light. The girls, as terrific as they are, are the handmaidens to Herman’s exquisite talent. They’re aided along the way with carefully curated back projections, a few props and sly bits of business.
Problematic in a general way, though, is what to do about those rolling music stands. They are both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is their easy portability. The curse is that they can become obtrusive, in a way that hospital patients are sometimes seen ambulating with their drip paraphernalia. For Jerry’s Girls, Hunt incorporates them into the choreography of movement, mostly successfully. Moving three actors around the stage is a necessity in what otherwise would be a terribly static show. Hunt’s eye for movement is sharp and intelligent. She’s also a master at pacing, of keeping the action moving and relevant. However, there were some numbers that seemed dizzying as those music stands twirled and spun. But Hunt’s slight cuts and thematic rearrangements to the score helped keep the pacing tight, leaving no margin for tedium.
Naturally, Herman’s big hit shows (Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage aux Folles) and most well-known numbers, get the most play in Jerry’s Girls, but “lesser” songs also got their due, such as “Just Go to the Movies” and “Nelson” (both from A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine), “Two-a-Day” (from the revue, Parade), and a pair from Milk and Honey: its title song and “Shalom.” Comedic actor Christine Pedi secured laughs, smiles, chuckles and guffaws with the “put it all on” segment of Herman’s specialty number “Take It All Off,” and with Mame’s “Gooch’s Song.” She also handled well the sincere and touching “Song on the Sand” (La Cage aux Folles). Two Stephanies, D’Abruzzo and Umoh, brought a satisfying appeal to duets via their personal and vocal chemistry: a pleasing “Bosom Buddies” (Mame) and an affecting and trenchant “Kiss Her Now” (Dear World). D’Abruzzo’s personal intensity worked exceedingly well with the more serious numbers, such as “I Don’t Want to Know” (Dear World) and “Time Heals Everything” (Mack & Mabel), and also lent fervor to “Before the Parade Passes By” (Hello Dolly!). The bright-as-a-penny Umoh, with a lively stage presence, hit emotions hopeful (“It Only Takes a Moment” from Hello, Dolly!) to serious, (Mack & Mabel‘s “I Won’t Send Roses”) to panegyric (with “I Am What I Am” (La Cage aux Folles). As an ensemble, Jerry’s girls displayed a consistent synergy, integrating their styles agreeably on the Herman repertoire. The trio shone with the expected hits, the eponymous “Hello Dolly!” and “Mame” as well as “It’s Today” (Mame). The energetic closing number, La Cage aux Folles’ “The Best of Times” neatly summed up Herman’s appeal, and why Jerry’s Girls is a genuine happy-making, delightful treat of a show.
A very large gold star goes to music director Eric Svejcar. Very few pianists possess the ability to turn a piano into much more than it is. He is one of them. He is a complete orchestra. Svejcar’s lyric, melodic and transcendent touch on the keys was a crucial component in elevating Jerry’s Girls to a high standard. With Mozartian flair, he played with passion, sensitivity, and breathtaking artistry.
Jerry’s Girls is produced by The York Theatre Company in association with Riki Kane Larimer.
Jerry’s Girls is at The Theatre at Saint Peter’s, 619 Lexington Avenue, through Sunday, August 13. There are performances on Friday night and there are matinees and evening performances on both Saturday and Sunday. The Sunday evening show (August 13) was recently added to the calendar by popular demand due to strong ticket sales, so reserve early.
For tickets, call 212-935-5820 or visit http://www.YorkTheatre.org
Photos by Russ Rowland