The Production Company’s commitment to celebrating the greats of musical theatre continues with their presentation of Jerry’s Girls, a tribute to the legendary Jerry Herman. As director, Dean Bryant, expressed in his Director’s Note, Herman’s music is ‘catchy, effervescent and endlessly melodic’, really reflecting what Broadway is all about. Having gathered an absolutely star-studded set of marvelous leading ladies for the occasion, the night certainly didn’t disappoint.
The show itself featured a majority of the same numbers performed in the original iteration of the revue, though, rather than reconstructing the scenes from which the songs hail, the show focused on The Production Company’s rehearsal process leading up to opening night. This concept felt incredibly fresh and allowed for the audience to much better connect with the powerhouses on stage. While much of what was presented seemed to be very caricatured, and appeared to be riddled with inside jokes, this approach worked exceptionally well and supported Herman’s music brilliantly.
It most certainly showed the enduring nature of his collections thematic substance and how well these pieces can be applied to people of all walks of life – whether you’re an onstage diva or not. Being allowed an insight into the lives of these women, whether exaggerated or not, was certainly very special. The direction of the piece was really stellar, particularly for the structure of the show. As Bryant suggests in his notes, the solo pieces were created around the personal stories of each of the ladies, automatically injected a very real sense of integrity and heart. Brent Hill, who played the director was incredibly engaging and certainly the glue that held this show together. His presence on stage really allowed for the rehearsal concept to flourish and come across as convincing and enjoyable (he also rocks a dress and is an impressive tapper). While some segments felt a little drawn out, and perhaps a little removed from the general public (as mentioned, a lot felt a little bit ‘in-joke’), as a whole, the in and out of rehearsal concept was a real winner.
Musical direction by Matthew Frank certainly did Herman justice. The ladies blended beautifully and their solo selections were on point, and the band – simply stunning. It was somewhat odd to find the musicians of a TPC show hidden, as they’re usually out for the audience to acknowledge, though it really would have been a little odd to see them lurking in what was made to appear as a rehearsal space (a very convincing one at that – with lots of little details that were very much appreciated). It was very refreshing to see the wall come up during moments in which real-time was broken, so that the audience could fully appreciate the sensational orchestra behind the beautifully large and dynamic sound.
Choreography by Andrew Hallsworth was diverse, punchy and incredibly appropriate. It was a shame that there was not very much choreography in the show, as when it was presented, it was a real treat. Herman’s music is often synonymous with big dance numbers, so there was a bit of a void in that respect. A definite highlight of the night was Kirby Burgess’s solo dance piece in ‘I Was Beautiful’. A sure showstopper. As a side note, Christie Whelan –Browne’s take on Hallsworth was absolutely hilarious, a performance that the audience really didn’t want to end.
As aforementioned, the show featured a group of Australia’s most talented and well-respected leading ladies. Namely, Rhonda Burchmore, Nancye Hayes, Silvie Paladino, Christie Whelan-Browne, Virginia Gay, Claire Lyon, Kirby Burgess, Chelsea Gibb, Deborah Krizak, Josie Lane and Natalie O’Donnell.
The cast certainly allowed for the audience to revel in the finesse and command acquired over years as industry divas, whilst also acknowledging the incredible future we are to look forward to with some amazingly powerful rising talent. There was no weak link – but that was to be expected. It was a real treat to be able to experience the likes of Burchmore, Paladino and, of course, Hayes in the same room. It was certainly obvious that women such as these have inspired women in theatre for years, including those that shared the stage with them. This was perhaps most evident in ‘I Was Beautiful’, shared by Burgess and Hayes. While the choreography of this number was mentioned previously, it would be completely remiss to not acknowledge the fragility and real beauty of this number. The pair were elegant and truly represented Australian musical theatre, under the guide of a Broadway great in the music of Herman. A treat it was.
Other highlights included Burchmore as the ultimate diva, Paladino copping the Christmas song, Gay’s amazing South African accent, Lane as the underdog who certainly comes into her own, Gibb’s captivating combination of fragility and sultry power, Lyon’s vocal chops and overall poise, Krizak’s hilarious stripper performance, Whelan-Browne as Andy the Choreographer and O’Donnell’s charisma and ability to balance chaos and control. Of course everything Hayes did was either full of hilarity or full of heart.
This production had all of the right ingredients from the get go. It is well worth seeing, if not for Herman’s music or the stellar cast, at least for the fresh concept riddled with humour and a true appreciation for the hard work that goes into paying justice to such theatre royalty.
Jerry’s Girls is currently playing at The Playhouse at The Arts Centre, Melbourne.
Photo credit: Jeff Busby