When Jerry’s Girls opens this weekend at The Arts Centre, Melbourne, it will feature an incredible line up of Australia’s leading ladies of the stage: Rhonda Burchmore, Nancye Hayes, Silvie Paladino, Christie Whelan Browne, Virginia Gay, Claire Lyon, Kirby Burgess, Chelsea Gibb, Debora Krizak, Josie Lane and Natalie O’Donell. They will be joined by Brent Hill.
It’s an impressive name-dropping cast that will appeal to older and younger audiences.
“I don’t know about you, but I was definitely flattered!” exclaimed Virginia Gay, looking across to fellow Jerry’s Girls cast member, Kirby Burgess. “I was like, ‘What do you mean I get to share the stage with Rhonda and Nancye?’”
When director Dean Bryant invited Kirby Burgess to be in the cast of Jerry’s Girls she responded with, “Are you sure?”
Burgess explained she doesn’t really consider herself vocally to be a traditional musical theatre performer.
“Really? That astonishes me! You have the most incredible voice,” Gay said, clearly surprised by this revelation.
Burgess explained her background prior to musical theatre was singing in blues and rock bands.
“Jerry Herman paved the way for a lot of the traditional music theatre that we know and love. Most of the songs he writes for women are beautiful and they are pretty – and the women in his shows are often damsels – and I don’t find that I would necessarily be cast as a damsel. So when Dean asked me I just said, “Are you sure you want me to do this … because I wouldn’t normally pick a song from the Jerry Herman repertoire,” explained Burgess.
What makes Jerry’s Girls unique is the show is created around the actual performers.
“The script can never be done on anyone else because it’s for us. They’ve adapted and rearranged the script for each individual performer. We’re not fitting into other characters, the characters fit us,” said Burgess.
Award winning director, Dean Bryant wrote to each of the performers and asked them, “What version of diva would you be if you pushed yourself? What characteristics of yourself would you send up?” Bryant used their responses to create this version of Jerry’s Girls.
“It’s cheeky, and it’s irreverent,” smiled Gay.
It’s clear the cast are having a wonderful time and have a huge admiration for each others work.
“It’s wonderful to be in the rehearsal space – and just hearing everyone hitting their strides and what makes them unique. I think that will be a real treat for the audience,” said Virginia Gay.
“There’s also some lovely choral work. (Musical Director) Matty Frank has done some incredible arrangements of these songs, so I’m super proud to be part of a choir of these amazing women,” Gay said.
The work of Jerry Herman will already be familiar to many fans of musical theatre. He wrote musicals such as Hello Dolly!, Mame, Mack & Mabel and La Cage Aux Folles, to name a few.
“Did you make a play for ‘I Am What I Am”? I did!” laughed Gay, as she asked Burgess.
“Everyone seems to have their favourite song in the show, but it’s not necessarily the one they are doing,” explained Gay.
While we discussed which of the eleven leading ladies will be performing this big number, we decided not to reveal it here. The cast expect there will certainly be some surprises for the audience.
“Kirby does this incredible song from Mack and Mabel. Someone needs to put on Mack and Mabel and cast Kirby,” said Gay.
Gay’s big number is ‘I Won’t Send Roses’.
“You do it beautifully. It’s my favourite moment of the whole show,” commented Burgess about Gay’s performance.
“WHAT? That’s crazy!” replied a very surprised Virginia Gay.
Burgess quickly responded with, “I’m taking charge of the statement. It’s set up beautifully and the audience will really be shocked by it – it’s beautiful.”
Gay is equally impressed by one of Burgess’ numbers from Showtune. It’s a song and dance routine usually performed by a dozen women, but all the moves have been given to just Burgess.
Despite recently coming off the national tour of Dirty Dancing, Burgess explained this big dance routine feels like quite a shock after having to down-play her dancing for 12 months when she had to look more like a novice. However, Burgess is also well aware that these sort of opportunities for a big solo dance routine by a woman are rare in musical theatre.
It’s also very impressive for the rest of the cast who get to watch it, according to Gay.
“It’s incredible. We should all be backstage with the electrolytes to pass to her like a marathon runner,” commented Gay, genuinely impressed by Burgess’ dance skills and athleticism.
It’s been a busy time for Burgess. She was playing the role of Rizzo in the Perth season of Grease when she auditioned for the role of Baby Houseman in Dirty Dancing. Burgess never thought she’d be considered for such a vastly different role, but knew she could do it. After Jerry’s Girls Burgess takes on the role of Heather Chandler in the Queensland season of Heathers The Musical – another complete contrast to Baby Houseman.
Burgess believes her success comes from a lot of hard work, the ability to pick up things quickly and making some very smart decisions, including declining roles that were not going to progress her career forward. Although this is her first time with The Production Company she is enjoying the pace of the short and notoriously intense rehearsal period.
The intense pace is also not a challenge for Virginia Gay. Her television work has prepared her for short rehearsal time frames. Gay is best known to Australian audiences through her television roles in drama series such as All Saints and Winners and Losers.
Gay was theatre trained and has always considered the theatre to be her first love. When she graduated from WAAPA she landed a big television role. Moving from the television genre to theatre Gay feels she is back on the stage where she belongs. Her enthusiasm for live theatre is obvious and she is thrilled to be sharing the stage with the cream of Australia’s leading ladies in Jerry’s Girls.
Jerry’s Girls opens on Saturday 21st November at The Playhouse. New shows have already been added to this strictly limited season to meet the demand for tickets.