Jerry’s Girls continues at the Jermyn Street Theatre, London until 31 May.
Rating: 5 stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
There’s no doubt that Jerry Herman has earned his place as one of the 20th century’s greatest composers of musical theatre. From his early successes of Milk and Honey and Hello, Dolly!, to his 1983 smash hit La Cage Aux Folles, for many his sound defined an era of Broadway musicals.
The revue Jerry’s Girls, celebrating both the composer’s back catalogue and the women associated with his productions, first hit Broadway in 1985. This London revival, after a two-week March run at the St James Studio, demonstrates that Herman’s songs work just as well in a smaller theatre space – and, if anything, that the intimacy of a small venue can help bring out the delights of each number to their fullest effect.
The London trio of Ria Jones, Sarah-Louise Young and Emma Barton (replacing Anna-Jane Casey from the St James run) each have very distinctive styles, both in their approach to their songs and in their style of comedy. And humour is really to the fore throughout, both in scripted routines and off-the-cuff reaction to the occasional offstage mishap. Revue shows that are heavily scripted, as Jerry’s Girls is, can often feel weighed down by the inter-song narrative and forced banter. Thankfully, this isn’t the case here, the three women ensuring that the audience is drawn in as a group of friends celebrating Herman’s career.
They are assisted by musical director Edward Court and woodwind player Sophie Byrne, both of whom are brought in to provide rather more than mere musical accompaniment. In the dance number ‘Tap Your Troubles Away’ (from Mack and Mabel), the action starts slowly, with rhythms literally tapped out on whisky glasses, before breaking out into a full-scale tap routine that brings the musicians out into the spotlight, with Court at one point managing to play his piano, reaching over the upright while held aloft by the cast. It’s a number which manages to provide more pep and pizzazz than many a classic revival, and is testament not only to the performers but to choreographer Matthew Cole, whose ability to provides echoes of great Broadway routines on such a confined stage is one of the show’s highlights.
Of the three performers, cabaret stalwart Sarah-Louise Young provides the most overt comedy, with an array of silly voices and spontaneous one-liners that delight. She may not have the strongest belt of the trio, but she helps drive the personality of the show by sheer force of will.
At the other end of the musical scale, Ria Jones – herself no slouch in the comedy department – uses her knockout voice to get the best out of her solo numbers, from her delightful half of ‘Take It All Off’ to the revue’s showstopping 11 o’clock number, La Cage Aux Folles’ ‘I Am What I Am’. Able to bring the audience to their knees with little more than a sly raise of an eyebrow, and to their feet with her heartbreaking balladic delivery, Jones excels throughout.
But it is Emma Barton who surprises as much as delights among the trio. Bringing a sly sauciness to her precise and accomplished dancing, she also possesses a surprisingly deep and rich voice that is just perfect for the cabaret setting that director Kate Golledge has created for this revue.
With walls covered in photographs of the women who are best associated with Herman’s works, from Carol Channing to Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur, this production ensures that there needs to be made space for the three women on stage who provide one of the most entertaining evenings currently available in London.