An ingratiating tip-of-the-hat to Jerry Herman, Jerry’s Girls is a musical revue of songs from Herman’s illustrious career as a songwriter for Broadway shows. Arranged for three female parts and one male voice (the multi-tasking Edward Court, who accompanies on piano), songs appear from musicals including Hello Dolly!, Mame, Mack and Mabel and La Cage Aux Folles. The rest of the band is completed by the incredibly multi-talented Sophie Byrne, who switches between flute, saxophone, ukulele and tap dancing like she was born a performer.
The show is billed as cabaret, though housed in a theatre, and indeed that’s how it starts out. Originally it is presented as a small cabaret in New York in a nightclub. However, where classy club music might be accompanied by rowdiness, chatter and drinking, the pizazz and atmosphere here are absent. Instead, at the Jermyn Street Theatre, the audience are mildly interacted with and teased, but the energy of the piece remains as presentational storytelling rather than immersive entertainment. There is no raw energy of a real cabaret in its proper situ. In essence, Jerry’s Girls is light musical entertainment for Herman fans.
The cast features Emma Barton (EastEnders, One Man Two Guvnors, Chicago), Ria Jones (Cats, Les Miserables, Chess), and Sarah-Louise Young (named one of TimeOut’s Top Cabaret Acts). Each has their strong points, but Jones’s voice completely steals the show. Her arrestingly strong, musical theatre sound is utterly moving, filling the theatre in a way only musical theatre actresses know how. Jones’s rendition of ‘I Am What I Am’ has the audience in raptures. Barton and Young have voices that are notably weaker, both lacking control over their piano range. That being said, Young’s cabaret expertise is evident. She improvises her way through tiny hiccups in the night (a missed sound queue) with fantastic comedy. There is an especially humorous faux-Christmas scene, in which she delivers a few lines to a Santa hat while Byrne is decorated as a Christmas tree. Barton’s movement is her saving grace, as she spirits around the stage with grace and elegance. The choreography by Matthew Cole is lovely, perfectly suiting the small space and really very amusing at times.
Jerry’s Girls was created by Herman and collaborator Larry Alford in 1981, and the age shows. For anyone keen on Herman’s songwriting – or real musical theatre aficionados – I am certain that Jerry’s Girls will be a delight. With in-jokes and niche references aplenty, it is an affectionate testimony to a hero of musical theatre. Throughout, the actresses spin off fun biographical facts about Herman’s life. For example, did you know he didn’t originally want to be a songwriter? He was actually studying design and architecture. There are witty impersonations of Jerry’s ‘girls’ too – Angela Lansbury, for example – and their photographs decorate the back wall. Yet these nuances demand an insider’s extensive knowledge and, for me, this makes the whole experience lacking. Without a human, relatable story to drive the traffic of the stage, Jerry’s Girls remains an empty vessel of iconic songs.
Jerry’s Girls is playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 31 May. For more information and tickets, see the Jermyn Street Theatre website. Photo by Darren Bell.