It’s never as easy as it may seem to present a musical revue. Whether consciously or not, many audience members, when confronted with a host of hits, still long for some storyline to pull them all together; and revues don’t always provide that.
Take Jerry’s Girls, now onstage at the Manatee Players Riverfront Theatre. This salute to the songs of composer Jerry Herman—well beloved for Hello, Dolly!, Mame and more—is certainly chockfull of Herman songs, including numbers from his lesser-known but still worthwhile shows like Dear World and Milk and Honey. It also has more costume changes than almost any production I can recall lately, with nine actresses rapidly appearing in a succession of clothes (designed by Georgina Wilmott, who deserves a rest) ranging from glam to period to down-home to vaudeville.
But there isn’t a tremendous amount of rhyme or reason to the placement of all these songs. Act I bears a vaudeville medley, and Act II both a movies one and a La Cage aux Folles one, so we can see certain trends in Herman’s work if we look. Overall, though, the songs depend on the singers to help us connect emotionally, to feel the story behind the songs even if we don’t have all the framework. The cast—and director-choreographer Steven Flaa—succeed to varying degrees in that.
Jerry’s Girls originally had three stars (Carol Channing, Leslie Uggams and Andrea McArdle), backed by six other performers, all female, and this production keeps that format. Kathleen Abney, Nancy Apatow and Kyle Ann Lacertosa deliver the solos, and Taylor Elizabeth, Alina Evans, Cheryl Gutner, Kelleen Purdin, Allison Rekow and Lauren Richard lend both vocal and dance support.
Abney has probably the strongest, most dependable voice of the three, and she delivers numbers such as If He Walked into My Life and I Am What I Am with force, even if you can’t help missing the context of those songs in their original shows. Apatow scores best on some more comedic pieces, as when portraying a not-so-hot burlesque queen in Take It All Off or a frustrated Jeanette McDonald in Nelson (that would be Nelson Eddy she’s singing about, of course). Lacertosa, who turned in a bravura performance as Tracy in the Manatee Players’ Hairspray last season, is not always served well by the key of her numbers here; she struggles in the lower register. But she’s lovable when portraying silent screen comedienne Mabel Normand in Look What Happened to Mabel and the pregnant Gooch in Gooch’s Song.
If you’re an ardent Herman fan, you might find satisfaction aplenty with Jerry’s Girls. I wanted more of an emotional connection, but as that other famous composer, Mick Jagger, once wrote, “You can’t always get what you want.”
Jerry’s Girls continues through Nov. 13; for tickets call 748-5875 or go to manateeplayers.com.