Review: An Intimate and Joyous ‘Jerry’s Girls’ at the York Theatre Company
By Christopher Caggiano, Contributing Writer, August 9, 2017
If we’ve learned one thing this Broadway theater season, it’s that Jerry Herman’s music retains its crowd-pleasing appeal. The blockbuster revival of Hello, Dolly! certainly has Bette Midler to thank for its phenomenal success, but there’s no question that the charm of the piece itself comes largely from Herman’s insidiously catchy score.
Herman’s hits—from Mame to Dolly to La Cage aux Folles—are chockablock with gorgeous tunes. Even in Herman’s most abject commercial failures—such as Dear World and The Grand Tour—there’s always a stunning song or two to make the whole affair worth sitting through. And it’s hard to listen to the score of Mack and Mabel without marveling at how the show could possibly have failed with such a rich and melodious set of songs.
After the success of La Cage in the early 1980s, Jerry Herman and director Larry Alford teamed up to expand upon a nightclub act they had put together years before and turned it into a fully staged production. The show, called Jerry’s Girls, toured the country with Carol Channing, Leslie Uggams, and Andrea McArdle, but by the time it reached Broadway, Channing and McArdle had been replaced by Chita Rivera and Dorothy Loudon.
I saw the tour in Boston, and it was delightful, although it depended a bit too much on the specific skills of the stars at hand to make the evening into more than just a litany of Herman’s greatest hits. Channing was particularly memorable reviving a number of her comic bits from shows past, including the lisping Cecily Sissons and the similarly afflicted Marlene Dietrich.
In the current concert staging of Jerry’s Girls at the York Theatre Company, as part of its Musicals in Mufti series, the success of the production likewise hinges on the talents of the particular “girls” involved: Christine Pedi, Stephanie D’Abruzzo, and Stephanie Umoh. Fortunately, these fine performers are, for the most part, more than up to the task.
Christine Pedi is a treasure, but here she felt under-energized at times, particularly during the group numbers. Since the Mufti shows are concert presentations, the performers have their scripts in hand, but Pedi seemed to be focused into her book a bit more than her costars.
Pedi did acquit herself nicely during her solos, particularly during the second act. Her “Nelson,” a mock operetta song from A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, was absolutely hysterical, and her “Song on the Sand” from La Cage was stunning in its emotional resonance. I was disappointed that director Pamela Hunt didn’t make more deliberate use of Pedi’s considerable gifts as a mimic to bring some of Jerry’s past leading ladies to more vivid life. (Do yourself a favor and do a search on YouTube for “Sh*t Liza Says.”)
More consistent in her commitment and animation was Tony nominee Stephanie D’Abruzzo. She had some minor intonation issues when she was full-throat screlting, but remained committed to the material throughout, and was especially sharp during “Wherever He Ain’t” from Mack and Mabel.
Best of all was Stephanie Umoh, whose rich voice, sparkling eyes, and playful manner made her a clear audience favorite. (Full Disclosure: Stephanie is a former student of mine at The Boston Conservatory. But I tell all my students that, once they graduate, I will treat them just as I would any other performer when I don my critic’s cap.)
Umoh delivered a delectable “It Only Takes a Moment” from Hello, Dolly!, but she really shone when alternating as both Mack and Mabel during “I Won’t Send Roses.” Umoh may have dropped a line or two, or fudged a lyric here and there, but all was forgiven when she brought down the house with the iconic anthem “I Am What I Am” from La Cage aux Folles.
Director Hunt gives the performers just enough business and movement to keep the show from becoming a plant-and-belt slog. Hunt uses projections to orient the audience to the sources of the songs being performed, and to provide some historical context. The show could probably have used a little more shape in this regard: the vaudeville and Hollywood sections could have benefited from a bit more indication that the songs were being held together by a theme.
Jerry’s Girls runs at the York Theatre Company through August 13th. It’s well worth your time if you’re looking for nothing more than a marvelous collection of songs put over by a talented trio of performers.
Jerry’s Girls presented by the York Theatre Company as part of their Musicals in Mufti Series at The York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s, 619 Lexington Avenue, August 5-13, 2017. Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman; concept by Larry Alford, Wayne Cilento, and Jerry Herman. Directed by Pamela Hunt; music direction by Eric Svejcar. Cast: Stephanie D’Abruzzo, Christine Pedi, and Stephanie Umoh.
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Cover: (l. to r.) Stephanie D’Abruzzo, Christine Pedi, and Stephanie Umoh in ‘Jerry’s Girls;’ photo: Russ Rowland.