Broadway legend Jerry Herman knows how to write memorable songs for larger-than-life women. For guys, too, if you count La Cage aux Folles.
Jerry’s Girls, a revue that celebrates women named Dolly and Mame and Mabel, got its big-time start in South Florida when producer Zev Buffman built a 1984 production around original Hello, Dolly! star Carol Channing at Palm Beach’s Royal Poinciana Playhouse. Now Herman’s gals are back in a more modest regional production at the Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs.
Directed and choreographed by Jonathan Van Dyke, the Stage Door revue has exactly what it needs to succeed: six versatile performers with strong, lovely voices.
David Torres’ set provides the requisite Hello, Dolly! staircase, while elevated mini-balconies and a bridge give the actors places to perch. A screen allows for a black-and-white movie montage during Just Go to the Movies, though the lighting during that number is a bit dim, and the images near the end of the song are slightly out of sync with the lyrics.
Costume designer Dan Kelley more than fulfills the task of bringing visual variety to the show by dressing the women in an ever-changing array of outfits, some glamorous, others (like Bethany Wagner’s dowdy maternity wear in Gooch’s Song from Mame) deliberately amusing. In an explosion of red and plumed headdresses, all six women end the first act dressed in varied versions of Dolly’s grand-entrance attire, emphasizing how many women have played the singing matchmaker.
Those design elements, however, are really just packaging. What makes Stage Door’s Jerry’s Girls worth a listen are its performers.
Though they sing to recorded accompaniment, allowing for no give and take between actors and musicians, the singer-actors connect with Herman’s clever, moving show tunes. In solos, duets, small groups or as an ensemble, the cast provides numerous reminders of just what a gift to musical theater Herman has been.
Amanda Kuchinski shines on the soaring It Only Takes a Moment, shares a tart comic duet with Wagner on Bosom Buddies and a gorgeous duet with Elizabeth Sackett on If He Walked Into My Life, then delivers an aching Time Heals Everything. Wagner takes the audience on a journey full of heartache, from a movie theater to a failed attempt at stardom, on Best in the World. Sackett finds the delicacy in Ribbons Down My Back and the myth-busting comedy in Nelson.
Erin Pittelman imbues I Won’t Send Roses with irony and melancholy, and sings a fierce I Am What I Am, the anthem from La Cage aux Folles. Leah Sessa gets the beautiful Song on the Sand from La Cage, as well as the furious Wherever He Ain’t from Mack and Mabel. Sarah Smith impressively meets the acting and vocal challenges of Before the Parade Passes By, I Don’t Want To Know and Kiss Her Now.
Jerry’s Girls isn’t a text-heavy revue. It doesn’t revisit the minutiae of the University of Miami grad’s career, nor does it explain his place in Broadway history. It doesn’t have to. He is there, in every note and every word of a celebratory show.