Three words kept resonating in my brain as I left The Playhouse after the opening night of The Production Company’s latest show, Jerry’s Girls – “Pure … theatre … magic”.
This tribute show to the wonderful songs and characters Jerry Herman created for music theatre leading ladies takes audience members on a journey and never lets them out of its firm and assured grip. The 11 leading ladies are a clever mix – from the undisputed doyenne of Australian music theatre for more than 50 years, Nancye Hayes, to the youngest cast member, pocket dynamo Josie Lane. Each gives this show her all and creates her own niche.
One would expect that performers of the calibre of Nancye Hayes, Rhonda Burchmore and Silvie Paladino would deliver in spades. And they did. But it was also wonderful to see how the next generation of stars – Christie Whelan Brown, Virginia Gay, Claire Lyone, Kirby Burgess, Chelsea Gibb Debora Krizak, Natalie O’Donnell and Josie Lane – carry so well the responsibility of delivering knockout performances.
Special mention must also go to the lone male, Brent Hill, playing the director and with the, er, challenging task of keeping these 11 powerhouses in line. It was also a neat touch to have musical director Matthew Franks play himself as a character and divide his time between playing the rehearsal room piano and nipping up to the podium behind the curtains, which then opened to show the fine band from Orchestra Victoria.
The best way I can describe the way this Jerry’s Girls has been devised is to say that after the clever and glitzy opening ensemble number, the fourth wall is lifted and we are taken into the rehearsal room. The cast does the usual first rehearsal “Dahling!” routine (with each other), as they begin their intensive two-week process leading up to the final night. Each lady is playing an extended version of herself, and what really thrills the audience is the self-deprecating humour of each. Special mention to Rhonda Burchmore for sending herself up with such good humour, and allowing other cast members to do it as well – watch out for the “Rhonda’s gowns” jokes that pepper the script.
Christie Whelan Brown’s extra cameo as droll choreographer Andrew Hallsworth was a hoot, and gave this mega-talent a chance to play her comic vein to the hilt. Even stage manager Meg Deyell does a cameo – as the hapless stage manager trying to organize 11 divas!
Directed by Dean Bryant, all the famous Jerry Herman songs are there, from “Bosom Buddies” (hilarious version from Rhonda Burchmore and Virginia Gay) to a moving set from La Cage Aux Folles.
It isn’t fair to pick any individual performer out as they are all brilliant, but it would be remiss not to pay tribute to the great Nancye Hayes, as she proves that being over 70 does not stop her from delivering a show-stopping performance – long may Queen Nancye reign!
As I left the theatre, I realized I had been on an incredible journey and been allowed behind the scenes with 11 superb triple treats (singing/dancing/acting), and been taken into the “girls”‘ lives and entertained with fabulous song, dance and heartfelt stories.
Jerry’s Girls runs at the Playhouse until December 6 – beg, borrow or buy a ticket as soon as you can, as this show is likely to sell out.
The picture of Debora Krizak was taken by Jeff Busby.