At first glance, it would seem that you couldn’t miss with an evening of songs penned by composer and lyricist Jerry Herman, whose Broadway show tunes have graced such memorable hits as Mame, Hello Dolly! and La Cage Aux Folles. Ah, but that may be why God invented second glances.
Regrettably, this production of Jerry’s Girls by the Ensemble Theatre is lacking in almost all ways, turning what could have been a melodic and amusing romp through the Herman oeuvre into a forced march across a parched terrain of off-key singing and uninspired characterization.
Truth be told, it’s damn difficult to do a show like this well, since each song is missing its context—the storyline of the show from which it was lifted. That makes it mandatory for the performers to create sharp mini-characters within the melodic boundaries of the songs, and then do it again and again all night long.
Instead, what we have here is a cast of five women who vary in singing ability—from Adina Bloom , Lindsay Pier and Jamie Finkenthaler-Has, who share a tendency towards predictable phrasing but who have isolated moments of competence, to Kristin Benner and Holly Feiler, each of whom often grope for the right key and have no strength in the lower registers.
This shaky vocal talent is further hampered by the terrible acoustics of the Cleveland Play House Studio One Theatre (a small and very tall space) and a set design that gives maximum prominence to a sketchy three-piece combo while squeezing the singers into a smallish area in front. Since the performers aren’t amplified, many of Herman’s glorious and often witty lyrics disappear into the rafters unheard.
Director Frank J. Lucas opts for a number of cornball staging gimmicks to accompany the songs, such as all the women coming out in the same flamboyant hat and “fighting” for the right to sing “Hello, Dolly!” But since none of the cast members evidence any particular aptitude for comic invention, supposedly amusing moments are frittered away.
Indeed, the entire production lacks pace, momentum and a unifying joy for the material that should suffuse such a proceeding. All of which contributes to a paltry return on the investment of two hours.
Through January 31, produced by the Ensemble Theatre,
at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue,