Just Us Girls
Of the thirty-plus songs that constitute the musical revue Jerry¹s Girls, only one proves to be more than a display of vocal pyrotechnics or choreographic cuteness. Oddly enough, that distinction belongs to a tune that's performed in drag by an actor whose ambling gait, ill-fitting gown and rouged face drew guffaws from some in the Arvada Center's opening-night crowd. However, once theatergoers became involved with the character's emotional struggle, silence replaced the earlier laughter. And for a moment, the near-two-hour effort no longer resembled a canned lounge act.
It's a shame that JRS Presentations, Incorporated, the out-of-town producers of this revue, didn't use the effectiveness of the singular "I Am What I Am" as an inspirational springboard for the whole show. As it is, the bulk of this 1985 homage to Broadway composer Jerry Herman (Hello Dolly!, Mame, La Cage Aux Folles) comes across as both uninspired and insubstantial. Rather than evoke each song's poignancy or upbeat nature, the production winds up projecting only about an ounce of elegance and verve. Worse, director Glenn Casale tries to "update" certain numbers by employing layers of contemporary shtick -- such as when three women wearing sunglasses croon "We Need a Little Christmas" (from Mame) while one holds a sun reflector, another a portable fan and the third slurps on a large cocktail glass's straw -- a bit that made about three people giggle for all of one second. In every case, Casale's approach merely reduces a lively theatrical era's magic to cruise-ship-style superficiality.
On the brighter side, performers Gordon Goodman, Jennifer Gordon, Randy Hills, Tracy Lore and Diane Vincent strut their stuff with skill and energy. When directorial gimmicks don't encumber them, they even manage to hold our interest for the duration of several individual songs. Unfortunately, there's no listing in the program matching the song titles with the performers who deliver them (nor is there any program credit given to the stalwart bandmembers, who, led by musical director Daryl Archibald, provide expert onstage accompaniment.) Two dancers delightfully kick up their heels during "Tap Your Troubles Away" (from Mack and Mabel); one regal actress does an admirable job with the torch song, "If He Walked Into My Life" (from Mame); a comic actress pokes some fun at Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald during "Nelson" (from A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine); and the entire cast delivers spirited renditions of "The Best of Times" (from La Cage Aux Folles) and the signature song from Hello Dolly!
Most impressive of all, however, is the aforementioned "I Am What I Am" (from La Cage Aux Folles). Despite the song's difficulties, both actor and character retain their dignity throughout, especially when the frumpy drag queen voices his moving plea to be permitted to take life on his own terms -- an idea that ought to resonate well in a state that prides itself on its independent-minded ways. Even if the beautifully sung request seems out of place in a show largely devoted to bouncy tunes and champagne music, it's the only number in this touring version of the revue that gives cause for celebration.
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