Jerry’s Girls at Menier review: three stalwart performers belt their way through Jerry Herman's hits and misses

This undemanding cabaret sees three stalwart actress-singers belt their way through the hits, and some misses, of New York composer-lyricist Jerry Herman, who died aged 88 in 2019.

Herman’s 1964 show Hello, Dolly! was once the longest-running musical on Broadway, and his timely La Cage Aux Folles was the first to centre on a gay relationship, in 1984.

Both feature prominently in the songlist of Jerry’s Girls, along with the sporadically revived Mack and Mabel, the talismanic Mame, and lesser works including Milk and Honey and Dear World. (No, me neither.)

Herman specialised in “the simple, hummable song”, and shorn of their context in a cabaret scenario they tend to blur together. No disrespect to the performances of Cassidy Janson, Jessica Martin, and Julie Yammanee), but this evening is probably for musical theatre obsessives only.

All three women, sorry “girls”, have rich, powerful voices, with a touch of vibrato, and they harmonise extremely well for the most part. Kudos is particularly due to Jonson, who hoofed through opening night, all teeth and smiles, despite a serious foot injury: her only concession was to wear flats instead of heels. Matt Cole’s choreography isn’t particularly demanding but still, bravo.

Jerry’s Girls was created in the 1980s by Larry Alford, Wayne Cilento and Herman, who added the now-mortifying striptease spoof Take It All Off and the title song. Hannah Chissick’s production takes place in – where else? – a Broadway theatre. We first see the girls backstage, behind makeup mirror frames, choffing fags and picking their way through a pizzicato version of La Cage’s gay anthem of self-acceptance, I Am What I Am.

jerry’s girls at menier review: three stalwart performers belt their way through jerry herman's hits and misses

Tristram Kenton

Broadly speaking, the more impassioned, emotive numbers are performed in this dressing-room setting, which is then hidden by a red curtain for the stage-front, jokey, upbeat numbers. And goodness me, some of them are tiresome.

The jaunty Just go the Movies from 1980’s A Day in Hollywood, and Tap Your Troubles Away from 1974’s Mack and Mabel, both sound like they were written by an AI fed on 1930s Tinseltown clichés.

The three fraught songs from Dear World, written for Angela Lansbury who’d starred in Mame, are turgid. Inevitably it’s the tunes from La Cage and Hello, Dolly! – Before the Parade Passes By, It Only Takes a Minute, Just Leave Everything to Me – that come across best.

There’s novelty value here: Mame hasn’t had a London run since 1969 and next year Imelda Staunton will be the first West End Dolly since Danny La Rue in 1984.

In the final, titular number, the three Menier actresses add themselves and their six-piece all-woman band to the names of the other “girls” – Ethel Merman, Ginger Rogers, Barbra Streisand, Bernadette Peters – who’ve been in Herman’s service. Jerry’s Girls feels like a particularly lazy instance of American theatre’s tendency to feed on and regurgitate itself.

Menier Chocolate Factory, to June 29, buy tickets here

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