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Jerry’s Girls (Menier Chocolate Factory)

(seen at the afternoon performance on 2nd June 2024)

The monkey may owe Cassidy Janson, Jessica Martin and Julie Yammanee an apology for yesterday afternoon. It must be disconcerting in a tiny theatre (where the audience is a metre from the stage) to play to someone front row centre, notepad on knee, grinning ever wider, laughing more frequently as the show goes on. 

On the other hand, so were those either side of it, and in the row behind that, and the row behind that. Sometimes an audience is simply drawn in and the cast love rising to meet them. This was one such afternoon.

The premise is simple: alternating between off-stage dressing rooms (Paul Farnsworth possibly re-using the Menier's “Funny Girl” set) and on-stage in front of red curtains, three musical theatre performers contemplate life and love through showtunes drawn from 9 wonderful shows by the great Jerry Herman.

It’s a mixture of solos and ensemble numbers, dressing gowns to sparkles and feathers, back to dressing gowns, before final overcoats. The ladies may be struggling with the “Two-A-Day” routine of shows at the Victoria Theatre, but they are determined not to show it.

“I Am What I Am” opens and closes the show, in that grubby backstage area away from the glitter, where dreams are born and fade like painted words on wicker trunks full of forgotten theatre magic.

A medley from “Hello, Dolly” (returning to the London Palladium for summer 2024) leads into a full-scale on-stage “Two-A-Day” encompassing “Bosom Buddies” with its beautiful “Annie and Sandy” reference and bitchy sniping about age – “between 40 and death.” Someone does end up in a box, but is released for “So Long Dearie” and an hilarious “fan dance” to “Take It All Off” (or, put it back on, in one uncharitable catcall from the peanut gallery).

Backstage for “That’s How Young I Feel,” Yammanee leading an upbeat number with strong delivery.

Arguably Herman’s greatest score and song has Janson deliver “I Won’t Send Roses” in a surprisingly up-tempo version with more than a hint of “Carla Connor” (for “Coronation Street” fans). To the monkey’s delight Janson sings also “Mabel’s Repost,” finding something lacerating both to recipient and giver. Martin's “And I Was Beautiful” then works as a counterpoint while still in reflective tone.

Back to upbeat trio with a red-jacketed ensemble on-stage version of “Before the Parade Passes By.” Lusty, but demonstrably requiring a larger cast to achieve maximum impact.

Spilling into the aisles, the smart jackets become old-time movie theater usherette uniforms as we “Just Go To The Movies,” name-checking a hundred old stars the monkey would love to see again. Flickering lights reminded us as they sang “Movies Were Movies,” a truth in these multiplex days which needs saying.

Yammanee scores a personal triumph with “Look What Happened To Mabel,” dark covering a scene change before her co-stars join in “Wherever He Ain’t.”

Whether the collision of cast members was intended as a clever lead-in to the angrily frustrated release of “Gooch’s Song” the monkey isn’t sure. If an accident, leave it in and just kill the microphone. If not, smart recovery in the best vaudeville tradition. EDIT TO UPDATE: reader suggests deliberate.

Either way, to end the first half on a solo “La Cage aux Folles,” co-stars watching from the wings as Martin takes the well-positioned spotlight (Philip Gladwell on reliable form) before a cracking foghorn finish “The Best of Times” from Janson had us wanting the interval to pass quickly.

Our reward is “We Need a Little Christmas,” Janson and Yammanee in matching green elf outfits, Martin as the man in red himself. Polystyrene snowflakes and we are in a church hall in the holiday season, cosy friends together. We need that Christmas indeed.

The wonderful “Time Heals Everything” from Janson had the monkey wondering how the song would land if the last three words were whispered instead of sung. An interpretation opening up a song to new possibilities is impressive.

A romantic lilt on “It Only Takes a Moment” makes the best use of Martin’s voice before the others joined in. 

Taking it back on-stage, with typewriters (geddit) to “Tap Your Troubles Away,” a little game choreography by Matt Cole and Myles Brown entertains before a real highlight is served at three vintage microphones. Voices blend on “Song on the Sand” in a way which should be recorded for posterity as an unforgettable memory.

Back in “Mame” territory with Janson wondering “If He Walked into My Life” today, with his bugle; Yammanee curled on basket watching as she belts self-reproach to the Shard.

Martin gathers herself for “I Don’t Want to Know,” a sadness going deep to define another moment in the afternoon.

The title number from “Mame” (and some rather lovely costume jewellery necklaces) before a return to the dressing room. Rails of costumes now gone, long stage skirts off, and street clothes on. Time to leave for the night, “I Am What I Am” confirmed, and the truth that they are “Jerry’s Girls” with some neat impressions of stars from Streisand to Mary Martin proving their vocal versatility.

A lovely final flourish has the cast thanking the orchestra and crew by name in a re-written “Jerry’s Girls” lyric reprise. 

A few dropped props and bruising bangs cannot detract from the fact this performance is crafted with the same skill as Herman’s music and lyrics. A hugely entertaining, well-staged reminder of someone whose work we do not see often enough.

Catch this trio in a relaxing jaunt through a classic songbook while you can.

4 stars.


Photo credit: Encore Tickets.

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