'Jerry's Girls' review – this buoyant revue celebrates Jerry Herman's gift for turning adversity into triumph

Read our review of Jerry's Girls, starring Cassidy Janson, Jessica Martin and Julie Yammanee, now in performances at the Menier Chocolate Factory to 29 June.

Matt Wolf
Matt Wolf

Broadway offered very few tunesmiths as abundantly gifted as Jerry Herman, as his ongoing popularity reminds us afresh. Falling between last summer’s alfresco revival in Regent’s Park of La Cage aux Folles and the Imelda Staunton Hello, Dolly! hitting the West End in July, here is a musical revue to remind us of Herman’s talents, which are at every point evident even when Hannah Chissick’s production itself feels ever so slightly wan.

That may have something to do with our awareness of the outsized talents associated with Herman’s work over time – a glittering roll call that Jerry’s Girls itself invokes near the end, name-checking not just Staunton but Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury and Bernadette Peters. Oh, and a man, Danny La Rue, whom I saw in the West End as Dolly back in the day.

I also saw this very show at its Broadway debut in 1985, with Dorothy Loudon, Chita Rivera and Leslie Uggams, Tony winners all who collectively sold the sizzle of a book-less revue in which the songs are the self-evident occasion. Herman’s skill was to locate triumph amidst adversity and to insist anthemically upon “the best of times” (a song from La Cage), regardless of how much your heart may be heaving.

The current lineup can’t compete on a mega-star level, as is fair enough, but comes closest to the wattage required when Olivier winner Cassidy Janson (& Juliet) grabs one or another torch song and sends it soaring to the rafters.

“I Won’t Send Roses” and “Time Heals Everything” – both from Mack and Mabel – are given rending life, as Janson, face upturned toward the house, couples vocal bravura with resilience and resolve. (The performer was reported to be nursing a foot injury, evident only in her deployment of flat shoes by contrast with the more precarious footwear of her two colleagues.)

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A framing device places us backstage at make-up tables, Sarah Travis’s expert all-female band to one side, a red curtain pulled across at regular intervals as a nod to showbiz razzmatazz. Created originally by Herman in association with Larry Alford and Wayne Cilento, the show apportions the material so as to give everyone their chance to shine.

And so we have Jessica Martin – a replacement for the originally cast Lyn Paul – powering her way through “I Don’t Want to Know”, from Dear World. (Martin makes a brief appearance separately as Santa – don’t ask.) A sprightly Julie Yammanee reconfigures herself at one point as a game usherette (in “Look What Happened to Mabel”) and elsewhere as Mame’s pregnant assistant who gets the celebrated comic number, “Gooch’s Song”.

The show could do with less reliance on funny voices from the cast, and there’s a breathless feel to proceedings that becomes a bit exhausting – another reason why Janson’s reflective style of performance is so particularly welcome. One or two more winsome moments could be edited out, and one notes a tendency toward playing cute that discredits Herman, who was more tough-minded than he is often made out to be.

Still, Olivier-winning choreographer Matt Cole (Newsies) locates what opportunities there are – typing-as-tapping is a neat touch – in the absence of the sashay-ready staircase that is so inextricably part of Dolly Levi’s immortal presence.

Most importantly, designer Paul Farnsworth plunges us directly into the world of the theatre that was Jerry Herman’s reason for being, and which ensures a forward life for this Broadway legend’s enduring back catalogue.

Jerry's Girls, is at the Menier Chocolate Factory through 29 June. Book Jerry's Girls tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: Jerry's Girls (Photos by Tristram Kenton)

Originally published on

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