Girls Night Out
Regular visitors to Quality Hill Playhouse are in for a shock with the venue’s latest musical revue, Jerry’s Girls. Out of the wings and to the piano walks not artistic director and bon vivant J. Kent Barnhart but Molly Jessup. This is a show by a man, with songs written for both genders but swaddled with feminine wiles — it’s an estrogen bath, one either sex is advised to take.
Jerry, as in Jerry Herman, is the composer and lyricist of the triple crown Mame; Hello, Dolly and La Cage aux Folles. He also wrote Mack and Mabel, a salute to the early days of motion pictures that keeps earning critical upgrades, and 1969’s Dear World, an Angela Lansbury flop that nonetheless contains some of Herman’s loveliest melodies. A little Yiddish influence via Milk and Honey completes the evening’s head-spinning repertoire.
Alison Sneegas Borberg, Karen Errington, Nancy Nail and Teri Wilder open the show by name-dropping women who have embodied Herman’s characters, such as Barbra Streisand, Pearl Bailey and Carol Channing. But they’re not overly influenced by such divas; it serves our heroines to be themselves and the result is like being adrift in a chanteuse heaven.
As soloists, the ladies all have affecting moments: Borberg’s “And I Was Beautiful” from Dear World; Errington’s “Time Heals Everything” from Mack and Mabel; Nail’s “Before the Parade Passes By” from Hello, Dolly; and Wilder’s “I Don’t Want to Know,” also from Dear World. Nail and Wilder mine the latter show for a stirring duet called “Kiss Her Now,” which communicates the urgency of that moment in a relationship after which there is no turning back.
Director Barnhart oversells a couple of songs early in the show, namely “Wherever He Ain’t” and “I Won’t Send Roses” — both terrific songs that don’t need the padding. But the rest of the evening is rich with Barnhart’s smart choices and assignments. If you wonder how a female can deliver the drag-queen aria “I Am What I Am” from La Cage, Errington’s version becomes what ought to be every woman’s admonition: This is me, baby, take it or leave it. Think you’ll retch if you hear “Hello, Dolly” one more time? You’ve got company; Jessup stops playing it for a second and in her hearty growl says, “I hate this song.”
Jerry’s Girls inaugurated the Quality Hill Playhouse in 1987, with Jessup at the piano and performers such as Debra Bluford singing. Considering the strength of this production, they ought to bring it back again before another fifteen years pass.