A San Francisco critic once wrote that Jerry Herman didn't write songs, he wrote anthems. Listening to the evening-long collection of Herman's ditties in "Jerry's Girls," that observation is driven home with a vengeance.
Even Herman's ballads have a strident rhythmic insistence that demands attention. Audiences certainly have paid attention, and they do during this sharp, bouncy staging by director-choreographer Larry Watts at Newport Theatre Arts Center.
At the bottom line, this is a feel-good show specifically for Herman fans. For others, it can be an awful lot of Herman to take in one gulp.
What keeps the tunes from sounding like variations on one theme is the obvious joy this company has in the music. The players enjoy what they're doing, and Watts keeps it all fast, furious and highly energetic--with unobtrusive but inventive choreography.
Scenic and lighting designer Mark Andrew frames the production with elegant pale drapes surrounding shiny black steps rising toward the back of the stage, which in turn surround a grand piano for musical director Terence Alaric.
It's a sign of the times. Like the center-stage orchestra in "Chicago," around which that show swirls, Alaric is sometimes a show in himself as Jerry's nine girls move around the piano, up and down the stairs trumpeting out melodies.
Amid all the Herman chutzpah are some moments that rise above the constant beat. In several numbers, Carol Herman's deadpan approach adds sparkle to her comic numbers, such as "The Man in the Moon Is a Lady," from "Mame," and her reversal of the striptease lyrics in "Take It All Off."
Marisa Copeland and Pat Boldt shine in "Bosom Buddies."
Most of Jerry Herman's songs are familiar enough to stand alone, but the plot-specific tunes from "La Cage aux Folles" depend on showgirl dash for effect here, with director Watts--in high drag--sparking the "Cage" section, particularly in the adamantly insistent "I Am What I Am."
"Jerry's Girls," Newport Theatre Arts Center, 2501 Cliff Drive, Newport Beach. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday. $15. Ends June 28. (949) 631-0288. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.