‘Jerry’s Girls’ – a taste of Broadway genius at the Walnut Independence Studio on 3

Barbara McCulloh, Rebecca Robbins and Adrienne S. Wells in Jerry’s Girls at Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3. Photo by Mark Garvin.

By Margaret Darby

The star of this production is the incredibly gifted music director and pianist, Daniel Kazemi.  He strides onto the stage, seats himself at the piano, and strikes the keys of the aging upright, making it sing. Trills, glissandi, shimmering scales, slow, fast, loud, soft – he glows like a bright light throughout the revue – providing a one-man orchestra playing piano, cymbal, and mark tree. Mr. Kazemi’s range of dynamics and styles were matched only by his ability to follow the nuances of each singer.

The lighting (Shon Causer) and set (Roman Tatarowicz) were ingenious: three dressing rooms with curtains which became translucent when lights were trained on them. Rebecca Robbins, Barbara McCulloh, and Adrienne Wells appeared and disappeared – popping up in totally different costumes as if by magic. Mary Folino’s costume designs were brilliant and quite extravagant from the gartered bodysuits to the hats and the shimmering gloves.  She created a deliciously angelic Victorian frill bib and another costume with a stiff black crinoline petticoat under a lovely yellow dress that I personally wanted to take home with me. The actresses are often dressed onstage by the Assistant Stage Manager Valerie Bannan, who becomes a character in her own right and is saluted in some of the songs. Kudos to Ms.Valerie Bannan for keeping track of every shawl, glove, wig, and prop – a daunting responsibility.

The choreography and directing by Ellie Mooney, (currently playing Miss Prism in “The Importance of being Earnest”), exploited every inch of space and took into account the strong suits of each actress. There are solos, duets, and trios which are enriched by the contrasting dance elements and gestures. The best number of the show in terms of choreography was “Just go to the movies” where each of the singers had solo song and dance numbers which finished in trios. Ms. Wells impressed with her ability to harmonize with ease.

My eyes welled up when Rebecca Robbins sang”If he walked into my life”. Ms. Robbins has a very impressive high range that sounds classically trained and has enough power to fill a larger hall. Barbara McCulloh was expressive and moving in her version of ”I won’t send roses” and “Time heals everything”. She also has comedic chops to spare when vamping in “Take it all off”, but the lower range of her voice can sometimes be hard to hear over the piano.  When Adrienne Wells sang “La Cage” with flawless French pronunciation, her Minelli-like energy and grace were captivating.

There were tiny glitches in the dancing, but it is the songs that make the show. Jerry Herman is the Mozart of American musical theatre.  His ability to write so many memorable songs and lyrics made him a star in the Broadway firmament. “Jerry’s Girls” is a delightful way to get to know his music as it provides a taste of his prodigious output and proof that Mr. Herman achieved his personal goal of giving audiences  “songs they could whistle as they left the theater and take home in their pockets.”

If you go: “Jerry’s Girls” runs at Walnut’s Independence Studio on 3, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia through July 2, Tuesdays through Sundays with matinees on Saturdays and Sundays.  Tickets are $35-$40 and are now available at 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787. Tickets are also available at walnutstreettheatre.org or Ticketmaster.com.