Jermyn Street Theatre
16 May 2015
What a difference the right kind of Diva makes.
Now playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre is Jerry’s Girls, a revival that started life at the St James Studio with a slightly different cast. Read our review of that production.
This production boasts Emma Barton and she makes an enormous difference. Barton is, without question, a Jerry Herman girl. She has heart in spades and performs with a lustrous, warm allure which is both seductive and motherly. You could see her as Irene Molloy or as Dolly Levi, as Mame (in a decade) or as Mabel. She has panache, empathy, and a gorgeous, velvet voice which can thrill as well as provoke genuine laughter.
Her work here is splendid in every way. Her rendition of If He Walked Into My Life was hauntingly beautiful, touched with the truth of parental admiration, and awash with the pain of inevitable loss. I Don’t Want To Know, from Dear World, was thrillingly, powerfully sung, and Song On The Sand allowed Burton to show her more intimate, loving sensibility. Her comic tour-de-force, Nelson, allowed Burton to show off what a multi-faceted talent she is.
Watching Burton perform here, effortlessly, easily, with tremendous style and a glorious, true and vibrant voice, just made one wonder why she had not been cast in recent major productions: Made In Dagenham, Woman On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown and High Society – each would have been vastly improved if Burton had been cast in them.
Because Burton is not just a marvellous star turn, she is a fabulous team player. Her presence here brings out the very best in her co-stars, Ria Jones and Sarah-Louise Young. When all three are singing and dancing together, the production cannot be faulted. The harmonies are strong and secure, and give real substance to Herman’s magnificent tunes.
Jones is a gifted performer, a delicious singer, and she brings a wealth of experience, and a warm, luscious tone to her carefully delivered renditions of I Am What I Am, Before The Parade Passes By and Time Heals Everything, standards all. She pierces through the familiar veil that covers these songs (too many covers by too many people) and finds fresh, exciting ways to deliver them. She triumphs.
Young has grown over the course of her time performing in this show, and while her voice might not be as strong and secure as her co-stars, she sells her solos with an ease, a frisson, a marvellously entertaining aplomb, which puts her in the same league as her colleagues. Her comic work in Take It All Off and La Cage Aux Folles is gloriously amusing; every word is properly landed for humorous effect.
There is excellent support from Musical Director, Edward Court, who plays the piano, tap dances and doubles as accordion stooge (all superbly) and Sophie Byrne on Reeds, who trills and pulses brilliantly on various Reed instruments and makes a marvellous Christmas tree in one of the best sequences: We Need A Merry Christmas.
Kate Golledge’s vision and direction works much better in the warmer, sweeter space at Jermyn Street than it did in the pure “empty space” that is the St James Studio. There is a clear sense of Herman’s parlour at play, with a genteel “two a day” feel to the set, and a permanent sense of nostalgia evident in the framed photographs of famous divas which adorn the walls. Everything is relaxed and the focus, rightly, is on the passion, fervour and beauty of Herman’s melodies and lyrics.
Matthew Cole’s choreography is sweet and snappy – Tap Your Troubles Away is truly inspired. Each of the three stars moves well and, best of all, works without any attempt to take focus or “be the star”. They know Herman is the star and they serve him excellently.
Interestingly, in the previous incarnation, one felt a desire to learn more about Herman, to hear more snippets and anecdotes about his life and career. This time around, however, that was not an issue; indeed, so keen was one to hear more of the music performed by this terrific trio, this time around the interpolations seemed slightly too long, slightly too intrusive.
This is a genuinely terrific night in the musical theatre. Gypsy aside, there is nothing to touch it currently playing in London in terms of value for money and sheer, unrelenting happiness.