Posts Tagged ‘ellen isom’

Jerry’s Girls
Featuring the Music and Lyrics of Jerry Herman
Directed and Choreographed by Ellen Isom
New Jewish Theatre
December 1, 2022

Kelsey Bearman, Lisa Rosenstock, Greta Rosenstock, Molly Burris, Christina Rios
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
New Jewish Theatre

If you love classic musical theatre, you’ve probably heard of Jerry Herman, or at least you’ll have heard of at least one of his shows. The New Jewish Theatre is closing out their 2022 season with a lively revue celebrating the music and lyrics of this musical theatre legend. Jerry’s Girls features a small cast, but it’s full of style and energy, and a worthy tribute. 

Jerry Herman’s best known shows are probably Hello, Dolly!, Mame, and La Cage aux Folles, all of which are represented here along with some of his other works like Mack and Mabel, Dear World, and more. There’s no story to this show, which was produced on tour and on Broadway in the mid-1980s and featured Herman himself along with stars of the day including Carol Channing, Leslie Uggams, Chita Rivera, and Andrea McArdle. Here, it’s just five performers and one musician, presenting some of Herman’s most timeless hits along with some lesser-known gems. There are group numbers and solos, showcasing the excellent cast well, and featuring some fun settings to a few of the songs, including a hilarious version of “Hello, Dolly!” that closes the first act.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Kelsey Bearman, Molly Burris, Christina Rios, Greta Rosenstock, and Lisa Rosenstock shine in the group numbers, and all have memorable solos, as well–including Rios with “Before the Parade Passes By”, Lisa Rosenstock with “Time Heals Everything”, Greta Rosenstock with “Wherever He Ain’t”, Bearman with “It Only Takes a Moment”, and Burris with “I Won’t Send Roses”. These are only some of the solo highlights, as there are several. The performers are accompanied by music director Cullen Curth on piano and accordion, and the rapport between performers and accompanist is another highlight of the show, as is the simple but elegant staging by director Ellen Isom. Isom’s choreography also provides some memorable moments, like a fun tap number for Bearman, Burris, and Greta Rosenstock on “Tap Your Troubles Away”.

The show looks great, as well, with a stylish set by Cameron Tesson, and well-suited costumes by Michele Friedman Siler, featuring the cast members all clad in red. There’s also excellent work from lighting designer David La Rose and sound designer Amanda Werre, helping maintain an understated glamor to the proceedings. 

This is a show that should appeal especially to fans of classic musicals, and the work of Jerry Herman in particular. Jerry’s Girls has humor, emotion, and style, along with a great cast and a strong sense of musicality and ensemble chemistry. It’s an entertaining tribute to a prolific and celebrated artist and his work. 

Kelsey Bearman, Lisa Rosenstock, Greta Rosenstock, Molly Burris, Christina Rios
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
New Jewish Theatre

The New Jewish Theatre is presenting Jerry’s Girls at the J’s Wool Studio Theatre until December 18, 2022

This review was originally published at KDHX

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South Pacific
Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan
Direction and Musical Staging by Michael Hamilton
Choreographed by Ellen Isom
STAGES St. Louis
September 13, 2017

Leah Berry, Michael Halling
Photo by Peter Wochniak
STAGES St. Louis

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific is an undisputed musical theatre classic. It’s been performed at all levels, from Broadway to regional theatre to community theatre, many times since it first debuted in 1949. I know it fairly well, as I’ve seen several different productions and filmed versions. Now, STAGES St. Louis is closing out its 2017 season with this historic show, bringing it to the stage with a fine cast and striking production values that keep the story fresh and timely even though it’s inextricably tied to a specific time and place.

This is a World War II story, set on a tropical island where a US Navy unit is stationed. Nellie Forbush (Leah Berry) is a young Navy nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas, who has found herself falling in love with the older, sophisticated French planter Emile DeBecque (Michael Halling), who has lived on the island for many years but harbors some secrets from his past. As Nellie finds out more about Emile, she is forced to confront her own ingrained prejudices. There’s also Marine Lt. Joseph Cable (Matthew Hydzik), newly assigned to the island on a secret mission that involves Emile. Lt. Cable becomes fascinated with the nearby island of Bali Ha’i following the suggestions of Tonkinese merchant Bloody Mary (Joanne Javien), who introduces Cable to her daughter, Liat (Sydney Jones) with hopes that he will marry her. Meanwhile, the Seabees led by Luther Billis (Mark DiConzo) try to make the most of their time on the island and yearn for the company of women. There’s romance, intrigue, comedy, and heartrending drama, as well as the important underlying message of confronting personal and systemic racism and prejudice. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s memorable score features classics such as the upbeat “A Cockeyed Optimist”, “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair”, “There Is Nothing Like a Dame”, and “Honey Bun”, as well as the romantic “Some Enchanted Evening” and “Younger Than Springtime” and the pointed “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”.

The roles here are played well. Berry’s Nellie is appropriately perky and likable, and her chemistry with Halling’s suave Emile is strong. She is generally better with the lighter moments than the more serious ones, though. Halling is charming and especially strong acting-wise, although his voice isn’t quite as powerful as other Emiles I’ve seen, particularly on his key number “This Nearly Was Mine”. Hydzik is fine as the conflicted cable, with a strong voice and good chemistry with the excellent Jones as Liat. Javien is a particularly strong Bloody Mary, as well. DiConzo as Billis is also memorable, and there’s a strong ensemble for support, particularly in the form of the male chorus of Seabees. The group numbers such as “Bloody Mary” and “There Is Nothing Like a Dame” are especially strong here.

The overall 1940’s World War II atmosphere is well maintained in this production, with striking visuals provided by set designer James Wolk and lighting designer Sean M. Savoie. Garth Dunbar’s costumes are also excellent, lending an extra air of authenticity to the proceedings. This is a smaller-scale production compared to the last one I saw (at the Muny), and that helps to provide a more intimate atmosphere to the show’s more serious moments as well as a genuine sense of camaraderie to the Thanksgiving concert sequence in Act 2.

STAGES has done well by this celebrated musical. With a good cast and energetic staging, as well as that classic score, and a message that resonates today as much as it did years ago, this is a production that’s well worth seeing. It’s a good way to close out an excellent season at STAGES.

Joanne Javien, Matthew Hydzik and Cast
Photo by Peter Wochniak
STAGES St. Louis

STAGES St. Louis is presenting South Pacific at the Robert G. Reim Theatre in Kirkwood until October 8, 2017.

 

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