The shows of Broadway composer-lyricist – Hello, Dolly!, Mame, La Cage aux Folles – have been some of the most popular productions at The Wick Theatre. So it was not surprising that the Boca Raton playhouse chose to end its season with the musical revue Jerry’s Girls – a celebration of Herman’s prolific output – and to import Lee Roy Reams to direct it.
Reams, who played matchmaker Dolly Levi in The Wick’s Hello, Dolly! and also headlined its La Cage, eagerly agreed to take the assignment. “But I said ‘I don’t want to do “Jerry’s Girls” the way it’s usually done, I want to do my version of it,’” Reams recalls. “I didn’t want it to be all girls, because I find that that gets monotonous. So we decided to have a six-man ensemble.
“I mean, you want to hear men singing ‘Hello, Dolly!’ and ‘Mame,’” the rousing title numbers that became a Herman trademark. “And also when you have men and girls, it gives a little sex to the show.”
For box office power, the show will star Susan Anton, who appeared in The Will Rogers Follies on Broadway, and Klea Blackhurst, a fixture on the cabaret circuit for her belting tributes to Ethel Merman.
“It was just one of those wonderful calls that comes in,” says Anton. “I met Lee Roy in ’86 when we did the Tony Awards together, so I knew this would be great fun. And of course the music of Jerry Herman is just classic. He writes for women and he writes great stuff for mature women, which I am now” – age 67, according to the internet. “So I was really thrilled to say yes.”
“He can penetrate, with his lyrics and his melodies, right into the heart of his audience,” Blackhurst says of Herman. “It wraps them around with a warm hug. He knows how to give an audience something they can leave the theater with.”
In the same way that Herman gave his personal approval for Reams to play Dolly Levi, he gave his longtime friend permission to entirely rework Jerry’s Girls.
Now the revue tells the story of Herman’s career, through a chronological parade through his shows. “He had great success in the beginning, when ‘Dolly’ broke all of the records, then ‘Mame.’ Then in the ’70s, his shows were not as successful,” notes Reams. “But because of his optimism, even though those shows didn’t work, they had great songs in them. So the audience will hear a lot of great things that they don’t know. And then we have a happy ending with ‘La Cage aux Folles,’ another Tony Award-winning big hit.”
“We come out at the beginning and break the fourth wall, explaining to the audience that they’re not just going to hear a bunch of songs, they’re going to go on a journey of JH’s life,” adds Anton.
Throughout the evening, Anton, Blackhurst and the rest of the cast try on characters, accents and classic costumes from the Wick collection as they sprint through some three dozen musical numbers.
Asked which her favorite number in the show is, Blackhurst selects “World Take Me Back,” a number from Hello, Dolly! written for Ethel Merman and replaced by “Before The Parade Passes By” when Carol Channing inherited the role. “It has so many images from Thornton Wilder,” notes Blackhurst, who typically closes her club act with it. “I started doing it in 2001 and got all this attention for it.”
“It is hard to choose,” concedes Anton. “But there are two that I’m particularly looking forward to doing. One is ‘Time Heals Everything,’” from Mack & Mabel, “which has the most hypnotic melody. And then ‘La Cage.’ I can’t wait to sink my teeth into this French character.” And borrowing from Reams’s cabaret act, the number will include an array of celebrity impressions.
Why should theatergoers see Jerry’s Girls at The Wick? “Because they’re going to have the best night of their lives,” insists Anton. They’re going to be thoroughly entertained. They’re going to be able to sing along. They’re going to be dazzled by the costumes. They’re going to feel like they’ve spent an evening with one of their best friends – Jerry Herman.”
JERRY’S GIRLS, The Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. April 19-May 13. $80-$85. 561-995-2333.