Directed by Jordan Kelly
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Canberra Rep, Theatre 3
20 June – 5 July, 2014
Review by Len Power 20 June 2014
Traditionally, Canberra Rep have eased us into winter with a musical offering, most recently, the series of ‘Jazz Garters’ reviews. This year, Canberra Rep’s musical offering is something different. ‘Showtune’, a review celebrating the words and music of Jerry Herman, was conceived by Paul Gilger and first performed in San Francisco in 1985 and has been seen in a number of cities internationally since then.
Jerry Herman is one of the great Broadway show composers. A feeling of optimism underlies the majority of his songs no matter what is being sung on the surface and that makes them tremendously appealing. In ‘Showtune’, the forty songs from the list of eight Jerry Herman musicals are presented in medleys and solo numbers without any linking script. It’s up to the director to find a way of giving these sequences meaning outside the show they were written for.
In this production, Jordan Kelly, the director, gets it right only here and there. Too often the cast members just stand and sing a song that means nothing out of context. It comes alive when the cast have props to help them, as in the ‘Movies Were Movies’ number where the cast simply have a box of popcorn each.
The singing and dancing by the cast on opening night was a bit tentative. Hopefully that will settle down as the run progresses. There were, however, some highlights. Leisa Keen and Michael Moore gave us a heartfelt ‘Song On The Sand’ from ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ and Liz De Totth got right under the skin of ‘I’ll Be Here Tomorrow’, one of the less well-known Herman songs from the failed musical, ‘The Grand Tour’. Sarah Hull was hilarious as the very pregnant Agnes Gooch who had ‘made some connections’ in ‘Gooch’s Song’ from the musical, ‘Mame’. It was an inspired idea to have her then, huge baby bump and all, join the ensemble dancing ‘Tap Your Troubles Away’. Janelle McMenamin was especially touching in her duet ‘I Won’t Send Roses’ with Michael Moore and Ben Hardy showed great comic timing here and there during the show and gave us a nicely controlled and sweetly sung ‘It Only Takes A Moment’ from ‘Hello, Dolly!’
Leisa Keen provided expert musical accompaniment on piano throughout the show and beautifully sang one of Jerry Herman’s best songs, ‘Time Heals Everything’, from ‘Mack And Mabel’.
The set by Andrew Kay was functional but, for a musical review, it seemed under-utilized by the director and, with few props to add colour, it looked a bit drab. Costumes by Christine Pawlicki were mostly fine but Michael Moore’s white jacket still needs some work.
There is much to enjoy in this Jerry Herman review. Every song is memorable and it’s great to hear them all in one show. It’s not perfect but you’ll have a nice evening out at this one.
Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 22 June 2014 from 5pm.