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HAMMING FOR HERMAN 

Ensemble Theatre celebrates Hello, Dolly! creator

Director Frank Lucas has come up with a crafty inspiration by rendering Jerry's Girls — a musical revue celebrating the songs of Jerry Herman — as senior-citizen catnip. This brand includes nods to such early '60s and '70s TV institutions as Sing Along With Mitch and The Lawrence Welk Show. Lucas' Ensemble Theatre production — with its papier-mache costuming, penchant for dressing every number with a boa or a wink and cheesy ballroom choreography — lacks only the bubbles to make it a perfect simulation of Grandma's ambrosia.

The revue is crafted as a tribute to Herman's unceasing melodic bonhomie. If he had musicalized the capers of Jack the Ripper, we're convinced he would have had a line of tarts singing "Hello, Jackie!" Since this production does not have resources to recreate the songs in their original Broadway splendor or the vocal heft for cabaret glory, Lucas appropriates Welk's predilection for combining every melody with ingratiating kitsch.

Thus, we have a passel of dueling Dollies in red hats and boas fighting for darling dominance. When it comes time to do the title number (to the tune of "It's Today" from Mame), Holly Feiler snaps her fingers to a sexed-up rendition of the song while playing femme fatale to the grooving bass player.

Lucas tries his best to give us one example from each musical-theater archetype. So we have Kristin Brenner as the brassy doll belting out "Movies Were Movies." Then there's Cleveland's own Adina Bloom, our perpetual Yiddish earth mama, ringing out tears and Jewish guilt with her torchy "If He Walked Into My Life." Jamie Finkenthal plants her feet squarely on the ground, defiantly faces the audience and gives us an earnest chanteuse rendition of "Time Heals Everything." And what's a musical revue without its Liza Minnelli? Since Herman did not write "New York, New York" or "Cabaret," Lindsay Pier has to settle for a bring-down-the-house version of "Before the Parade Passes By."

To bring life to Jerry Herman's music, one needs musicians with a penchant for rapturous schmaltz. Musical director Heidi Herczeg's flowing pianism, teamed with Mark Bussinger's amiable percussion and Tim Keo's doll-faced bass playing, would no doubt amuse the good-natured Herman.

The late Lucia Colombi founded Ensemble as a pedestal for Americana ranging from O'Neill to Inge. She'd certainly be bemused to find that range embracing Herman-ified Broadway divas.

arts@clevescene.com

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