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Hello, Jerry! Now Go Home 

Wednesday, Nov 27 1996
Tune the Grand Up
Songs by Jerry Herman. Directed by Jay Manley. Musical direction by Barry Lloyd. Starring Pierce Brandt, Dan Johnson, Michelle E. Jordan, Barry Lloyd, Marsha Mercant, and Jane Wasser. At the Alcazar Theater, 650 Geary, in an open run. Call 392-4400.

If you manage to filter out the forced jollity of Tune the Grand Up, the newly revised revue featuring the songs of Jerry Herman -- composer and lyricist of Hello, Dolly!, Mame, La Cage Aux Folles, Mack and Mabel, and others -- you'll hear a slightly defensive assessment of his work, loosely summarized as, "Hey, I may not know art, but I know what I like." In musical director and accompanist Barry Lloyd's opening remarks, we learn that we are in for a generous dose of the "lighthearted optimism of Jerry Herman," from the "golden age of Broadway," when entertainment was entertainment, by god. Not that audiences who show up at the Alcazar will be expecting anything else. Still, fair warning: Tune the Grand Up is a perfect specimen of the sort of show loathed by people whose opinion of musicals is already lower than a snake's belly. Which also makes it the kind of theatrical bauble that is blindly, fervently, and dearly beloved by die-hard fans.

There is, of course, a third category (to which I belong, just so you know): those who love musical theater but think it comes closest to perfection in Stephen Sondheim. For us, Tune the Grand Up causes immediate discomfort with its desperately upbeat opening, in which everyone smiles so hard you fear for their faces. Worse (it's easy to forgive a single overzealous number), it continues to grind on with a hollow cheerfulness that makes you want to avert your eyes. So it comes as a great relief when it settles down and redeems itself with one or two outstanding performances and several numbers that are successful by anyone's measure. (Better late than never.)

Creator Paul Gilger has improved on the basic revue format by constructing medleys on various themes, so songs from different shows are combined in refreshing mixes. "A Little More Mascara" (done to a nifty turn by Dan Johnson) from La Cage is followed by Mame's "The Man in the Moon." Hello, Dolly!'s sweetly romantic "It Only Takes a Moment" sets up Agnes Gooch's "What Do I Do Now?" (given the right comedic thrust by Marsha Mercant) from Mame, which then leads the ensemble -- including Gooch, who wears taps on her fluffy slippers -- into "Tap Your Troubles Away," from Mack and Mabel. (The minimal but elegant choreography and musical staging is by Barbara Valente.)

Of the ensemble -- Pierce Brandt, Dan Johnson, Michelle E. Jordan, Barry Lloyd, Marsha Mercant, and Jane Wasser -- Jordan is the show-stopping standout. She has also been given two much-ballyhooed new numbers from the soon-to-be-aired television musical Mrs. Santa Claus, starring Angela Lansbury. The songs sound exactly like all the others, but Jordan's voice is rich and warm, and her presence when she's not working at that smile is gracious and confident. Her rendition of "If He Walked Into My Life" is simply smashing.

But if you think you're hearing the same song over and over, it's because without the shows themselves for diversion, Jerry Herman's limitations become glaringly apparent. He wants to inspire the world and fill it with good feelings, but too often the result is closer to a parody of Shirley Temple: Come on, durn it, be happy! The occasional sad songs of heartbreak most especially found in Mack and Mabel don't really counter the overall relentlessness of the cheer, making two hours of Tune just too much of a good thing.

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Mari Coates


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