Who can resist the exuberant, extravagant, Carol Channing? Jerry's Girls Revue featuring the music and lyrics of Jerry Herman. Starring Carol Channing. Staged and directed by Larry Alfred.
Washington — There is something delightfully excessive about Carol Channing on stage. If she were a building she'd be considered baroque. She trips onto the boards at Kennedy Center here in a new revue, ''Jerry's Girls,'' and steals not only the show but the laughter of the audience before she opens her generous mouth.
They might as well start the show with her opening number, ''Put on Your Sunday Clothes,'' instead of the somewhat mawkish ''Jerry's Girls,'' because the theater comes alive as Miss Channing flutters in looking like an entire Victorian attic out for a stroll - on her head a swooping picture hat for which a flock of ostriches have apparently gone bald, a white Victorian dress benumbed with ruffles (and a matching parasol), a lavalier big enough to brandish as a deadly weapon, and button shoes, white.
Somewhere in the middle of this sea of ornate frills shines the beaming, rosy , upturned smile of Carol Channing, who milks every bit of Jerry Herman's lyrics for a laugh in this number from her big hit, ''Hello, Dolly!''
The revue - which has been touring the country and is slated to go on Broadway - is an hommage to the music and lyrics of Jerry Herman. He won a Tony Award this year for his musical ''La Cage Aux Folles'' and has written such hits as ''Dolly,'' ''Mame,'' ''Milk and Honey,'' and ''Mack and Mabel.'' But there isn't enough memorable music here to sustain a full evening of theater, even with the considerable talents of Miss Channing and its other stars, Leslie Uggams and Andrea McCardle.
Miss Uggams, glittering in neon pink spangles, belts out a resounding hit with her steamy version of ''If He Walked Into My Life.'' But too much of ''Jerry's Girls'' is tailored more for the needs of this revue than for Miss Uggams's special gifts, or for those of its youngest star, Andrea McCardle.
Miss McCardle made her debut as a child, wowing audiences as the original ''Annie.'' Now a young woman, redhead McCardle is fulfilling her ''Annie'' promise: Singing ''Wherever He Ain't,'' she sounds like the next Merman, with her wonderful brass trumpet of a voice and her bravado.
Among the numbers are several real snoozers, like ''The Tea Party'' from Herman's ''Dear World,'' in which Channing, Uggams, and McCardle do triple musical soliloquies. This tea party falls flatter than last week's scones, although its stars pour on the charm.
But the production's weaker numbers are offset by Channing's madcap romp through the footlights, kidding everyone from Sophie Tucker to Jeanette MacDonald and even the legendary, smoldering Marlene Dietrich. Channing pulls out all the stops with a hilarious spoof of Dietrich in ''The Blue Angel'' that also neatly spoofs a number in ''La Cage.''
Also not to be missed: Channing dancing in ''Tap Your Troubles Away,'' looking with her blue middy dress and incredibly long legs like a cross between Baby Snooks and an egret in tap shoes.
And the famous title song from ''Hello, Dolly!'' is done here splendiferously , with the star in full red velvet Victorian regalia and feathers, singing in her inimitable style that ranges from a Minnie Mouse squeak to a genteel foghorn.
It's so nice to have her back where she belongs, taking bows.
''Jerry's Girls'' is now in Kansas City, Mo., through Aug. 12; and goes on to Seattle, Aug. 14-26; Vancouver, British Columbia, Aug. 28-Sept. 2; San Francisco , Sept. 4-Oct. 7; Denver, Oct. 9-21; Oklahoma City, Okla., Oct. 23-28; and New Orleans, Oct. 30-Nov. 11.