JERRY’S GIRLS, Circlestage, at the Royal George Theatre Center. According to a program note, many people tried to dissuade Don Hoffman, artistic director of Milwaukee’s Circlestage theater company, from bringing his production of Jerry’s Girls to the Royal George. He should have listened. This subamateur embarrassment is hardly ready for a church basement, let alone one of Chicago’s toniest venues.

The show is a straightforward revue of Jerry Herman’s songs. The man behind Hello, Dolly!, Mame, and La Cage aux Folles wrote catchy, accessible, insistent tunes that define the genre, gouging themselves into your brain in the first eight measures. Herman indulges every showbiz trope, inviting big, bold performances that milk the material for all it’s worth. Yet the three women here offer bland, timid readings, regularly wandering out of their ranges, taking breaths in the middle of every third phrase, and opting for pleasantries instead of personalities.

But hardly a diva alive could have emerged from this ragged, ill-conceived production unscathed. From the klutzy staging to the remedial prerecorded accompaniment to the incomprehensible scenic design–the stage looks as though a crate of finger paints and sequins had exploded in a utility closet–everything hurtles toward failure. It’s hard to imagine who would believe this show ready for an audience–that is, until director Dale Gutzman banishes the women from the stage and in a moment of appalling theatrical hubris croaks his way through the evening’s penultimate number. Then the mystery is solved.

–Justin Hayford