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HarryCarter

Jerry Herman has died

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About 10 years ago, I attempted to write a fan letter to Jerry.  I found out who his representing agency was and called, eventually spoke to a secretary who had a decided speech impediment, saying I should address it in care of his agent, her boss,  "Biss Liss".  I repeated this back to here several times to make sure I heard right.   I never got a reply.  The agent's name was actually "Biff Liff"! and I have a feeling the secretary intercepted the letter and thought I was making fun of her, maybe.    My favorite of his scores is "Dear World".  Despite wonderful songs throughout and a Tony-winning performance by Angela, it was a surprise flop.   (my memory is 132 performances: roughly 4 months when Dolly and Mame were still running).  I heard from someone who attended that people were walking out.  I can't understand.  Even if the book was uneven, you were treated to an evening of those gorgeous songs.

His big heartbreak was "Mack and Mabel", another great score.   By 1975, the Tony musical nominees were slim pickings.  The show got a Best Musical nomination and both leads were nominated along with several other creative and technical people.   But NOT the score, a real slap in the face for Jerry.   A SHOCKINGLY short run: 65 performances.  Like Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along", it's one that keeps getting revived with a revised book.  Neither ever really succeeded as a show as far as I know.   Nor has there been an attempt to remount for Broadway.   So it was great for Jerry that he came back in the 80s with his last long running bona fide hit "La Cage". 

A couple lesser-known Jerry tunes.   He wrote "Like a Member of the Family" for CBS's big 50th anniversary week of clip shows in 1977.  AND he wrote the theme tune (no lyrics I know of) to the pilot of the Desi Arnaz-produced "Carol Channing" sitcom. 

With the song "Hello Dolly" being such a big hit, he had to write a similar song for "Mame", which of course did quite well.  But he was severely criticized for trying yet again in "M&M" with "When Mabel Comes In the Room", because the set up was so reminiscent of "Dolly" (Mabel returns to the studio after an absence and is welcomed back, Jerry-style).  Without considering the staging, I think "Mabel" may be the best of his three big "Leading lady, We Love You/Welcome Back" songs.   Though not exactly in the same category, the big equivalent is "Dear World" was the title tune and he got knocked for that. 

I've never heard his scores for "Milk & Honey" (pre-Dolly), "Grand Tour", TV's "Mrs. Santa Clause" or the 'concept musical' (whatever that is) "Miss Spectacular". 

Since Charles Strouse is still alive, maybe we'll finally hear the ACTUAL story of the composing of "Before the Parade Passes By".  Both Jerry and Charles insist that Jerry's story is right, but I have to say, it just doesn't ring completely true.  Plus I heard from someone who talked to Strouse off the record there's more to it than what we've heard.  For those who don't know: David Merrick had Strouse & Adams come to Detroit where Dolly was in trouble.  They wrote a first act closer "Before the Parade Passes By".  Jerry claims he never heard theirs and wrote his own based on the title alone.   The practice is that "ghost-composers" give up any credit for writing the songs, all of which say "Music and Lyrics by Jerry", in exchange for a little piece of the show, a great deal for Strouse&Adams in hindsight.    It been said that Bob Merrill contributed "Motherhood March", "Elegance" and some, if not all, of "I Put My Hand In".  Interesting that "Motherhood" and "Hand" did not make it into the movie version.  "Elegance" in particular has that Merrill sound, a rhythm reminiscent of his "Sunshine Girl" from "New Girl in Town". 

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I wish Jerry had been well enough to see the recent revival of Hello, Dolly! I have never seen audiences so enthralled. I'm so glad they revived it as Jerry had written it without any attempt to modernize it.

Encores is finally doing Mack and Mabel in a few months. Their "Look What Happened to Mabel" excerpt as part of their "Hey, Look Me Over!" compilation event a couple years ago was the highlight of the show. 

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The New York Times interviewed several people who worked with Jerry including Lucie.

“When Tommy Tune and David Cryer and I starred in Jerry’s hoped-for reincarnation of his masterful ‘Mack & Mabel,’ we did a run-through just before opening out of town. This is when you do the entire show in a real theater free for the Broadway community, but without sets, lights or costumes — just a few props and a piano player. My favorite memory was of Jerry onstage at an upright piano, sitting atop two telephone books, playing the entire score for us. That’s the kinda mensch he was.” LUCIE ARNAZ is a stage and television actress.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/28/theater/remembering-jerry-herman-harvey-fierstein-chita-rivera.html

 

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