Breaking: Legendary Composer and Lyricist Jerry Herman Has Passed Away at 88
BroadwayWorld is saddened to report that legendary Tony Award winning composer and lyricist Jerry Herman has passed away. He died in Miami on December 26, due to pulmonary complications. He was 88 years old.
Herman is known for his work on Broadway classics such as Hello, Dolly!, Mame, La Cage Aux Folles, Dear World, Mack & Mabel, The Grand Tour, Milk & Honey and many more. He has been nominated for five Tony Awards, and won twice, for Hello, Dolly! and La Cage Aux Folles. He received a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award in 2009, and a Kennedy Center Honors in 2010.
At age 17, Herman was introduced to Frank Loesser who, after hearing material he had written, urged him to continue composing. He left the Parsons School of Design to attend the University of Miami. While an undergraduate student at the University of Miami Herman produced, wrote and directed a college musical called Sketchbook. It was scheduled to run for three performances, but the show created an instant patron demand and ran for an additional 17 performances
After graduation from the University of Miami, Herman moved to New York City, where he produced the Off-Broadway revue I Feel Wonderful, which was made up of material he had written at the University.
In 1957, Herman approached the owner of a West Fourth Street jazz club called the Showplace and asked to put on a revue. As well as supplying the music, Herman wrote the book and directed the one-hour revue, called Nightcap. He asked his friend, Phyllis Newman, to do movement and dance and it featured Charles Nelson Reilly (who later co-starred in Hello Dolly!). The show opened in May 1958 and ran for two years.
Herman next collected enough original material to put together an Off-Broadway revue called Parade in 1960. Herman directed with choreography by Richard Tone. The cast included Charles Nelson Reilly and Dody Goodman. It first opened at the Showplace and, expanded, moved to The Players Theatre in January 1960.
In 1960, Herman made his Broadway debut with the revue From A to Z, which featured contributions from newcomers Woody Allen and Fred Ebb as well. That same year producer Gerard Oestreicher approached him after seeing a performance of "Parade", and asked if he would be interested in composing the score for a show about the founding of the state of Israel. The result was his first full-fledged Broadway musical, Milk and Honey in 1961. The show, about American tourists in Israel, starred Robert Weede, Mimi Benzil and Molly Picon.
Herman met playwright Tad Mosel in 1960 and they collaborated on an Off-Broadway musical adaptation of Mosel's 1953 television play, Madame Aphrodite. The musical of the same name, which starred Nancy Andrews in the title role, opened at the Orpheum Theater in December 1961 but closed after 13 performances.
In 1964, producer David Merrick united Herman with musical actress Carol Channing and Michael Stewart for a project that was to become one of his more successful, Hello Dolly!. The original production ran for 2,844 performances, the longest running musical for its time, and was later revived three times. Hello, Dolly! swept the Tony Awards that season, winning 10, a record that remained unbroken for 37 years.
In 1966, Herman's next musical was the hit Mame starring Angela Lansbury, which introduced a string of Herman standards, most notably the ballad "If He Walked Into My Life", the holiday favorite "We Need a Little Christmas", and the title tune.
Although not commercial successes, Dear World (1969) also starring Angela Lansbury, Mack & Mabel (1974) starring Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters, and The Grand Tour (1979) starring Joel Grey, are noted for their interesting concepts and their melodic, memorable scores.
In 1983, Herman had his third hit with La Cage aux Folles starring George Hern and Gene Barry, a show that was notable for being one of the first hit Broadway musicals centered around a gay couple. The show broke box-office records at the Palace Theater and earned Herman yet another Tony Award for Best Musical. From its score came the gay anthem "I Am What I Am" and the sing-a-long "The Best of Times." La Cage aux Folles won the Tony Award for Best Musical (1983), and became the only musical to win the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical twice (2005 and 2010).
Herman is the only composer/lyricist to have had 3 original productions open on Broadway at the same time from February to May 1969. He was the first (of two) composers/lyricists to have three musicals run more than 1500 consecutive performances on Broadway. Herman is honored by a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at the 7000 block of Hollywood Boulevard.
Other honors include the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre, named after him by the University of Miami. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1982.
A 90-minute documentary about his life and career, Words and Music by Jerry Herman by filmmaker Amber Edwards, was screened in 2007 and then broadcast on PBS. In the 2008 the animated film WALL-E, Herman's music from Hello, Dolly! is a theme for the character WALL-E.
In 1989, American-playwright Natalie Gaupp wrote a short play titled "The Jerry Herman Center." The play is a comedy which portrays the lives of several patients in "The Jerry Herman Center for Musical Theatre Addiction." In 2012, Jason Graae and Faith Prince collaborated on The Prince and the Showboy, a show which pays tribute to Herman; Graae worked extensively with Herman and described him as "a survivor of the highest degree lives his life as an eternal optimist."
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