Industry Insight - by Cara Joy David
Industry Editor Exclusive: Jerry Herman and the Catalog He Leaves Behind
A producer cannot just license any property s/he wants. Yes, MAME is available for licensing on the Concord Theatricals website, but if I wanted to mount it on Broadway it would be a little more complicated than shelling out cash. Hurdles for non-professional productions are not substantial, but many professional productions require levels of permission. Jerry Herman, who passed away on December 26, 2019, was a man unlikely to give permission for professional productions of his shows unless he thought they would be good.
"One of the things that made Jerry brilliant is he understood how to put the whole thing together," his goddaughter Jane Dorian said in a recent interview. "His writing was so facile, he understood set design, he understood direction. He wanted to make the whole thing perfect."
When MAME was at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC with Christine Baranski in the lead in 2006, rumors were swirling that the revival would transfer, so I was not planning on going to see it out-of-town. My friend called from there and said: "Jerry will never let this come in. See it now." (I should note this reason for that show not transferring was never confirmed.)
For years, I had heard he would not let either MACK & MABEL or DEAR WORLD be done by Encores!. He was constantly trying to perfect them. According to Encores! Artistic Director Jack Viertel, Herman previously declined to grant Encores! the rights because he was working with collaborators on revised books and scores for those shows and "wanted to preserve the possibility of these shows finding a different life in New York."
DEAR WORLD was seen in the York Theatre Company's Musicals in Mufti series (which is sort of like a mini-Encores! featuring concert productions with a handful of musicians) in 2017. Musicals in Mufti has also done other lesser known Herman shows, including JERRY'S GIRLS, MILK & HONEY and THE GRAND TOUR.
York Producing Artistic Director Jim Morgan became friendly with Herman after he did the set design for a Goodspeed Musicals production of a revised DEAR WORLD in 2000. Morgan asked Herman to do the show at the York a few times thereafter. Herman always declined. One day, Morgan sent an email to Herman and his husband Terry Marler asking again and permission was granted. "I was expecting a big discussion, but there was none," Morgan said. "I think because it was not a gigantic big production, they were fine with it."
And then Herman greenlit an Encores! mounting of MACK & MABEL. It will run February 19-23 at City Center. It could almost be considered happenstance that MACK & MABEL is occurring. In February 2018, Encores! put on a concert entitled HEY, LOOK ME OVER!, which was a musical featuring songs of Broadway shows Encores! had yet to do. They got permission to do two MACK & MABEL songs. Francine Pascal, sister of late MACK & MABEL librettist Michael Stewart who had been working on a revised book of the show for years, was in the audience. "She called me the next day," Viertel said. "She said: 'I love what you did and you should do the show...' I said we had always wanted to. She called Jerry. He changed his mind and [granted permission]."
While Herman was alive to grant permission, Viertel didn't expect him to be able to see it. Herman, who had been ailing for quite some time, was not even able to see the recent hit Broadway revival of HELLO, DOLLY!.
"But, to quote one of his shows, he put his hand in it," Dorian laughed, noting that he had her call him at intermission of opening night. "He would get daily reports. His body was failing but his mind was there."
Dorian referenced her god father's "high standards" and his desire to make everything ideal. With Michael Feinstein, she organized a memorial for Herman that took place at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on February 3, 2020, and one of the bigger challenges in putting it together was culling from his vast catalog of hits. Leslie Uggams received a standing ovation after performing a song traditionally sung by a man, "I Am What I Am." Tyne Daly-who starred in the York's DEAR WORLD-did a fun "Bosom Buddies" with Klea Blackhurst. Original Mabel Bernadette Peters was even on hand to sing a poignant "Time Heals Everything." It was a beautiful celebration of the man, a man so protective of his works we saw them less than we maybe could have.
As Morgan said, when they did them at the York, Herman's shows "always brought total joy to the audience." Yet Herman knew many needed book work; he wanted that work to be done before large scale productions of them were mounted. (Not to mention that many of his tuners would be expensive to mount and producers would be reluctant to mount large scale productions of them unless they were surefire hits.)
It is unknown at this time who will control Herman's song catalog from now on. But Dorian said work on his titles will continue.
"Sometimes the stars have to line up with the right talent and the right vision," she said. "He didn't rush anything. He waited until it was right. That takes a lot of strength. We'll continue that."