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BWW Feature: How Jerry Herman Changed My Life Over and Over Again


BWW Feature: How Jerry Herman Changed My Life Over and Over Again

In the 148 days since beginning this job, I have seen 131 shows. Not one week has gone by without an artist singing a Jerry Herman song in their act. Marta Sanders blew her audience away with "Before The Parade Passes By." Ari Axelrod moved hearts by singing "Shalom." Marilyn Maye thrilled, as always, with her high-kicking "It's Today" and Blaine Krauss devastated with "I Am What I Am." There have been performances of "Look Over There" and "La Cage Aux Folles," and people have sung "Time Heals Everything," "Look What Happened to Mabel" and "Wherever He Ain't." Klea Blackhurst did an entire evening of Jerry Herman, and at her recent Christmas-themed show Andrea McArdle sang "Before The Parade Passes By" and "If He Walked Into My Life," as well as doing a most perfect impression of original Dolly Levi, Carol Channing. Jerry Herman has informed the world of cabaret as much as he has defined Broadway. He is an irreplaceable and indispensable part of the history of musical theater and the Great American Songbook.

I am going to break the cardinal rule of journalism now and speak about myself, but it is only to illustrate the power that one artist can have over the life of one person.

I was 7 years old when I bought my very first record album. I had saved up my allowance for weeks and weeks so that I could buy it because I had seen part of the movie on television - only part of it because it went past my bedtime. I played that record until it was so scratched that it had to be replaced. I learned every word, every note, every nuance of Hello, Dolly! Imagine my surprise when I was at the library one day and saw a different record with the same name. I saw two different records with the same name - only these records said Carol Channing and Pearl Bailey on them, rather than Barbra Streisand. That is the day that I discovered the difference between theater and movies, that is the day that I learned the difference between a cast album and a soundtrack.

There, at the public library, I became obsessed with cast albums and with Broadway. I would check out all of the albums I was allowed and learn them by heart. Imagine the unfathomable thrill I felt on the day that the librarian showed where I could find the Random House play scripts to these musical plays so that I could read the dialogue, see the photos of the Broadway productions, and learn the stories. That is the day that I found the most significant play volume of my entire life.

BWW Feature: How Jerry Herman Changed My Life Over and Over Again

There came the day when my parents had to do some shopping around town; anxious to get out and see the world, to be anywhere but home, I went with them. Bored while they strolled through the strip mall liquor store, I asked to sit outside on the brick planter in front of the store. Trusting, they agreed I would be fine. While sitting there daydreaming, an attractive young man came and sat beside me. The man, probably around 18 or 20, paid no attention to me, but I watched his every move. He had just come from the record store next door to the shop my parents were in, and he was excited to examine his booty for the day. Flipping through the five or six albums he had bought, he studied the sleeves, his eyes taking in every line in the front cover renderings, and every word of the back cover copy. One record album seemed to have him particularly mesmerized, so I had a lot of time to stare at it, and stare I did, for it was a fascinating drawing, one filled with colors and fluid, fascinating, storytelling. When he flipped the disc over to look at the back I was hypnotized by two photos: one of the most elegant lady I had ever seen, and one of a man so handsome it made me blush. The next time I was in the library, I sought out that record album. It would be weeks before they acquired a copy but when they did, Mame became my new obsession.

Jerry Herman has been a vital part of my life. Sometimes labeled old-fashioned, Mr. Herman's work is a lot more intricate than people give him credit for; but more to the point is the fact that every song he wrote was character driven, and every score he created was illuminated by hope, something that the world has always needed.

In the 80's a tour of La Cage Aux Folles toured through the city where I was living with my boyfriend, Pat Dwyer. Fans of musical theater and Jerry Herman, and starved for any kind of culture involving gay relationships, we booked tickets immediately to the play that would remain, always, significant for us. So moved by the play and by the idea that two men could live in a long term loving relationship, we two boys in our early twenties wanted to pay tribute to the cast. We were very poor, right out of college, working minimum wage jobs, so there wasn't much we could do. We went through the playbill and counted the names of every actor, and we sent a bouquet backstage with a gushing note - there was one rose for each performer in the show. It was the best we could do. A week later we found in our mailbox a thank you note from the cast, signed by everyone, and right at the top were the names of the stars, Harvey Evans and Larry Kert. We still have that note.

In the 90's Hello, Dolly! was revived on Broadway. My Mother grew animated when learning of this, so I bought us tickets to see the play. In the days leading up to our theater date, my mother would say "I'm going to see Dolly. I'm so excited that I get to see Dolly!" When asked why this was so important to her, she replied, "Because it's Dolly! It's the REAL Dolly! WE are going to the the REAL Hello, Dolly!" On the day of this excursion we arrived early and we settled into our seats, after Mother had acquired her souvenir program and her Hello, Dolly! baseball cap. As the play began, she began to sway in her seat, happy, contented, and at home. Not a musical theater aficionado, my Mother's enjoyment of that play was off the charts; indeed, it was she who lead the standing ovation at the end of the title song and at the end of the play. My Mother, who gets excited by nothing, was the first on her feet. For weeks after this trip to Broadway, my Mother could be heard singing to herself, puttering around the house, pushing the shopping cart through the grocery store, driving the car, "It only takes a moment..... It only takes a moment... It only takes a moment...." Those were the only words she knew to the song, but it was enough for her.

In 2017 Hello, Dolly! returned to Broadway. My parents were visiting New York and I purchased tickets for them to see the play. They didn't ask for tickets to see Bette Midler, they asked for tickets to see Donna Murphy, who played the titular role on Tuesday nights. From the fifth row, my Mother, now living with dementia, sat in her seat, smiling and swaying and singing along, the smile on her face bigger than the sky. She wasn't always sure what was happening in the story, but she always knew the songs, enjoyed the pageantry, and sighed when Donna sang. I spent more time watching her watch the play than watching the play itself, she was so very happy. By the time we got backstage after the play, Mother wasn't always quite sure what we had been doing, or where we were, but the moment she saw Donna's face, she had an inkling and a few moments of short term memory. It was a most precious moment in my life.

BWW Feature: How Jerry Herman Changed My Life Over and Over Again

I worked with Jerry Herman once. I was in Los Angeles, photographing celebrities for my book The Sweater Book. I invited everyone I could think of, hoping that even the smallest fraction of them would say yes, and then I would go out into Hollywood, The Valley, Malibu, Santa Monica, Culver City, Beverly Hills and I would spend my days photographing the notables who had made their mark, in the world and in my heart. One afternoon I returned to the home in which I was living, and my host, Daniel Henning, came to me with a cheeky grin on his face and, handing me a piece of paper, said to me, "When you call, and he answers the phone, you HAVE to say Hello? Dolly?"

When Jerry Herman did answer the phone, my immediate verbal response was to say, like a fanboy, "Oh my gosh, Hello Dolly was the first record I ever bought in my life!"

Jerry Herman was a nice man. He allowed an unkempt, overworked, starstruck, blithering young photographer into his elegant and chic Beverly Hills home, quieted his nerves, and offered him a safe place in which to make some art. He was kind and he was gentle, he gave me a tour and he offered up information about everything. He escorted me into the lower level of his home, there to show me the showroom in which was kept the memorabilia from his career. Mannequins stood, wearing costumes from the plays and movies, photos, one-sheets, three-sheets, window cards adorned the walls, and glass showcases held awards and props. I was desperate to take a photo but I didn't want to invade his privacy in that way. The photo of the room is forever in my mind, and no place else. He was as sweet, as gracious, as considerate a person as one is ever likely to meet, in their entire life. When the time came to do the layouts for The Sweater Book, we began work on the chapter of songwriters and I didn't even have to think. Jerry Herman's photo is given a full-page presentation at the beginning of the section. He earned it and he deserved it.

BWW Feature: How Jerry Herman Changed My Life Over and Over Again

(I'm working on location today and my husband, Pat Dwyer, texted me this photo from The Sweater Book - when I am home, I will upload a proper scan.)

I read today that Jerry Herman has died. He was 88 years old. It is sad when someone we love dies, but Jerry Herman had a good long run and he spent his life touching the hearts of people that he knew in person, and people he would never meet. They all loved him, though, and today they love him even more. Jerry Herman has meant the world to all who love, who respect, and who care about the American Musical Theater. I have had my own personal journey with the man and his work, as I am sure many have. Possibly everyone has a story about their relationship to Jerry Herman's work, and that's marvelous. Today I will honor him by playing the cast albums from Dear World, Mack and Mabel, and Mame - three of the six complete cast albums to be, permanently, in my iPhone, as Jerry Herman is permanently in my heart.

And it only took a moment.

Rita Moreno Tap Your Troubles Away

The Famed Angela Lansbury Bea Arthur Tony Awards MAME Reunion

Donna Murphy's I Put My Hand in, From Hello, Dolly!

Carol Channing sings: So Long Dearie

Bernadette Peters Owns: Time Heals Everything

La Cage Aux Folles on the Tony Awards

Eydie Gorme sings: If He Walked Into My Life

Jerry Herman sings: I'll Be Here Tomorrow

Visit the Jerry Herman: Website

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