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Jerry Herman

Jerry Herman: Poet of the Showtune

stephen citron
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Jerry Herman
    Book Description:

    This revealing and comprehensive book tells the full story of Jerry Herman's life and career, from his early work in cabaret to his recent compositions for stage, screen, and television.Stephen Citron draws on extensive open-ended interviews with Jerry Herman as well as with scores of his theatrical colleagues, collaborators, and close friends. The resulting book-which sheds new light on each of Herman's musicals and their scores-abounds in fascinating anecdotes and behind-the-scenes details about the world of musical theater. Readers will find a sharply drawn portrait of Herman's private life and his creative talents. Citron's insights into Herman's music and lyrics, including voluminous examples from each of his musicals, are as instructive as they are edifying and entertaining.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13324-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 if you believe
    (pp. 1-8)

    In November 1961Milk and Honey, the first musical set in the young state of Israel, opened to splendid reviews. It was Jerry Herman’s Broadway debut as a composer-lyricist. Less than two months later, his next musical,Madame Aphrodite(written earlier, but its production delayed), had its premiere at the Orpheum Theatre off Broadway. This time the critiques were dreadful, and the eerie musical about a crone who sells fake “beauty cream” hoping to “scar the world” closed after thirteen performances.

    Milk and Honeywas doing capacity business and would remain firmly ensconced at the Martin Beck Theatre for the...

  5. 2 early days
    (pp. 9-25)

    Whenever Jerry Herman’s songwriting was accepted enthusiastically, his thoughts harked back to his mother, for it was she who had fostered his music, who had insisted that he study piano,who was never too busy to listen to his early work. Not that his father and the rest of the Hermans were philistines. Quite the contrary, but he had a tendency to think of them as visually rather than aurally gifted.

    David Herman, Jerry’s grandfather, born in 1880 in Poland near the Russian border in a small town on the outskirts of Minsk, was not unmusical, for he sang in the...

  6. 3 college and beyond
    (pp. 26-46)

    Even though its marquee made it look deceptively like a nightclub from the outside, in 1949, when Jerry Herman matriculated there, the University of Miami in Coral Gables had a serious curriculum. The school put its ten thousand students through a rigorous schedule of classes in all forms of theater arts leading to a bachelor of arts degree.

    “It had a progressive drama department that made youdotheater instead of just talking about it,” Herman says. “You didn’t just sit in the classroom or work only in your own field. You also learned how to act, direct and design...

  7. 4 milk and honey
    (pp. 47-70)

    Although several claim credit for the inspiration and genesis of Herman’s big hit of 1961,Milk and Honey,the subject of Israel—its birth, its economic woes, its struggle to green the desert, its efforts to exist with hostile neighbors—was simply in the air. This was not the usual stuff of musical comedy, but since Hammerstein had shown that subjects like miscegenation, murder, and a bombing raid during World War II made for exciting musical theater inShow Boat, Carousel, and South Pacific,why would a musical about the Jewish state’s birthing struggles be taboo?

    WithParaderunning, albeit...

  8. 5 a damned exasperating woman
    (pp. 71-91)

    Jerry Herman could hardly contain his joyous excitement the first time he left producer David Merrick’s scarlet domain. But six months later, after Herman presented the almost complete score to Merrick, he left the office crestfallen.

    “Mike Stewart was there, too,” Herman recalled, “and after I played the last few numbers and Mr.Merrick had approved of the whole score, he said he was going to call Ethel Merman and ask her when she wanted to come to hear the songs. My heart was in my mouth as he dialed the number. After all, I had written every note of Dolly’s...

  9. 6 hello, dolly!
    (pp. 92-121)

    David Merrick arrived in Detroit in the autumn of 1963 after the dispirited opening—and abrupt closing after seven performances—of his Broadway production ofThe Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. He was generally hypercritical of his shows out of town, but this year withThe Rehearsal, Luther,andArturo Ui,each asuccès d’estimebut failing at the box office, he was more testy than usual.

    The audience at the first preview ofDolly:ADamned Exasperating Womanwas not enthusiastic, and after Merrick read the local reviews, one of which was headlined “GOODBYE, DOLLY,” Merrick began to scream...

  10. 7 mame
    (pp. 122-146)

    When Patrick Dennis, né Edward Everett Tanner III, wroteAuntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade, he had no idea that this character would take her place in the forefront of theatrical heroines, much less become a generic household word for a sophisticated relative in charge of a youth. The author’s choice of the name Mame Dennis for his heroine was purposeful. Tanner was looking for a name that would suggest “mamma” in a super-cosmopolitan way; to balance the Christian name he had settled on he chose Dennis from the Manhattan telephone directory because of its elegant ring. He liked it so...

  11. 8 mame—and its movie
    (pp. 147-161)

    By the time of its opening in Philadelphia, 27 March 1966,Mamewas in excellent shape. So good, in fact, that during its previews, Jerry Herman remembered sitting in a movie theater with Angela Lansbury on one side and Bea Arthur on the other. “I suddenly thought of my tribulations withHello, Dolly!in Detroit,” he recalled, “and whispered to Angela and Bea: ‘You know, we’re supposed to be going through on-the-road hell. If anybody saw us now, they wouldn’t believe it.’”¹

    But although the first-night audience roared its approval and Herman, an incurable optimist, felt hardly anything more needed...

  12. 9 dear world
    (pp. 162-182)

    WithMamecomfortably ensconced on Broadway, 1966 was a triumphant time for Herman. He had no reason to doubt his capacity to write hits. After all, he had penned three in a row—two of which would be playing for the next five years. Honors were pouring in from all sides, and offers to collaborate on new projects piled up on his desk. Even today he dubs that time his “golden afterglow ofMame.”¹ Still, the artist in him, the one who had tackledMadame Aphrodite,kept nudging him try to create a work that might be more daring than...

  13. 10 mack and mabel
    (pp. 183-205)

    In the spring of 1969, withDear Worldstill playing (though to half-empty houses) and Angela Lansbury lionized by the trade papers for her Tony Award—winning performance, Jerry Herman’s critique-trampled spirits gradually began to rise.* During the few months ofDear World’sBroadway engagement Herman ritualized his evenings. He would usually arrive at the Hellinger at about 8:30 to revel in Angela’s first-act emotion-packed “I Don’t Want to Know” (which the composer feels won her the Tony), then scoot over to the Winter Garden by 9:15 forMame’s rousing act-one-closing title song. Most evenings he would spend the intermissions...

  14. 11 the grand tour
    (pp. 206-224)

    By the beginning of 1975, afterMack and Mabel’sabrupt close, Jerry Herman felt like a fish whose tank has run dry. Accustomed throughout the sixties to having two, sometimes three shows running on Broadway, he now had none. Worse, with the critiques for his last two flops resounding in his ears, he realized that the kinds of musicals he felt comfortable attending—or writing—were quickly disappearing. The concept musical that had begun as far back asLove Life (1948),and was nurtured with shows likeCabaret (1966),had come to full flowering inCompany(1970). Shows like these made...

  15. 12 la cage aux folles
    (pp. 225-253)

    In 1978 Jerry Herman and Chuck Fultz went to the 68th Street Playhouse to seeLa Cage aux Folles,the film version of a humorous French play about a gay couple who operate a drag club in St. Tropez. Fultz remembered, “Jerry was so excited by this film that he squoze my arm so tightly that after the movie I still had a mark. And as we were leaving the theater, he said, ‘That’s my next musical, I know just what to do with it.’”¹

    First thing the next morning Herman telephoned his agent, Biff Liff, to see about acquiring...

  16. 13 after la cage
    (pp. 254-272)

    WithLa Cagelaunched at the Palace and doing capacity business, Herman had more time to attend to his personal life. He had always been caring and responsive to his large circle of theatrical friends and had kept contact with acquaintances from his childhood and camp days. He paid special attention to the many older women from his mother’s circle, now in their seventies. These he looked after with particular attention, as he no doubt would have cared for Ruth, had she remained alive. He remembered who was sick, who had lost a close family member, and he made sure...

  17. 14 the road ahead
    (pp. 273-284)

    At seventy-three, his HIV-positive status under control so that it is “almost imperceptible,” Jerry Herman, who follows a prudent lifestyle,“hopes to be able to write at least one or two more Broadway musicals.” Since the phenomenal success ofLa Cage aux Folleshe has been bombarded with playscripts, constantly having to turn them down, either because they do not inspire him or because, if he finds them inspiring and doable, he usually also finds them dated. The libretto forA Pocketful of Miracles,a charmer about Apple Annie, a poor lady who pretends to be rich, is the kind of...

    (pp. 285-300)
  19. NOTES
    (pp. 301-306)
    (pp. 307-312)
    (pp. 313-314)
    (pp. 315-324)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 325-338)