(Images via head shot & show posters)
The word “legendary” is overused, but it's an understatement when applied to Jerry Herman, the gay Broadway icon who died Thursday at 88 ...
Herman twice won the Tony for Best Musical, created 10 shows and was a contributor to still more, making him royalty in his field, and a link to Broadway's glory days.
Born July 10, 1931, in New York City, he was raised one state over, in Jersey City, where he took piano lessons and was encouraged in the arts by his Broadway-buff parents. His parents ran Stissing Lake Camp in upstate New York, where Herman would direct productions as a teenager. This led him to serious study of theatre at the University of Miami, where his first musical, Sketchbook, created a sensation on campus.
Moving to NYC, Herman's first off-Broadway show was I Feel Wonderful (1954), followed by the long-running revues Nightcap (1958), starring Phyllis Newman (1933-2019) and Charles Nelson Reilly (1931-2007), and Parade (1960), starring Reilly and Dody Goodman (1914-2008).
Herman's Broadway debut arrived in 1960 via From A to Z, a revue, and was followed in 1961 by his first Broadway musical, the successful Milk and Honey, which earned him his first Tony nomination. He then collaborated with Tad Mosel (1922-2008) on an ill-fated off-Broadway piece called Madame Aphrodite before hitting his stride and making history.
In 1964, Herman's work with librettist Michael Stewart (1924-1987), the long-running and thrice-revived Hello, Dolly!, became not only a Broadway smash but a genuine pop cultural phenomenon. It won 10 Tonys (a record at the time) and the original cast recording hit #1 on Billboard.
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The show provided in the form of its main character, Dolly Levi, a role that countless theatre greats have tackled, first and foremost the woman who became a star originating the role Carol Channing (1921-2019). It was adapted as a movie in 1969 starring Barbra Streisand (b. 1942); it won three Oscars.
Upon winning his first Tony for Hello, Dolly!, Herman uttered one of the most quoted lines from any Tonys acceptance speech, words which addressed the creative growing pains Broadway experienced in the '60s as it began to expand from old-fashioned musicals into works with darker themes:
This award forever shatters a myth about the musical theater. There’s been a rumor around for a couple of years that the simple, hummable show tune was no longer welcome on Broadway. Well, it’s alive and well at the Palace [Theatre].
Herman followed the show with Ben Franklin in Paris (1964; some contributions) starring Robert Preston (1918-1987); the hit musical Mame (1966) starring Angela Lansbury (b. 1925); Dear World (1969) starring Lansbury; Mack & Mabel (1974) starring Bernadette Peters (b. 1948) and Preston; The Grand Tour (1979) starring Joel Grey (b. 1932); and A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine (1980; some contributions) starring David Garrison (b. 1952).
In 1983, Herman's La Cage aux Folles — his most daring hit, and one for which he wrote the music and the book — matched the kind of over-the-top success he'd had with Hello, Dolly!, and did it by focusing on a gay couple, one of whom (George Hearn, b. 1934) is a drag queen, and the other his manager lover (Gene Barry, 1919-2009), who is desperately trying to keep his future in-laws from realizing they're marrying into a gay family.
(Image via Birmingham Hippodrome)
The sho, with music by Herman and a book by Harvey Fierstein (b. 1954), and both of its Broadway revivals (2004, 2010) won the Tony.
Following the searing success of La Cage, which spawned the pop hit “I Am What I Am,” Herman's last Broadway works were the revues Jerry's Girls (1985) starring Chita Rivera (b. 1933), Leslie Uggams (b. 1943) and Dorothy Loudon (1925-2003); and An Evening with Jerry Herman (1998), starring Herman himself, Lee Roy Reams (b. 1942) and Florence Lacey (b. 1949).
His work appeared in the TV movie Mrs. Claus (1996), for which he was Emmy-nominated, and in the films Barney's Great Adventure (1998) and WALL-E (2008).
In 2010, Herman was a Kennedy Center honoree.
Herman's goddaughter confirmed Herman's death was due to pulmonary complications. He had been living in Miami with his partner, Terry Marler, who survives him.