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Jerry Herman Biography

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Jerry Herman (born Gerald Herman on July 10, 1933 in New York City) is an American composer/lyricist of the Broadway musical theater. He composed the scores for the hit Broadway musicals Hello Dolly!, Mame, and La Cage aux Folles.

Raised by musically-inclined parents, Herman learned to play piano at an early age, and the three frequently attended Broadway musicals. His summers were spent in the Berkshire Mountains at Stissing Lake Camp, which was run by his parents, both teachers. It was there that he first became involved in theatrical production, as director of Finian's Rainbow and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

At the age of seventeen, 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, which has one of the nation's most avant garde theater departments. (The university's theater, the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre, is named for him.)

After graduation, Herman moved to New York City, where he produced the off-Broadway revue I Feel Wonderful, which was comprised of material he had written at the University of Miami. It opened at the Theatre de Lys in Greenwich Village on October 18, 1954 and ran for forty-eight performances. It was his only show his mother was able to see; shortly after it opened, she died of cancer at the age of forty-four, and Herman spent the next year in deep mourning, seriously depressed.

In an attempt to break loose from his grief, Herman eventually collected enough original material to put together a revue called Nightcap in 1958. Choreographed by friend Phyllis Newman, and with a cast that included Charles Nelson Reilly (who later co-starred in Hello Dolly!), it opened at a tiny New York City jazz club called the Showplace. Critical raves and glowing word-of-mouth kept the show running for two years.

In 1960, producer Gerard Oestreicher approached Herman after seeing a performance of his revue 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 Broadway production, Milk and Honey (starring Molly Picon), in 1961. It received respectable reviews and ran for 543 performances.

In 1964, producer David Merrick united Herman with Carol Channing for a project that was to become one of his most successful, Hello Dolly!. The original production ran for 2,844 performances, the longest running musical for its time, and was later revived three times. Although facing stiff competition from Funny Girl, Hello, Dolly! swept the Tony Awards that season, winning 10, a record that remained unbroken for 37 years, until The Producers won 12 Tonys in 2001.

In 1966, Herman's next musical was the smash hit Mame starring Angela Lansbury, which introduced many Herman "standards", most particularly the ballad "If He Walked Into My Life".

Although not commercial successes, Dear World (1969) 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. Herman once said that Mack & Mabel was his personal favorite. Both Dear World and Mack & Mabel have developed a cult following among Broadway aficionados.

In 1983, Herman had his third mega-hit with La Cage aux Folles starring George Hearn and Gene Barry, which broke box-office records at the Palace Theatre and earned Herman yet another Tony Award for Best Musical. From its score came the gay anthem "I Am What I Am".

Many of Jerry Herman's showtunes have become standards and are presented regularly on television, in film, on stage, and are recorded by many of the world's most notable singers. His most famous composition, "Hello, Dolly!", is one of the most popular tunes ever to have originated in a Broadway musical, and was a #1 hit in the United States for Louis Armstrong, knocking The Beatles off the charts in 1964. A French recording by Petula Clark charted in the Top Ten in both Canada and France.

Another famous Herman song, the ballad "If He Walked into My Life" from Mame, was recorded by Eydie Gormé, becoming a pop standard and winning a Grammy Award for Best Vocal Performance, Female in 1967. Other well known Herman showtunes include "Shalom", "Before the Parade Passes By", "Put On Your Sunday Clothes", "It Only Takes a Moment", "It's Today!", "Open a New Window", "We Need a Little Christmas", "Mame", "Bosom Buddies", "I Won't Send Roses", "Time Heals Everything", "I Am What I Am", and "The Best of Times".

Herman is the only composer/lyricist in history to have three musicals run more than 1500 performances on Broadway: Hello Dolly! (2,844), Mame (1,508), and La Cage aux Folles (1,761). His work is honored by a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 7090 Hollywood Boulevard.

Showtune: A Memoir by Jerry Herman (with Marilyn Stasio), published by Donald I. Fine Books, an imprint of Penguin Books, 1996.
 
 
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