Sunday, May 17, 2009

2002 interview with Jerry Herman

I am so thrilled that the 2009 Tony Award committee has decided to honor Jerry Herman with a special Tony for Lifetime Achieve-
In 2002 Mr. Herman opened up his home for interviews, just around the time that his concept CD Miss Spectacular was released. Also at that time he made a rare appearance with the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles for an evening called Jerry's Boys.
Here is our interview, originally published in NoHoLA in the July 4, 2002 issue.
Q: How do you account for the incredible fame of the song "Hello Dolly"?
JH: The interesting thing about me is that it sounds like I intended all those songs that people know ... to be popular songs, but I honestly did not. The biggest surprise to me was "Hello Dolly". It was written for a very emotional moment where a woman is returning to the human race after mourning her husband for many years. She puts on her finery, comes down a staircase and says, "Hello, Harry!" "Well hello, Louie!" It's very 1890s. And Louis Armstrong is the reason that that's a popular song. He saw something in it and made a jazz classic out of it.
Q: One of my favorite shows is Dear World. The music is just enchanting. Why do you think it bombed back in the 60s?
JH: It was a charming idea that was so overblown. By the time the show opened, it was no longer a little chamber piece that Lawrence, Lee and I had intended. But it became a huge Broadway show in one of the biggest theatres at that time, the Mark Hellinger. I wanted a seven-piece ensemble to play it, and we had a huge, huge orchestra and chorus - and klunky big sets. It was not what I wanted, but now I have a second chance with that.
Q: There's a new production in the works. What changes did you make?
JH: We started to pare it down. We've gone a little further and have beautiful new orchestrations. It's going to play Sundance in Utah, and Maureen McGovern is going to sing it. When you hear these songs come out of her, it's really something gorgeous.
Q: Speaking of new productions of oldies but goodies, what's the latest on Mack and Mabel's move toward the Great White Way?
JH: We'll open it in Texas and have producers come and look at it.
Q: What's been the greatest problem in remounting it?
JH: Getting the book straightened out. We have it now. Michael Stewart's (now deceased) sister has done a beautiful job of making it tighter and clearer and more romantic. I love the new ending.
Q: Miss Spectacular is a breath of fresh air. How did that come about?
JH: I was commissioned to do a revue for Las Vegas where they wanted huge production numbers from me with a little storyline that went through it. So I made up this whole idea and did it, and just as the show was about to be mounted, the man that had commissioned it sold his entire interest to MGM, and my contract went along with it. MGM didn't have a venue for it, because they're doing FX.
This is a nice show business stroy: very kindly they called me and said, "We would like to return the rights to you". When they did that, I released the album that we had done, because I just wanted the world to hear the songs. Nancy Dussault is guesting with the Gay Men's Chorus and will perform "Where in the World Is My Prince?" This will be the first live performance of the song, recorded for the concept album by Faith Prince.
Q: How did you feel about the film version of Mame?
JH: I hated it more than any performance of mine that I've ever seen. I'd like to burn all those films.
Q: By films, you're referring to Hello Dolly as well?
JH: I don't hate Hello Dolly; it's just not the Hello Dolly that I opened in 1964. It's about a young girl (the film) ... who for some reason (he rolls his eyes) ... is a matchmaker.
Q: Do you envision yourself composing another big musical?
JH: Oh, I certainly do. I feel great. I've got all the energy in the world. It's just a question of finding material that you want to live with for the rest of your life. I've been blessed with The Matchmaker, Auntie Mame and the original La Cage Aux Folles, the play. The three of those pieces of material are such a foundation that it was hard not to write a good show. Finding that is not as easy as it sounds. I would do another one if I found at least a character that I fell in love with.

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