Gerald “Jerry” Herman (born July 10, 1931) is an American composer and lyricist, known for his work in Broadway musical theater. Born on July 10, 1931, in New York City, NY, and raised in Jersey City, NJ, by musically inclined middle-class Jewish parents, Herman learned to play piano at an early age, and the three frequently attended Broadway musicals. His father, Harry, was a gym teacher and in the summer worked in the Catskill Mountains hotels. His mother, Ruth, also worked in the hotels as a singer, pianist, and children’s teacher, and eventually became an English teacher. After marrying, they lived in Jersey City and continued to work in the summers in various camps until they became head counselors and finally ran Stissing Lake Camp in the Berkshire Mountains. Herman spent all of his summers there, from age 6 to 23. It was at camp that he first became involved in theatrical productions, as director of Oklahoma!, Finian’s Rainbow and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
Herman graduated from Jersey City’s Henry Snyder High School. At the age of 17, 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 had one of the nation’s most avant garde theater departments. While an undergraduate student at the University of Miami Herman produced, wrote and directed a college musical called Sketchbook. It was scheduled to run for three performances, but the show created an instant massive patron demand. Herman’s Sketchbook attracted packed houses for an additional 17 performances before it ended. It was the longest running show in the history of University on Miami theater. He was also a member of the Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity.
After graduation from the University of Miami, Herman moved to New York City, where he produced the Off-Broadway revue I Feel Wonderful, which was made up of material he had written at the University. It opened at the Theatre de Lys in Greenwich Village on October 18, 1954, and ran for 48 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. In 1957, while playing piano at a New York City jazz club called the Showplace, he was asked to write a show to replace one, Little Mary Sunshine, that had left the club. As well as supplying the music, Herman wrote the book and directed the one-hour revue, called Nightcap. He asked his friend, Phyllis Newman, to do movement and dance and it featured Charles Nelson Reilly, who later co-starred in Hello, Dolly!). The show opened in May 1958 and ran for two years.
Herman next collected enough original material to put together a revue called “Parade” in 1960. The cast included Charles Nelson Reilly and Dody Goodman. It first opened at the Showplace and, expanded, moved to the Players Theatre in January 1960. During 1960, Herman also met playwright Tad Mosel and the two men collaborated on an Off-Broadway musical adaptation of Mosel’s 1953 television play, Madame Aphrodite. The musical of the same name, which starred Nancy Andrews in the title role, opened at the Orpheum Theatre on December 29, 1961, but closed after only 13 performances. In 1960, Herman made his Broadway debut with the revue From A to Z, which featured contributions from newcomers Woody Allen and Fred Ebb as well. That same year producer Gerard Oestreicher approached him 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 full-fledged Broadway musical, 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 more successful, Hello, Dolly!, a musical adaptation of Thorton Wilder’s hit play, The Matchmaker. 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 a string of Herman standards, most notably the ballad “If He Walked Into My Life”, the holiday favorite “We Need a Little Christmas”, and the title tune. 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.
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. La Cage aux Folles won the Tony Award for Best Musical (1983), is the only musical to win the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical twice (2005 and 2010), and therefore is the only show to win a Best Musical award for every staged Broadway production. He is honored by a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 7090 Hollywood Boulevard. Other honors include the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre, named after him by his alma mater. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1982. In 1996 he provided the music for “Mrs. Santa Claus,” a CBS TV special starring Angela Lansbury. In 2011 Magnormos produced a triptych of his works in Melbourne, Victoria: “Milk and Honey”, “Dear World” and “Hello, Dolly!”. His string of awards and honors includes multiple Tonys, Grammys, Drama Desk Awards, the Kennedy Center Award, the Johnny Mercer Award, the Richard Rodgers Award, the Oscar Hammerstein Award, the Frederick Lowe Award, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Theatre Hall of Fame.
My collection contains the following works by Jerry Herman:
Hello, Dolly! (1964): Hello, Dolly! (Title Song).
Mame (1966): Mame (Title Song).
—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources