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Jerry Herman

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Jerry Herman

Biography

Jerry Herman (10 July 1931, New York City, New York - 26 December 2019, Miami, Florida) was an American composer and lyricist, known for his work in Broadway musical theater.

Raised in Jersey City, New Jersey, 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. 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.

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 has one of the nation's most avant garde theater departments. There Herman produced, wrote and directed a college musical called Sketchbook that ran, on demand, 20 performances. I

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. 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 that had transferred. As well as supplying the music, Herman wrote the book and directed the one-hour revue, called Nightcap. The show opened in May 1958 and ran for two years.

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 to compose 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 in 1961.

In 1964, producer David Merrick united Herman with musical actress Carol Channing and librettist Michael Stewart for a project that was to become one of his more 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.

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.

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 and the rousing sing-a-long The Best of Times.

Many of Herman's show tunes have become pop standards. Herman was the first (of only two) composers/lyricists to have three musicals run more than 1500 consecutive performances on Broadway (the other being Stephen Schwartz): Hello, Dolly! (2,844), Mame (1,508), and La Cage aux Folles (1,761). 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.


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