An Evening With Jerry Herman

The Booth Theatre, NY - July 1998

Reviewed by John Kenrick

Let me come right out with it – I am a dedicated Jerry Herman fan. I never met a Herman score I didn't love, and his songs have given me countless hours of pleasure. So it is no surprise that An Evening With Jerry Herman was my idea of a little bit of heaven. The intimate Booth theatre is one of my favorites, and it was the perfect setting for this simple but classy excuse for one of Broadway's living legends to share music and memories with his public.

The wildly enthusiastic audience I attended with was treated to some of the best songs in the Herman canon, and the performance included familiar as well as lesser known gems. Mr. Herman also offered several well-chosen anecdotes about his career, but the focus was on his wonderful music. He was joined by two pros who have performed his songs on Broadway for over twenty years: Lee Roy Reams and Florence Lacey. The seemingly spontaneous moments of humor and affection shared by these three friends added to the warm glow on stage, and that glow fed into some memorable performances.

Highlights? There were many. Ms. Lacey once again affirmed her ownership of "Ribbons Down My Back," which she has sung in two Broadway revivals of Hello Dolly, but she made her finest mark with "If He Walked Into My Life" from Mame.  She didn't just sing the daylights out of it – she let the song take her to another plane, and she graciously brought the rest of us right along with her. Mr. Reams delighted the crowd with "Penny In My Pocket," (cut from Dolly), raised a roar with his deliciously campy take on "La Cage Aux Folles" (featuring hilarious impersonations of Mae West, Talullah Bankhead, and Marlene Dietrich), and then stopped everything with a socko "I Am What I Am." After this, his upcoming appearance as Albin in Papermill Playhouse's revival of La Cage Aux Folles will be one of the must-see events of next season.

When word spread through the theatrical community several years ago that Mr. Herman had AIDS, I was heartbroken at the thought that his joyous talent might be silenced. Have no fear! Looking radiantly healthy and bursting with energy, he provides deft piano accompaniment for the entire two-act show (with a fine assist by bassist Jered Egan), and sings several of his own numbers with enthusiasm and sensitivity. His rendition of "I'll Be Here Tomorrow" was a moving moment, especially in light of the personal and professional challenges he has faced and overcome. On a lighter note, his "Bosom Buddies" duet with Mr. Reams ("friends, sisters and pals") confirmed that Jerry still loves to make the world laugh. He clearly has a ball performing his songs, and the fun was shared on both sides of the proscenium.

An Evening With Jerry Herman had only a limited run on Broadway, but it was as a rare treat for musical buffs.  After all, did Broadway ever have "an evening with" Rodgers, Berlin, Porter or even Sondheim? Just when laughter was no longer lovely and we needed a little Christmas, Herman, Lacey and Reams came along to charm the husk right off of the corn and make the lights twinkle. I won't send roses, but I will say "Shalom" and "Hello Jerry . . . (aw heck, I can't resist!) . . . it was nice to have you back where you belong!"

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