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A CurtainUp Review

An Evening with Jerry Herman
By Les Gutman

His life work includes seven-plus musicals. Three of them (Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage aux folles) were mega-hits. He's one of a rare breed of composer/lyricists who have had three shows running simultaneously on Broadway. He's the only one to have had three shows run for over 1500 performances. He has won not only Tony's, but also Grammys. A revue of his work (Jerry's Girls) has already been presented on Broadway. His life story is told, in exceptional detail, in his memoir (linked below). He has stared death in the face, and the grim reaper blinked. He's back on Broadway, giving a campy, nostalgic, romantic refresher course. And his audience is going to eat it up.

Sitting at the piano with two (undoubtedly) personally-chosen vocalists (Lee Roy Reams, who also directs, and Florence Lacey) along for the ride, Jerry Herman puctuates the real story of his life -- the songs -- with now-familiar anecdotes. This Evening includes selections not only from his long-running shows but also from those that never found an audience. Herman's pride and joy are evident as he sings, plays the piano and, most of all, listens to his friends singing his songs. He tells gossipy, amusing stories. Even though the material is both over-scripted and a bit shop-worn by now, no one seems to care: these are just the signposts on this trip down a melodic memory lane that has the audience humming and even singing and clapping along.

Lacey's fine voice, personality and expressiveness serve her, and Herman, well. For this show, she gets the lion's share of the sweeter, more romantic numbers. (Squeezing next to Herman on the piano bench, as an example, she joins him for a lovely "Song on the Sand.") She also gets ample opportunity to belt in the full, poignant, dramatic range of her voice (most notably in a thrilling "If He Walked Into My Life"). She proves herself a worthy addition to the long impressive list of Jerry's girls.

Reams has reserved for himself most of the big, showy numbers, male and female, and almost all of the show's comic highlights. As it happens, he seems far less comfortable on the softer side. His performance commences creakily with an opening duet from Milk and Honey followed by a medley from Hello, Dolly! with which he seems particularly ill-at-ease. This is quickly forgotten when he punches out a series of terrific impersonations of the many "Dolly" voices that have graced the stage. Camp then takes center stage as he and Herman become "Bosom Buddies" and remains in command all the way to a wildly successful rendition of the title song from La Cage (with still more impersonations, this time delivered with an enormous red feather boa in tow).

Herman joins his colleagues for the much-loved title songs from Hello, Dolly! and Mame as well as a few others, and reserves a duet for both of them. His reminiscence about Hello, Dolly! includes a funny look back at all of the jingles and theme songs it has spawned (among others, Oscar Mayer's "Hello, Deli" and the LBJ campaign song, "Hello, Lyndon," sung here in full Texas twang by Florence Lacey). He also sings alone, including the (as it turns out) autobiographical "I'll Be Here Tomorrow" from The Grand Tour, the show's only oblique reference to the cause of this celebration: Herman's triumphant rebound from not only AIDS but also heart disease.
In the end, it is a party with friends, onstage and in the audience. Taking its cue from his song, "It's Today," this party doesn't need much more justification than that.

Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman 
Directed by Lee Roy Reams 
starring Lee Roy Reams, Florence Lacey and Jerry Herman with Jered Egan 
Scenic Design: Kenneth Foy 
Lighting Design: Ken Billington 
Sound Design: Peter Fitzgerald 
Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th Street (Broadway/8th AV) (212) 239 - 6200 
opened July 28 for a limited engagement 
Reviewed by Les Gutman July 29, 1998
Closing 8/23 (over a month before a schedule 9/30 closing, after 13 previews and 28 regular performances

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