Showtime: A Memoir

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The creator of three of the longest-running musicals in Broadway history, Jerry Herman is a theatrical institution. His rise from anonymity as a youth in Jersey City to become one of the most successful composer-lyricists ever is candidly recounted here in his own words. When Herman was seventeen, his mother set up, via "the mother Mafia," a meeting with the legendary composer of Guys and Dolls, Frank Loesser, who happened to be the brother of a friend of a friend of her hairdresser. Instead of the agreed-upon ...
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Overview

The creator of three of the longest-running musicals in Broadway history, Jerry Herman is a theatrical institution. His rise from anonymity as a youth in Jersey City to become one of the most successful composer-lyricists ever is candidly recounted here in his own words. When Herman was seventeen, his mother set up, via "the mother Mafia," a meeting with the legendary composer of Guys and Dolls, Frank Loesser, who happened to be the brother of a friend of a friend of her hairdresser. Instead of the agreed-upon ten minutes, Loesser spent an entire afternoon with young Herman, encouraging him to take a shot at songwriting: "It's a tough life, but I see talent here," he said. Jerry Herman's first creation was a downtown cabaret show that soon had crowds of tuxedo-and-mink-wearing sophisticates lined up outside. (Mistaking them for patrons of the restaurant next-door, he politely asked them to move.) From there he was engaged to work on the musical that would become Milk and Honey, earning him a Tony nomination alongside Noel Coward and Richard Rodgers. Smash hits like Hello Dolly!, Mack and Mabel, La Cage aux Folles, and Mame were to follow. Herman's memoir goes beyond the creation of his legendary hits, including hitherto unrevealed, behind-the-scenes encounters with such luminaries as Angela Lansbury, Carol Channing, Barbra Streisand, Ethel Merman, Judy Garland, and the notoriously volatile Broadway producer David Merrick, whose office was an intimidating bright red, top to bottom, matching his choleric temperament. Wonderfully recreating the golden age of the Broadway musical, Jerry Herman's revealing memoir is at once frank and uplifting, a characteristic of his songs as well as a personal quality that has sustained him through a long career marked by its share of tragedy as well as triumph.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In the introduction to his autobiography, Herman explains: "This book is really about my romance with the showtune." And when the composer of such musical comedy blockbusters as Hello Dolly and Mame sticks to his stated topic, the reading is lively, fun and full of backstage dish. Herman's theatrical knowledge and glimpses (he offers some astute takes on the changing world of Broadway) behind the scenes will no doubt fascinate musical comedy buffs-Judy Garland was the top contender to replace Angela Lansbury in Mame but was vetoed because of her unreliability stemming from drinking and drug problems. But what starts out as an effervescent, golly-gee attitude soon becomes cloying, and the gossip ultimately seems like name-dropping intended to impress: "Carol Channing was my best pal"; "Annie [Ann Miller] is a good sport and we became quite friendly. We always catch up when we run into each other at opening nights." Clichs overtake the occasional insights, and Herman's often simplistic solutions to setbacks will strain readers' patience ("In a case like that, you just shrug your shoulders and say: `That was not meant to be.' And you walk away"). While there's no denying Herman's impressive contributions to the musical theater, some readers may feel, after wading through a surfeit of self-congratulatory prose, that this composer/lyricist's professed romance is, at least in part, with himself. Illustrations. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Bright and bubbly as the overture to a 1950s Broadway musical, this autobiography of lyricist-composer Herman is entertaining but lightweight. Best known for the songs and music from Hello, Dolly; Mame; and La Cage aux Folles, among others, Herman details his lifelong love of music and musical theater. He talks about the leading ladies in his shows and their various styles of performing his music, as well as the different artistic conceptions of the directors, producers, designers, et al. The most fascinating sections are about how the individual elements can come together to make an artistically and financially successful musical production. Although he does reflect on his friendships and family relationships, this amounts to merely a surface treatment of his life. For large popular biography and theater collections.-J. Sara Paulk, Coastal Plain Regional Lib., Tifton, Ga.
Kirkus Reviews
Notwithstanding frank discussion of his homosexuality and HIV- positive status, the composer-lyricist of Hello, Dolly!, Mame, and La Cage aux Folles delivers a memoir as old-fashioned as his shows: exuberant, stagestruck, over-gushy at times, and unabashedly self- infatuated.

The opening chapters are best, as 17-year-old Jerry, untrained but gifted, encouraged by his doting mother (who died before he made it to Broadway) and family acquaintance Frank Loesser, heads out from Jersey City to devote his life to showtunes: theater studies at the University of Miami; playing piano at supper clubs (listening hard to Mabel Mercer); scoring with little revues—and with his Broadway debut, Milk and Honey, featuring a show-stopper for Molly Picon ("What a moment!"). Then Herman wrote four songs in three days on spec for "monster" David Merrick—who made him rich and famous from Dolly! but scarred him forever with sadistic mind-games on the road. (Another Dolly! scar: a plagiarism lawsuit that Herman settled so as not to kill the movie deal.) Mame—except for the pain of Lucille Ball's movie-version singing—and La Cage were Herman's greatest collaborative joys. In between came disappointments (Dear World and Mack and Mabel—which became a London hit 20 years later), bitterness about being dismissed by the Sondheim-admiring theater clique, and years of depression. And along the way there's a late-blooming love life (including a long relationship ended by AIDS), houses to decorate, and loyal pals like Carol Channing and Angela Lansbury.

With generous excerpts from song lyrics, mini-tributes to a slew of stars, and a heap of that-number-brought-down-the-house anecdotes: a glossily upbeat rendition of "I Am What I Am," chiefly but not exclusively for fans.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781556115028
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 11/28/1996
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.51 (h) x 1.12 (d)

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