A new score by composer-lyricist Jerry Herman will be heard June 11, when Miss Spectacular appears in "concept album" form in record stores, proving to fans of Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage aux Folles that Herman still has a heart full of music.
Herman, 69, penned the score in the 1990s to a libretto by Robert Freedman for a planned Las Vegas spectacle that has now fallen through. The score, however, was recorded by a full orchestra conducted by Don Pippin using special guest performers. Herman said he was thrilled to have DRG Records producer High Fordin, an old pal, pick the disc up for wider distribution.
Herman and Debbie Gravitte will appear at the Times Square Virgin Megastore 6 PM June 14 to perform songs from the score.
The songs trace the journey of a Kansas girl named Sarah Jane, whose elaborate fantasies take her to Vegas, where she competes in showgirl pageant (much to the chagrin of her boyfriend).
The story allows Herman to write the sort of songs he's famous for: The live-your-life song ("I Wanna Live Each Night," sung by Christine Baranski), the wistful, romantic ballad ("No Other Music," sung by Karen Morrow), the dull-girl-wants-out up tempo ("Miss What's Her Name," sung by Debbie Gravitte), the old-fashioned ode-to-a-girl song ("Sarah Jane," sung by a chorus), the hopeful and comic song ("Where in the World is My Prince?," sung by Faith Prince), among others. There are 13 tracks on the disc. In addition to a chorus, the disc includes vocals by Michael Feinstein, Steve Lawrence and Davis Gaines.
"In order to just hear the songs and present the songs to the public, we did this recording," Herman explained. "It's a huge orchestra — not a Broadway orchestra, but almost a symphonic orchestra. I got all these wonderful [performers]: I just felt that each one of them was right for a particular song and I wanted to not sound like a cast album."
The disc was recorded in 1999 in Burbank, CA. The CD is produced by Herman, Pippin and orchestrator-arranger Larry Blank.
Among the 13 tracks are an overture and exit music, "Miss What's-Her Name," "Las Vegas," "Ziegfeld Girl," "Where in the World Is My Prince?," "No Other Music," "I Wanna Live Each Night," "Miss Spectacular," "My Great Dream," "Sarah Jane," "Ziegfeld Girl (Reprise)" and "Finale."
The famed Pippin handled musical direction, vocal arrangements and conducted.
Miss Spectacular, commissioned in the 1990s by Las Vegas hotelier-showman Steve Wynn as a Glitter Gulch extravaganza, was sidelined when Wynn's Mirage properties were bought by MGM Grand, Herman told Playbill On Line.
Composer-lyricist Herman said the June 11 release of a concept album of the show's songs was a way to remind his fans that he's still writing.
"I own the property," Herman said, "and I have this wonderful album and I want the world to hear my new stuff because it's been too long."
He does acknowledge that the disc is sure to draw producer bees to the new honey created by the songwriter who gave us Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage aux Folles.
"I think that'll happen without any question," Herman said. "In fact, I've gotten my first interest already from a producer who heard it and said, 'We've gotta talk.' I don't know where they are thinking of doing it, but I don't think it's really a Broadway show. I think it should be done as it was intended to be, as a spectacular — maybe it can be [a Broadway show], I don't know."
A book for the show was written by Robert Freedman (TV's "Cinderella" starring Brandy), but he is no longer attached to the project, Herman said. A producer would have to bring a new librettist onto the show. The brassy, Hermanesque show tunes on the 2002 Miss Spectacular concept album (recorded in Los Angeles in 1999) trace a plot about a girl from Kansas named Sarah Jane Hotchkiss, who travels to Nevada to compete in a casino show-girl pageant called Miss Spectacular. Her boyfriend, who is troubled by her constant day dreams, follows along.
"She's the simplest girl in the world, and she's had this condition all her life, and when she hears clanging — whether it's an alarm clock or money coming out of a slot machine — she goes off into a fantasy, and the fantasies are what she would like her life to be," Herman explains. "It's a very funny idea in Las Vegas because all you have to do is walk through one of those hotels and you're sure to have a daydream and a half."
If the project goes forward with new collaborators, its songs and story elements would go through some adjustments. There is a precedent for a pop concept album becoming a Broadway show: Cy Coleman's The Life had a long gestation period before he released a concept album with a range of entertainers performing his score. The show was later produced on Broadway.
Can he imagine it on Broadway?
"To be very honest with you, that's not my reason for releasing it," Herman said. "I just wanted the world to know that I was still here and functioning. I just wanted them to hear my new work. If it just stays as a disc, it's OK with me. I like it so much, it makes me happy to listen to it. I just wanna go one step at a time, and the first step is just to get it out there and have people hear it. Then, if something happens, I'm all for it."
Herman's shows include Milk and Honey, Dear World, Mack and Mabel, The Grand Tour and songs for the TV musical, "Mrs. Santa Claus," plus additional songs for Broadway's A Day in Hollywood.
— By Kenneth Jones