The Playbill Vault Celebrates Tony Award Winner Jerry Herman

News   The Playbill Vault Celebrates Tony Award Winner Jerry Herman
Tony Award-winning composer and lyricist Jerry Herman celebrates his birthday July 10. To mark the occasion, the Playbill Vault looks back on his contributions to musical theatre.

Herman's first musical to play on Broadway was 1961's Milk and Honey, but it was the 1964 musical Hello, Dolly! that brought him his first smash hit.

Herman and book writer Michael Stewart collaborated on a musical based on Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker, with Ethel Merman in mind to play the title character. She passed on the role, though she would later headline the production's closing cast (see her 1970 Playbill covers here). The part, of course, went to Carol Channing, in what would become a career-defining performance.

The musical was a critical and commercial hit. It won a record-setting 10 Tony Awards, a feat unmatched for decades until The Producers won 12 awards in 2001. Carol Channing earned the Best Actress Tony over Funny Girl's Barbra Streisand, who would later play Dolly in the 1969 movie. 

The production went on to play 2,844 performances, making it the longest-running musical of its time. During its six-year run, stars including Ginger Rogers, Pearl Bailey, Phyllis Diller and Betty Grable stepped into the iconic role.

The beloved musical has enjoyed three Broadway revivals (in 1975, 1978 and 1995), countless regional productions and a film adaptation directed by Gene Kelly.

Click here to read the Playbill from Hello, Dolly's opening night.

Mame, Herman's musicalization of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's Broadway comedy Auntie Mame, opened May 24, 1966, at the Winter Garden Theatre.

New York Times reviewer Stanley Kauffmann deemed it "a splendidly splashy production" and predicted it would run as long its non-musical counterpart. In fact, Mame went on to play twice as long, enjoying a four-year run of 1,508 performances.

For the 1966 Tonys, the production received eight nominations, including Best Musical. For her starring role, Angela Lansbury took home her first Tony, and Bea Arthur earned an award for her featured performance. Eleven-year-old Frankie Michaels won a Tony for his performance as young Patrick Dennis; he still holds the record as the youngest winner in Tony Awards history. 

Read a 1966 Playbill from the original Broadway run of Mame here.

Herman collaborated with Michael Stewart again to write Mack & Mabel, a musical retelling of the ill-fated love affair between silent film director Mack Sennett and his major discovery and star, Mabel Normand.

Starring Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters in the title roles, Mack & Mabel premiered on Broadway Oct. 6, 1974, at the Majestic Theatre. The show received lukewarm reviews; the New York Times' Clive Barnes claimed it had "book trouble so bad that it is practically library trouble," but praised Herman's "catchy" and "lushly attractive" songs.

Though Mack & Mabel did not achieve the same success of Herman's earlier hits and ran for only 66 performances, it received eight Tony nominations, including one for Best Musical and nods for leads Preston and Peters.

Read the opening night Mack & Mabel Playbill here.

With a score by Herman and a book by Harvey Fierstein, La Cage aux Folles opened Aug. 21, 1983, at the Palace Theatre. George Hearn starred in a Tony-winning performance as Albin, and Gene Barry was Tony-nominated for his performance as Georges.

"La Cage aux Folles is the first Broadway musical ever to give center stage to a homosexual love affair," wrote Frank Rich in his New York Times review, "but don't go expecting an earthquake. The show at the Palace is the schmaltziest, most old-fashioned major musical Broadway has seen since Annie, and it's likely to be just as popular with children of all ages."

It went on to win six Tonys including Best Original Score and Best Musical (beating out competitors like Sunday in the Park with George and Baby) and played 1,761 performances over the next four years. 

The musical has since returned to Broadway in a 2004 revival starring Gary Beach and Daniel Davis and a 2010 revival starring Douglas Hodge and Kelsey Grammer.

Read the 1983 opening night Playbill in the Vault.

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