Obituaries

Jerry Herman: Master of the upbeat and likeable musical

Actress Florence Lacey and composer and lyricist Jerry Herman (both left) performing in An Evening With Jerry Herman in New York in 1998.
Actress Florence Lacey and composer and lyricist Jerry Herman (both above) performing in An Evening With Jerry Herman in New York in 1998.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON • Jerry Herman, an award-winning composer and lyricist behind upbeat, crowd-pleasing musicals, such as Mame (1966) and Hello, Dolly! (1964), has died in Miami at age 88.

His goddaughter Jane Dorian confirmed his death last Thursday, The New York Times reported.

No cause was given.

"We lost one of the greats; a collaborator and friend for almost 40 years," tweeted actor Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the book for Herman's over-the-top La Cage Aux Folles (1983), the first musical to feature gay lovers.

La Cage and Hello, Dolly! both won the Tony award for Best Musical.

While some called his work schmaltzy, it was undeniably popular.

Each of those two musicals, along with Mame, ran on Broadway for more than 1,500 consecutive performances.

Herman summed up his winning formula by saying he always tried to write a "simple, hummable show tune".

Defying an industry trend towards darker themes, he crafted positive and life-affirming messages, with songs such as The Best Of Times and Tap Your Troubles Away.

In all, he scored a dozen Broadway musicals over half a century.

Hello, Dolly! was his most striking success. The original show, starring Carol Channing, won 10 of the 11 Tonys for which it was nominated.

Bette Midler starred in a 2017 revival produced by Herman. It won the Tony award for Best Revival of a Musical.

In 1964, Louis Armstrong's rendition of the title tune knocked The Beatles' Can't Buy Me Love from the top of the charts.

Herman, who was born in Manhattan, attended his first Broadway musical at age 15 with his parents - a showing of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun, with toe-tapping tunes such as There's No Business Like Show Business.

When he got home, Herman sat down at the piano - having taught himself to play at a summer camp in New York's Catskill region - and was able to sound out parts to six songs he had never heard before, he later told the Times.

"I was truly inspired by Berlin, by his simplicity and by the fact that he was able to write in a vernacular that the entire country could grasp immediately," he said.

Herman is survived by his long-time partner Terry Marler.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2019, with the headline 'Jerry Herman: Master of the upbeat and likeable musical'. Print Edition | Subscribe