Every Broadway Diva Owes a Debt to Composer Jerry Herman

Also: A breast enhancement for the new Princess Diana musical.

Pictured above: Carol Channing and Jerry Herman.

Jerry Herman was the composer of the lovely, rousing, and optimistic scores for shows like Mame and Hello, Dolly!. If there was any doubt that the memorial concert for Herman last Monday was going to be an old-school event, the pre-show announcement squelched all that by welcoming "ladies and gentlemen and those who haven’t made up their mind.”

Paul Morigi/WireImage

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 05: Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman walks the red carpet at the 33rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors at the Kennedy Center Hall of States on December 5, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)

Jerry Herman at the 33rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors.

At the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre tribute, Herman, who passed away in December, was remembered as a gung-ho talent, with a loving husband (Terry Marler) and an openness about his HIV status, which led him to the cover of Poz in 1997.

Virtually every Broadway diva and divo owes him a debt, so the procession of Broadway stars doing his best-known numbers was star-studded and featured highlights like Leslie Uggams’ stunning “I Am What I Am” (from La Cage aux Folles), Sutton Foster brilliantly ripping into the denial anthem “I Don’t Want To Know” (from Dear World), Jason Graae’s zippy and funny “You, I Like” (from The Grand Tour), Michael Feinstein’s bittersweet “I Won’t Send Roses” (from Mack and Mabel), and Ron Raines and a male chorus lilting through “Mame” and making us realize all over again what a witty and uplifting number that is, back when there was hope that the South could revive again, and might even become friends with the North. Jerry Herman gave us hope.


Princess Diana Sings in a New Broadway Musical


Diana, Princess of Wales, wears an outfit in the colors of Canada during a state visit to Edmonton, Alberta, with her husband.

Hello, Diana? Well, not quite, but Diana—a new musical about Princess Di—is about to start previews on Broadway, so Town & Country magazine had a “Steps to Broadway” panel discussion at Nordstrom, where editor Stellene Volandes quizzed stars Roe Hartrampf (Prince Charles) and Erin Davie (Camilla Parker Bowles), along with costume designer William Ivey Long, about the project.

Before the panel, I had asked Long if he recreated Diana’s famous outfits for the show, and he replied, “Our eyes are different. It’s America vs. Britain, and it’s also 30 years later. We look differently at shoulder pads and other things that were considered glamorous.” On the panel, he elaborated, saying, “When she was very young, Diana started out wearing Laura Ashley—a body-denying look. One size fits all, with a belt. Later, she starts using her clothing choices as weapons. At the end of Act One, the chrysalis turns into a butterfly, with the song ‘Pretty, Pretty Girl.' Diana always looked flawless—and can we talk about that skin?”

Behind her surface appeal, all three insisted, the show is respectful of Diana’s legacy and, in fact, of all the people involved. “There are no villains in the piece,” said William Ivey Long. “With hindsight, we’re telling the story of one man and the three women in his life [Diana, played by Jeanna de Waal; Camilla; and Queen Elizabeth, played by Judy Kaye]. They’re complicated and shifting and changing and the times are changing. We are giving a 2020 valentine to the memory of Princess Diana. Rest assured there is no hatchet job done. By the end, you realize her triumph—how she has changed not just the monarchy, but how we feel about commitment to causes.”

The Lady’s demise isn’t depicted—the time frame of the show ends before that—though it’s alluded to. As for “the other woman,” Camilla, Erin Davie admitted that she was well-equipped to play her, except for one thing. ”I needed larger boobs,” she said with a grin. “Camilla has a sensuality about her. Part of that is she has an ample bosom, and I was not gifted with such a thing.” Well, as of the first preview on March 2, now she is!


Spouse Swapping in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

Monique Carboni

From left: Jennifer Damiano, Joél Pérez, Ana Nogueira, and Michael Zegen.

Spoilers! In 1969, Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker’s film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice was considered racy and extremely “with it” in its depiction of two married couples aiming for sexual liberation. But in the age of Tinder and Grindr and all that jazz, it’s about as shocking as a photoshopped profile picture, so the creators of the off-Broadway musical version (including book writer Jonathan Marc Sherman and director Scott Elliott) have wisely rethought the piece as an intimate chamber musical, where the actors move the furniture around, invite audience members into certain scenes, and answer questions posed by an omniscient narrator who hovers behind the action, alongside the musical combo.

In the show, a “midlife crisis”-laden 35-year-old documentarian named Bob (Joél Pérez) and his wife, Carol (Jennifer Damiano), attend sessions at a Big Sur institute where they engage in primal screaming, tai chi, and group therapy (that’s one scene where the audience comes in), while learning to ignore what they’re thinking in favor of something apparently more important—how they’re feeling. By time they get back home, Bob and Carol are comfortable enough with each other that Bob can admit he had an extra-marital affair on a trip to San Francisco. (Well, actually, just “intercourse”; there was no love involved.) And the real shocker is that the newly liberated Carol is delighted that he was honest enough to tell her about it! It bonds them!

They try to enlighten their friends, Ted (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Michael Zegen) and Alice (Ana Nogueira), about this new way of trusting, but the whiny Alice is adamantly pro-monogamy. Going to personal therapy, however, makes her realize a few things that ultimately help Alice rethink her whole Debbie Downer approach.

When she learns that Ted had his own affair (well, intercourse), she decides to up things a notch by ripping her clothes off and jumpstarting an orgy with Bob, Carol and Ted, just to take this situation to the max. This time, all parties will be present, so there are no secrets, though some real feeling will be involved, since all four partners happen to care for each other as friends. What could go wrong? Well, this being a satire of the pseudo-hip mores of the time, the resulting lesson seems to be that when it comes to marriage, thinking shouldn’t get shorted in favor of feeling after all.

Adorning the story is the lilting music of Duncan Sheik (who wrote the lyrics with Amanda Green). Sheik adopts a Burt Bacharach-ish tone for some samba-influenced sounds of the ‘60s, which makes extra sense since Bacharach and Hal David’s “What The World Needs Now Is Love” is instrumental to the movie version. The musical? I have to admit that at first, I was put off by it, feeling (and thinking) that it came off a little dullish and lacking in star power and that some of the numbers don’t move things forward. But it won me over with its gentle charms, original staging, and increasing humor, all ably guided by Suzanne Vega as the sardonic, all knowing interrogator and interloper.

One day, this could be an interesting companion piece to Slave Play, the much more incendiary show about sex therapy (that one focusing on interracial couples exploring the effects of racial stereotypes). Here, the couples end up in a rather conventional pose, though you notice that Carol and Alice had suggestively cheek-kissed each other a few times along the way and probably would have hit it off together in the sack. Maybe next time we can have just Carol & Alice?


We're Becoming Droege Addicts Again With Happy Birthday, Doug

To me, Drew Droege’s new play, Happy Birthday, Doug (at New York’s Soho Playhouse) is like a documentary. As someone who’s tossed a few dozen birthday galas for himself, I could easily relate to the parade of inebriated guests seizing the guest of honor’s attention with bitchery, fuckery, left-handed compliments, tedium, and hidden agendas.

Droege (AJ and the Queen, Cocktails & Classics) plays all the parts in this show, a followup to his hilarious kvetchathon Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, which was about the perils of not fitting into gay conformity and not wanting to anyway. With rapid-fire mood changes, Droege dexterously plays all the roles, from the fake-sober Jason, who crashed so he could spew about how busy he’s been since leaving acting behind; Brian, a millennial waiter/DJ who’s so PC that he won’t play music by artists of color because that would be cultural appropriation; Harrison and Jackson, two mirror-image husbands, who veer in unison between hollow giddiness and sullen hurt; and Christopher, an older queen who loves dishing golden-age Hollywood names, pausing to express gratitude that he and his husband survived the epidemic.

The party—held behind a swiveling bookcase in a Silverlake wine bar—climaxes with a famous literary ghost urging his fellow gay author Doug to live for the moment, followed by Doug himself doing an Elaine Stritch and drunkenly telling off everyone there. As produced by Michael Urie and directed by Tom DeTrinis, this is the gay party from hell, and the result is quite heavenly.

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