Drug Lets Show Go On for Composer
Composer Jerry Herman, whose Broadway hits number “Hello, Dolly!,” “Mame” and “La Cage aux Folles,” is on a roll. His autobiography recently was published, a revue with 45 of his songs is running in San Francisco and tonight in Cerritos, Carol Channing opens for the umpteenth time in the latest touring version of “Hello Dolly!”
Herman recently composed the score for his first TV musical, “Mrs. Santa Claus,” and wrote his first children’s song, for an upcoming movie about Barney, the purple dinosaur.
What he wants next is a subject to turn into another Broadway musical.
All this is possible because Herman, who was diagnosed as HIV-positive 10 years ago, is taking protease inhibitors twice a day, which has increased his T-cell count and brought back his energy.
A year and a half ago, he says, his doctor suggested he become a guinea pig in an experiment with a new drug. His T-cells, which make up the immune system, were decreasing in number.
“I never became ill, but I was very frightened,” Herman says. “I was willing to take a very serious drug without knowing what effect it would have. It could have killed me. I had nothing to lose. I thought this was my last year.
“At first I got a placebo. I was checked every two weeks. My counts were still going down. If patients weren’t doing well after a certain time and were on the placebo, they would be given the real product.
“I had been feeling tired and disoriented. Three days after they gave me the real thing, I felt different. My appetite came back with a vengeance. I had lost some weight; I started putting that back. The first time I got myself checked, my counts had doubled. The second time they had quadrupled.
“The drug, which is FDA-approved now and made by three companies, worked for me. It worked for a lot of us, not everybody. I wrote about it in the book because I want people to know there is hope. I believe I will live a normal life span now.” Herman’s autobiography, “Showtune,” was published in November by Donald I. Fine.
The songwriter was so happy when he felt better that he threw himself into writing joyous music for “Mrs. Santa Claus.”
“It was one of those charmed projects where everything flowed,” Herman says. “The next thing I did was call Angela Lansbury and say, ‘Do I have an idea for you!’ She said, ‘If you do it, I’ll do it.’ ” Lansbury starred in two Herman musicals on Broadway, “Mame” and “Dear World.” The “Mrs. Santa Claus” soundtrack album has been released by RCA Victor. And CBS has the right to air the show again next Christmas.
Herman, 63, also is delighted with the revue “Tune the Grand Up.” The title is a line from “It’s Today,” the opening song in “Mame.” “They do ‘A Little More Mascara,’ and it made me listen to the song for the first time. I heard this man singing, ‘I can cope again, good God there’s hope again,’ and it really moved me.”
Herman loves gorgeous sets and costumes but, he says, in a revue nothing takes attention away from the song.
Herman feels no hesitancy in saying three of his shows, “Dear World,” “The Grand Tour” and “Mack and Mabel,” failed on Broadway. But he has always believed “Mack and Mabel,” which opened in 1974, deserved to be successful.
“It has a fascinating story of an odd Hollywood love affair set against that wacky world of Keystone Kops and bathing beauties,” Herman says. “And it has my most accessible score, which has my favorite ballad, ‘I Won’t Send Roses.’ ”
With a changed ending, “Mack and Mabel” was done in London in 1995. It won the Evening Standard’s award for best musical, will tour in England and play in Australia. Herman says he’s squeamish about bringing it back to New York.
“It has taken me 21 years to straighten this out, and I don’t want to have critics say ‘What was all that fuss about in London?’ ”
“Hello, Dolly!” is viewed differently now too. Louis Armstrong’s record of the title song was such a hit that many called it a one-song show. “Now it’s perceived as a great score,” Herman says.
He didn’t consider the title song a potential hit. “I wrote it as an 1890s production number. I never thought Louis would come along and do that magic to it.”
* “Hello, Dolly!” starring Carol Channing, opens tonight at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive. 8 p.m. $45-$75. Through Sunday. (800) 300-4345.