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Preserving Jerry Herman’s music for a younger generation

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Jerry Herman is considered to be one of the top musical theater composers, thanks to the popularity of his shows “Hello, Dolly!,” “Mame” and “La Cage aux Folles.”
(Photo courtesy of Jerry Herman)

Jerry Herman has long resided atop the pantheon of musical theater composers, thanks to his three most popular shows: “Hello, Dolly!,” “Mame” and “La Cage aux Folles.”

Herman’s output warranted the creation of compilation shows like “Jerry’s Girls” (1985) and “An Evening with Jerry Herman” (1998).

The latest of these, “Jerry Herman: The Broadway Legacy Concert,” will be performed in Irvine on Jan. 12 for one performance, just ahead of the arrival of the Betty Buckley-led national tour production of “Hello, Dolly!” in Costa Mesa on Jan. 22.

Unlike earlier Herman revue shows, this one was co-created by the composer himself — not just to help preserve his legacy but to see it perpetuated by new, up-and-coming theater composers.

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The show was the brainchild of Herman; the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers; Michael A. Kerker, director of musical theatre for ASCAP since 1990; and Scott Coulter.

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Scott Coulter, the legacy concert’s co-creator, also functions as its director and one of the show’s performers.
(Photo courtesy of Irvine Barclay Theatre)

Coulter’s New York City-based company, Spot-On Entertainment, produces shows for theaters and symphony orchestras. Kerker reached out to Coulter about Herman’s desire to see his legacy continue with young musical theater fans who might not be aware of his work.

Coulter said that when approached by Kerker and ASCAP, he had little interest in creating a nationwide series of shows or conducting master classes in musical theater, but he pitched an alternative: a single show that could be performed by symphony orchestras and booked into various venues, one production at a time.

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Herman, Coulter said, “loved the idea” when Kerker took it back to him. Cities and towns with either a symphony orchestra or a university with a musical theater program became the target market. The master class component was added back in, and the show’s premiere was performed by Signature Symphony at TCC in Tulsa on Oct. 23, 2015.

It has since been presented by numerous symphonies, including Naples Philharmonic, Phoenix Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic and Cleveland Pops.

Adding to the show’s flexibility, a smaller, scaled-down, cabaret-style version has been created using solo piano, with musical director John Boswell on piano as solo accompanist.

This is the version that’s being seen in Irvine.

Coulter said the creation of a non-symphony version has allowed the show to “expand beyond its original mission” of having just four or five performances per year.

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Jason Graae is taking time out from his role as The Wizard in “Wicked” at the Hollywood Pantages to perform in the Jerry Herman legacy concert when it plays in Irvine on Jan. 12.
(Photo by Justin Barnes)

Since its inception, the show has been performed by the quintet of Klea Blackhurst, Scott Coulter, Jason Graae, Debbie Gravitte and Ron Raines, with Coulter pulling double duty as director.

The show includes some 20 songs from Herman’s big three, as well as the shows “Milk and Honey,” “Dear World,” “The Grand Tour” and “Mack and Mabel.”

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Performer Graae, creator of the one-man show “Perfect Hermany,” dubs Herman “one of the most supportive, most generous composers” in the world of musical theater.

When Herman wanted Graae to take the lead role for the West Coast premiere of “The Grand Tour” at the Colony Theatre, he called him personally to tell him so. Graae said Herman attended rehearsals, offering input and helping shape the production.

The day before the concert, Coulter and Boswell will conduct a master class with students from the UCI Drama Department’s musical theater program. Of the participating students who will prepare and present a song from a Jerry Herman musical, two will be chosen to perform at the concert — most likely, Coulter said, a duet of an existing song in the show’s playlist.

“Younger people know ‘Hamilton’ and ‘Book of Mormon’,” Coulter said, “but they don’t know ‘Hello, Dolly!’ and ‘Mame’. Sharing this music with a younger generation and seeing them blossom in the presentation of this master of show tunes been extraordinary.”

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David Hyde Pierce, left, and Bette Midler during a 2017 performance of "Hello, Dolly!" in New York.
(Photo by Julieta Cervantes / AP)

Graae said audiences can expect some pleasing, little-known Herman tunes mixed in with the more famous songs, characterizing the show as uplifting: ”It’s Broadway razzle-dazzle of the highest order.”

Eric Marchese is a contributor to Times Community News.

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IF YOU GO

What: Jerry Herman: The Broadway Legacy Concert

Where: Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine

When: 8 p.m. Jan. 12

Cost: $40 to $100

Information: 949-854-4646, thebarclay.org


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