The man who wrote "I Am What I Am" is dead
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"Hello, Dolly" and "La Cage aux Folles" were his immortal successes: Broadway composer Jerry Herman died at the age of 88. He also wrote the travesty anthem par excellence: "I Am What I Am".
Jerry herman? Hardly anyone rings the bell. But at the latest when you add "Hello, Dolly" and "La Cage aux Folles", most of you know. Gerald "Jerry" Herman, who died in Miami on December 27 at the age of 88, wrote two of the most famous Broadway musicals with these immensely strong titles in 1964 and 1983. With mostly cheerful, quickly popular melodies.
1964 and 1983, these years also stood for two epochs of musical style that Herman simply dubbed. Because he composed almost timeless up-beat show tunes, songs preferably for divas who needed them for their grand appearance – like swinging their hips down the stairs. Be it the Jewish marriage broker Dolly Levi from Yonkers, who can be traced back to a Johann Nestroy and a Thornton Wilder piece. In the end, she sails into the port of marriage with a pretty old-fashioned style and great orchestral fanfare. Or, musically a little bit, Zaza, the ruling travesty queen on the Riviera.
In Blendax America
"La Cage", although it was preceded by the play by Jean Poiret in 1973 and Edouard Molinaro's theatrical version in 1978 (with the two sequels) in 1973, was a risk in the prudish Blendax America of musicals in the eighties. Though Tunten was teeming with them, this was the first piece that brought an openly gay, very conventional, yet mischievous couple to the stage with Albin and Georges, one of whom even has a son.
And when the exhausting and touching tranny Albin later took off the wig and smashed her signature song "I Am What I Am", it was and is not just an ordinary show stopper, but a defiant song of praise for recognition and tolerance, which is today still belongs to the repertoire of Heidi Klum's Drag Queens and has become a travesty anthem par excellence.
He survived his HIV infection
The openly gay Jerry Herman was what he was, even while Aids was terrifyingly decimating the first “La Cage” occupation, very clearly dealing with his HIV infection. He survived – and he liked to have very strong, dominant women around him, for whose over-the-top personality he designed his strongest hits. “Hello, Dolly” was originally intended for the vocal cannon Ethel Merman, but the voice chopper Carol Channing then gave her the premier extravagance; which followed the record of 2,844 performances at the time – and she even sang them there again at a 1995 revival.
Pearl Bailey was the first black dolly in 1967. Betty Grable, Ginger Rogers and Bette Middler shone in the role as well as in the cumbersome film adaptation alongside Louis Amstrong the much too young Barbra Streisand. Gisela May's Dolly quickly gained cult status in the GDR. And even Pixar scrap robot Wall-E enjoyed the indestructible “Hello, Dolly” songs in 2008 in “The Last One Cleans Up the Earth”.
Piano as a toddler
Born into New York as a child of music-loving parents and raised in Jersey City, Herman was already playing the piano as a toddler and early on revealed his love for Broadway melodies. In the classic way, he conquered the summer stages of the Catskills in the holiday camps of his teacher-parents. At the age of 17 the composer Frank Loesser ("Guys and Dolls") was introduced, who encouraged him as a composer. Jerry Herman missed his architectural education and enrolled in the theater department at the University of Miami.
In 1960, like Fred Ebb and Woody Allen, he was already involved in the revue “From A to Z” on Broadway. In 1961 he wrote "Milk and Honey", a musical about the establishment of the State of Israel, which then became more about US tourists in Tel Aviv. Seven other, multi-award-winning Broadway pieces followed, including "Ben Franklin in Paris" in 1964 and the nostalgic "Mack & Mabel" in 1974.
Angela Landsbury was already allowed to play in “Mame” in 1966 Bigger than Life sailing down the next show staircase as your favorite eccentric aunt; the piece also contains Herman's popular Christmas song "We Need a Little Christmas". In 1969, however, his “Die Irre von Chaillot” musical adaptation “Dear World”, created for the same leading lady, turned out to be a flop. So it went up and down, the time in between Jerry Herman sold as a coveted interior decorator in Hollywood circles.
And even if the "Fool's Cage" remained his last hit, Herman was so well known that later there were even two shows around him and his music, which had long been recognized as a continuation of the optimistic Rodgers & Hammerstein tradition: 1985 "Jerry's Girls" and 1998 " An Evening with Jerry Herman ". While Steven Sondheim may have written the more complex, intellectual musicals, Sing-along-Jerry, who supposedly only composed for his mother in spirit, has now decided to descend the eternal show stairs himself.
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