An Evening With Jerry Herman
Going in, you expect An Evening With Jerry Herman to be good. After all, it's been playing in one version or another for over a decade. By now it's been rehearsed within an inch of its life, timed down to the nanosecond, and polished to a very high gloss. The real question for the current limited engagement at the Booth Theatre is, can this intimate concert/revue hold its own as an evening of musical theatre against the easy alternatives from Livent, Disney, and the waning charms of the various Andrew Lloyd Webber and Boublil-Schonberg offerings? Happily, the answer is an emphatic yes. An Evening With Jerry Herman seems to be the freshest show on Broadway this summer; like a sip of ice cold champagne, it's liberating, intoxicating, and downright joyous.
Florence Lacey, fine actress that she is, adds layers of meaning to her numbers with a tilt of her head or the casual drop of a bare shoulder. But it is her superb voice that captivates and takes you to unexpected places. The greatest single pleasure of the evening is watching her take 16 of Herman's best songs and, in each case, deliver a unique and memorable performance. "If He Walked Into My Life" will bring tears to your eyes. "I Don't Want to Know" takes your breath away. And her "Time Heals Everything" accomplishes the impossible. You'll forget what it sounded like when Bernadette sang it. Quite simply, this is one lady who knows how to land a song.
Lee Roy Reams, who also directs this production, has reserved most of Herman's comic material for himself. Wisely, he always goes for the subtle comic effect - except when he doesn't, and pulls out all the stops for a gloriously over the top rendition of "La Cage," only to return moments later for a sober anthem like "I Am What I Am." He delivers on the tender moments too. "Mrs. S. J. Jacobowsky" tends to leave couples in the audience holding hands. Add in a turn as a dashing romantic lead - "I Won't Send Roses" - and what appears to be a nice bit of tap in "Tap Your Troubles Away" and you end up with a delightful performance by one of Broadway's most versatile entertainers.
In the first act, which covers material from Milk and Honey and his legendary smash hits Hello, Dolly! and Mame, Jerry Herman - surely the most personable composer/lyricist on Broadway - is content to gently introduce each new song and remain in the background, seated at the grand piano, allowing Lacey to seduce and Reams to overpower you with some of the best material ever written for the musical stage. It's later, in the second act, when Mr. Herman slowly becomes the focus of our attention in a surprising way and for a disturbing reason.
The second act builds on the excitement of the first, with songs from Herman's two great cult flops, Dear World and Mack and Mabel. As you know, the only thing Broadway loves more than a smash hit is a cult flop, and these two musicals fairly define the genre. The air is thick with applause and bravos hurled at the stage. In the middle of all this, Mr. Herman sings a simple and straightforward "Hundreds of Girls," which almost seems out of place. You barely have time to acknowledge the song before you are swept along into the following number. But for the rest of the evening - through excerpts from The Grand Tour and La Cage - you find your attention returning again and again to this solitary figure, this leprechaun of a man seated at the piano. And you can't help but wonder what Broadway would have been without him.
I'm sure that years ago, when Mr. Herman put together the first version of this show as a sophisticated "and-then-I-wrote" cabaret act for Rainbow & Stars, his intentions were simple. Make a little money and have some fun. But that was back in his glory days and a lot has happened since then. The last ten years and Mr. Herman's medical problems have given his lyrics a poignancy and this show a weight and significance it was never designed to carry. The whole thing could easily have collapsed in an embarrassing jumble of slick production values and inappropriate pathos. Instead, An Evening With Jerry Herman triumphs as a fitting tribute to a great man of the theatre and the quality and beauty of his music. And again, you can't help but wonder what Broadway would have been without him.
An Evening With Jerry Herman is a limited engagement through September 27, 1998, at the Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th Street, New York, NY 10036 (between Broadway & 8th Avenue). Running Time: 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
Schedule: Wed 2 PM & Wed - Thu 8 PM $60-$50 / Fri - Sat 8 PM, Sat 2 PM & Sun 3 PM $65- $55
Tickets: NetTiks at http://www.telecharge.com or Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 and at the Booth Theatre Box Office, open Monday - Saturday 10 AM - 8 PM, Sundays Noon - 6 PM (closed if there is no performance). Be sure to check for half price ticket availability at the TKTS booth in Times Square on the day of performance. Standing Room is only available at the Box Office when the performance is sold out.