Jerry Herman: Biography, Songs & Musicals

Instructor: Elisa Goldman

Elisa has taught K-6 grades and has two master's degree in Instructional Technology and Education.

In this lesson you will learn about the composer and lyricist, Jerry Herman. He may not be as well known by name as some composers, but you are sure to have heard of his music.

Glitz and Glamour

Jerry Herman is a composer and lyricist known for his work on Broadway musicals and film. He was born in New York City in 1931 but was raised in Jersey City, New Jersey. His parents were amateur musicians, and young Jerry could play the piano by ear by the time he was six years old. His parents owned a summer camp and he often staged productions there in his teens. He spent a lot of time going to the Big Apple to see shows and other entertainments. Herman eventually went to the University of Miami, where he studied drama.

Jerry Herman
Jerry Herman

Please Don't Stop the Music

Sharp-witted women and men dressed as women are the focal points of Jerry Herman's most famous musicals. That and feathers -- lots and lots of feathers. Herman wanted to create shows that were optimistic, well-crafted, and stylish. He wanted to make shows for the best of times that the audience wanted. His were not shows that expected the audience to contemplate a complicated message, but to enjoy some light-hearted entertainment.

Works featuring Herman's compositions, including La Cage Aux Folles (1983), Mame (1966), and Hello, Dolly! (1964), have run for over a combined 1500 performances on Broadway. Lesser-known shows with Herman's songs and lyrics are Milk and Honey (1961), Dear World (1969), Mack & Mabel (1974) and The Grand Tour (1979). There have been numerous regional theater and college productions and revues of his works.

The younger generation might recognize the music of Jerry Herman from the movie Wall-E (2008). In the movie, the robot Wall-E finds an old video of the movie version of Hello, Dolly! with clips of the songs 'Put on Your Sunday Clothes' and 'It Only Takes a Moment.' Hello Dolly starred the powerhouse performer, Barbra Streisand. In 1996, an American movie called The Bird Cage starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane was based on La Cage Aux Folles (which was itself based on the French La Cage), but did not include Jerry Herman's music or lyrics.

A movie musical version of Mame was also made in 1974. It starred Lucille Ball as the eccentric, adventure-seeking title character. Yes, the same wacky red head Lucy from the I Love Lucy show in the 1950s.

In 1998, Jerry Herman wrote the first television musical in decades, Mrs. Santa Claus. It starred the renowned Angela Lansbury. Many television shows have included Herman's songs or parodies of his songs. One example has been the use of 'We Need a Little Christmas' on the show Glee.

La Cage Aux Folle Dancers

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