Composer penned timeless songs that remain old friends
Composer Jerry Herman's songs thrive outside his Broadway musicals.
The words and music of Herman, who died Thursday at 88, will captivate generations to come. He certainly got a thrilling foretaste of his legacy when “Wall-E” opened in 2008. In that Disney-Pixar classic, a robot 700 years in the future loves hearing “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” and “It Only Takes a Moment” from “Hello, Dolly!”
You never had to go near a Broadway theater to appreciate the title song of “Hello, Dolly!” Louis Armstrong transformed it into a standard in 1964 and helped Herman win the Grammy for Song of the Year.
“I Am What I Am” from “La Cage aux Folles” has become an enduring gay anthem prized for Herman's lyrics. They include “Your life is a sham/Till you can shout out/I am what I am.” George Hearn introduced the song on Broadway, then Gloria Gaynor and Shirley Bassey put their stamps on it. The Bassey version is particularly rousing.
Herman knew how to write a torch song. Eydie Gormé won a Grammy for her soaring take on “If He Walked into My Life” from “Mame.”
The show “Mack & Mabel” was a flop, yet “Time Heals Everything” is a glorious standard. Introduced by Bernadette Peters, the number is beloved by performers. Check the Barbara Cook version.
Jerry Herman stands in the tradition of Irving Berlin. Both composers are direct, optimistic and deceptively simple. Berlin gave us “Blue Skies,” and Herman left us “The Best of Times” and “Before the Parade Passes By.”
Hollywood never did right by Herman. Barbra Streisand is too young for the gargantuan “Hello, Dolly!” although she delivers the songs beautifully. Lucille Ball was miscast in “Mame.” Yet the songs live beyond the movies, too.
When Herman received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2010, Carol Channing,
Angela Lansbury and Chita Rivera serenaded him with “The Best of Times.”
Herman's songs are like old friends, and they remind us, “Make this moment last/ Because the best of times is now.”
Carole Channing, left, and television personality Barbara Walters look over a program with Herman at a Broadway Theater on Sept. 1, 1981.
Award-winning composer Jerry Herman died on Thursday at age 88. His songs continue to thrive outside of Broadway.