Books by Marilyn Stasio

SHOWTUNE by Jerry Herman
Released: Nov. 13, 1996

Notwithstanding frank discussion of his homosexuality and HIV- positive status, the composer-lyricist of Hello, Dolly!, Mame, and La Cage aux Folles delivers a memoir as old-fashioned as his shows: exuberant, stagestruck, over-gushy at times, and unabashedly self- infatuated. The opening chapters are best, as 17-year-old Jerry, untrained but gifted, encouraged by his doting mother (who died before he made it to Broadway) and family acquaintance Frank Loesser, heads out from Jersey City to devote his life to showtunes: theater studies at the University of Miami; playing piano at supper clubs (listening hard to Mabel Mercer); scoring with little revues—and with his Broadway debut, Milk and Honey, featuring a show-stopper for Molly Picon (``What a moment!''). Then Herman wrote four songs in three days on spec for ``monster'' David Merrick—who made him rich and famous from Dolly! but scarred him forever with sadistic mind-games on the road. (Another Dolly! scar: a plagiarism lawsuit that Herman settled so as not to kill the movie deal.) Mame—except for the pain of Lucille Ball's movie-version singing—and La Cage were Herman's greatest collaborative joys. In between came disappointments (Dear World and Mack and Mabel—which became a London hit 20 years later), bitterness about being dismissed by the Sondheim-admiring theater clique, and years of depression. And along the way there's a late-blooming love life (including a long relationship ended by AIDS), houses to decorate, and loyal pals like Carol Channing and Angela Lansbury. With generous excerpts from song lyrics, mini-tributes to a slew of stars, and a heap of that-number-brought-down-the-house anecdotes: a glossily upbeat rendition of ``I Am What I Am,'' chiefly but not exclusively for fans. (photos) Read full book review >