Various Artists

The Words and Music of Jerry Herman: Tap Your Troubles Away

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Musical theater songwriter Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly!, Mame, La Cage aux Folles) is celebrated in this two-hour concert benefiting the Actors' Fund of America, held in Los Angeles. Despite his Broadway pedigree, Herman has a pronounced affinity for the movies expressed in his work on such shows as Mack & Mabel (a musical biography of silent film director Mack Sennett and silent film actress Mabel Normand) and A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine. That affinity is accentuated in the performances by a bevy of performers who straddle the worlds of musical theater, film, television, and nightclubs. As such, the performances, with each singer getting one song, often lack the particularity and subtlety of theater renditions. Jo Anne Worley (best known for TV's Laugh-In) engages the audience in a medley of "Just Leave Everything to Me" and "I Want to Make the World Laugh," and Jason Graae brings so much comic stage business to "You I Like" that he nearly forgets to sing the actual song. It isn't only the humorous material that gets over-the-top performances, however. In ballad after ballad, the singers come off hammy and histrionic as they swing for the fences in songs like "Kiss Her Now," "Loving You," and "Song on the Sand." All of these turn up in the first act, which has more of Herman's obscure songs than the second. And, to be sure, subtlety is not always a Herman hallmark. One can hardly sing the anthemic "I Am What I Am" or "If He Walked into My Life" in an understated way and have them come across. But still, there are better performances that demonstrate what can be done even with unfamiliar material. Nancy Dussault has fun with the newest song in the show, "Where in the World Is My Prince?," from Miss Spectacular. Rita Moreno, charged with a man's song, "I Won't Send Roses," turns it into a three-act play in a risky interpretation that pays off. Tyne Daly dons a French accent and sings a medley of two songs from Dear World in character as the Madwoman of Chaillot. Lee Roy Reams makes a phrase like "over the top" seem completely inadequate by adding his impersonations of Tallulah Bankhead and Marlene Dietrich, among others, to "La Cage aux Folles." But the real fireworks are reserved for the end as the big female stars who benefited from Herman's best writing come on stage to pay him tribute: Bernadette Peters, Angela Lansbury, and Carol Channing. Herman himself is properly overwhelmed and appreciative by the end.

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