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by Michael Portantiere

Jason Graae Loves Jerry Herman

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    In musical theater land, 2010 was all about Stephen Sondheim, as everyone celebrated his life and work during his 80th birthday year. Now it's time to honor another great composer/lyricist, Jerry Herman, who was born on July 10, 1931 and whose wonderfully hummable hit scores include Hello, Dolly!, Mame, and La Cage aux Folles. Among the several upcoming tributes that I know about, the first one has "the best of times" written all over it: Perfect Hermany, a show starring the amazingly energetic, multi-talented Jason Graae, to be performed Oct. 18, 19, 24, and 25 at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. Here's what the hilarious Mr. Graae had to tell me about this special event.


    BROADWAYSTARS: Jason, there's a live recording of your show that was just handed to me. I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet, so you'll have to tell me how wonderful it is.

    JASON GRAAE: Oh God, it is so wonderful. I actually think it's better before you hear it.

    STARS: Why is that?

    JASON: Just the anticipation of it. I don't think it can possibly deliver what it is in your mind.

    STARS: The CD was recorded live at the Colony Theatre in Burbank. Where else have you done the show?

    JASON: I've done it at the Rrazz Room in San Francisco. I've done it at the Jocelyn Retirement Center in Palm Springs, which is right next to a crematorium. And I've done it at Vitello's, where Robert Blake did not shoot his wife.

    STARS: I've been to Vitello's, but I didn't realize the Robert Blake connection.

    JASON: Yeah, that's the restaurant where he was in the car with his wife in the parking lot after they had dinner there. He realized he had left his gun in the restaurant, so he went back in to get his gun, and while he was getting his gun, somebody else came and shot his wife. Vitello's is just rife with history.

    STARS: Anyway, back to your show. How has it been received so far.

    JASON: Great. It's Jerry Herman!

    STARS: Last year, there were about 812 concerts, shows, and club acts in tribute to Stephen Sondheim. There aren't quite so many scheduled for Jerry's 80th birthday year, but the great singer Marilyn Maye is going to be saluting him, and then there's the Broadway Close Up concert set for December 5, with you and such other fabulous folks as Karen Ziemba, Lee Roy Reams, Debra Monk, Stephen Bogardus, and Christine Pedi.

    JASON: Yes. I think the Merkin Hall evening will be nice; I'm looking forward to that. Also, on my way to New York to do my show at the Laurie Beechman, I'm going to stop off and do it at the Cahn Auditorium in Evanston as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival.

    STARS: I'm looking at the song list on your CD, and I see that you do "Just Leave Everything to Me" from the movie version of Hello, Dolly! Do you evoke Streisand in that number?

    JASON: How can you not? Yes, there's a little touch of her. Lee Tannen, who directed my show, revamped the lyrics of the song to make it more specific to our purposes. When we recorded the album, I tried to do that Streisand lick at the end of the song, where she goes "Just leave every-thi-i-i-IIIIIING to me." But it sounded awful, so we had to re-record it.

    STARS: You also do "There's No Reason in the World" from Milk and Honey. That show is being revived in New York right now by Musicals Tonight! Their productions only run for two weeks, but maybe you can get to see it while you're here.

    JASON: I've seen the show done before. It's a little strange, but the score is really great.

    STARS: You've played Jacobowsky in The Grand Tour, and you do the song "You I Like" in your show, but I guess you do it as a solo.

    JASON: Yes. I played Jacobowsky in L.A. at the Colony and in New York at the York Theatre as one of their Musicals in Mufi. I think it worked very well at the York, especially because they trimmed a lot of the dance music and focused the story more on the three central characters.

    STARS: Your song list also includes "Tap Your Troubles Away" from Mack and Mabel. So, do you tap in your show?

    JASON: You'll just have to wait and see. But really, can anyone do "Tap Your Troubles Away" without a spectacular tap dance? I ask you!

    STARS: Even though some of Herman's shows didn't work, for whatever reason, the songs are always pretty great.

    JASON: Yes. This show has been such a labor of love. Every time I get together with Lee Tannen and [musical director] John Boswell to go through the songs, we have so much fun. It's joyful.

    STARS: What other Herman roles would you love to play?

    JASON: First and foremost is Gooch in Mame. I think my Patrick days are numbered, though maybe I could still play that part at the Muny. I'd like to do Jacobowsky about 50 more times, because it's the greatest part I've ever played. And I would love to play the Sewer Man in Dear World.

    STARS: As it is, you have a long and valued personal and professional association with Jerry Herman.

    JASON: I first met Jerry when I unsuccessfully auditioned to play Barnaby in Hello, Dolly! in the national tour of one of the Carol Channing revivals in 1983. Later, I toured in a revue called Hello, Jerry! with Jerry, Karen Morrow, Paige O'Hara, and Don Pippin. Oh, and I was in that big Mack and Mabel concert at Lincoln Center a few years ago; I got to sing "I Wanna Make the World Laugh." Jerry is a wonderful man, so enthusiastic and supportive. I couldn't love him more.


    [Pefect Hermany will play at the Laurie Beechman Theatre in the West Bank Cafe, 407 West 42nd Street, on October 18, 19, and 24 at 7pm and October 25 at 9:30pm. There is a $20 cover charge and a two drink minimum. For reservations, phone 212-695-6909.]

    Published on Friday, October 14, 2011

    Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at [email protected]

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