Broadway legend Jerry Herman, no stranger to a full house

A clip from the current New York production of 'La Cage aux Folles." Kennedy Center Honoree Jerry Herman wrote the score to several Broadway hits, including 'Hello, Dolly!,' 'Mame' and 'La Cage aux Folles.' "
By Dan Zak
Thursday, December 2, 2010; 12:34 AM

IN WEST HOLLYWOOD -- The condo is coming together.

The limestone floors have been laid. The walnut doors are installed. The sofas will arrive at 2. This will be, Jerry Herman says, his final living space.

Making a home is like making a musical, according to the composer-lyricist of "Mame" and "Hello, Dolly!" Tiny details deliver a larger vision. Instead of casting a starlet or adding a harp to the orchestrations, Herman auditions showerheads and arranges shelving in his walk-in closet.

"I think I have more shelves than I do shoes," Herman says, inspecting the closet as contractors trample over plastic tarp. Construction dust glints in the late-morning light.

This is the 38th home he has designed and decorated, and it will be his last. His 79-year life has taken him from the humble parlors of Jersey City to the heights of Broadway to the pages of Architectural Digest to this 15th-floor nest just below Sunset Boulevard, with a terrace that overlooks downtown Los Angeles, a wisp of the Pacific Ocean and the dramatic slant of the November sun over Century City.

Herman, slightly stooped, grips the balustrade on the terrace, scanning the horizon through bronze-tinted sunglasses. Melodies still come to him, quickly and out of nowhere, as they've always done (he wrote the title song to "Mame" in 25 minutes). Licks and harmonies and vamps zing around his head, then trickle to his fingertips on the Yamaha grand piano inside. These melodies will remain unsung.

"The world doesn't need another Jerry Herman musical at this point," he says. "There are people who think it does. But I don't."

A Jerry Herman musical is never not playing somewhere. Right now, in a high school storage closet serving as a greenroom, a senior is donning a gargantuan feathered hat to become that rascally matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi. Regional and community theaters are rehearsing or producing "Mame" and "Mack & Mabel" at this very moment. A revival of 1983's "La Cage aux Folles" is currently running at New York's Longacre Theatre on West 48th Street. "Warm" and "winning," wrote New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley, despite the "saccharine-crusted" nature of Herman's songs.

That's the everlasting caveat of the critic: Jerry Herman musicals are delicious, but they melt in your mouth. There's no intellectual rigor or nourishment. Just sequins and sunshine.

Hellooo, Dolly.

Well hellooo, Dolly.

It's so nice to have you back where youuu belooong.

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