Editor's Note: This essay is part of series of consideration of great composers forgotten musicals. It is not a review of the current production of Dear World.
Composer and lyricist Jerry Herman was once the golden boy of Broadway. His 1960s musicals, Hello, Dolly!, Mame and the 1983 La Cage Aux Folles have logged more than 7,000 performances (including revivals). The dust cover of his autobiography, Showtune, features a black and white photo of Herman with full color poster art for those musicals.
However, failure is very much a part of the theater, and inevitably, golden boys will topple from the pedestal. For Jerry Herman, that happened during the 1970s with three different musicals, Jacobowsky and the Colonel, Mack and Mabel, and a work being presented by Ten Thousand Things in the Twin Cities right now, Dear World.
While a student in Miami, Herman appeared in Jean Giraudoux’s poetic 1943 antiwar play, The Madwoman of Chaillot. He longed to transform the show into a musical, but couldn’t negotiate the required rights to the property. 1969 would prove quite a year for the Madwoman. Not only did Herman’s dream project become a reality, but a film adaptation starring Katharine Hepburn was released as well.
Sadly, neither production reaped much success. (The Hepburn film is unwatchable.) With Herman, on the other hand, producer Alexander Cohen brought the team who had created Mame back together for the musical, now titled, Dear World. While Herman’s score is marvelous, the libretto by Lawrence & Robert E. Lee was more of a cut and paste, eliminating important characters and creating unnecessary plot elements, much of it to make room for the songs.
A clash of Good and Evil, Dear World is the story of the Countess Aurelia, the madwoman of the title. Having discovered a plot to destroy Paris when businessmen decide to drill for oil, Aurelia and her colleagues place humanity on trial and find it guilty of evil. Countess Aurelia lead the businessmen into her cellar apartment and on to their doom as the world outside immediately grows brighter.*
Fresh from her Tony Award-winning success as Mame, Angela Lansbury played Countess Aurelia (she’d win her second Tony Award for this performance) in its premiere. Jane Connell, who played Agnes Gooch was cast as Gabrielle, the Madwoman of Montmartre, and Irish actor Milo O’Shea took the role of the Sewerman, a character who would represent humanity in the climactic mock trial scene.
Everything pointed to success. The score has some beautiful melodies, and among the standout tunes are “Each Tomorrow Morning,” “I Never Said I Love You,” the delightful counterpoint of “The Tea Party,” and Aurelia’s poignant “And I Was Beautiful.”
However, what might have made a charming chamber musical was misguided in production. In addition to its three directors, Lucia Victor, Peter Glenville and Joe Layton, Lawrence and Lee saw fit to make the Sewerman and The Ragpicker into one character and to cut the outstanding role of Madame Josephine, expanding the role of Madame Constance, thus giving actress Carmen Matthews a showier role. An original cast recording was released and the musical has developed cult status.
The show has gone through extensive revision, so it will be fascinating to see which version Ten Thousand Things is doing. The primary purpose of these articles is to discuss musicals that need attention and hopefully, revival, and I, for one, am excited to finally see Dear World!
Mack and Mabel
Along with Herman, librettist Michael Stewart, producer David Merrick and director-choreographer the team responsible for Hello, Dolly! were also responsible for Mack and Mabel in 1974. This was a sensational idea for a musical. It deals with the romance between the great silent film comedy director Mack Sennett, who created the Keystone Cops and helped make Charles Chaplin one of the greatest of silent comedians.
Sennett meets a young lady named Mabel Normand, and makes her a star, only to fall in love with her, leading to an unfortunate outcome. Mabel Normand was involved in a scandalous Hollywood murder, suffered from tuberculosis, and had a drug addiction before she passed on in 1930.
With Robert Preston (The Music Man) as Sennett and Bernadette Peters perfectly cast as Mabel, the show lasted only eight weeks, but, like Dear World, has gained cult status. Since its original production, Mack and Mabel has also been reworked and it now has a happy ending, because, as Sennett tells the audience, “that’s how it would have happened in the movies.”
Mack and Mabel features Herman’s finest and liveliest score, perhaps because he was writing character songs for real people. The moment Sennett sings “Movies Were Movies," we’re led into the story. "Look What Happened To Mabel,” "I Won't Send Roses” and “Tap Your Troubles Away” are infectious. You can find the Original Cast Recording here.
Jacobowsky and the Colonel
In the late 1950s, when Danny Kaye was a top-draw talent for 20th Century-Fox, he starred in Me and the Colonel, the film version of S. N. Behrman’s play, Jacobowsky and the Colonel (not to be confused with an earlier Kaye vehicle, The Inspector General, based on a play by Nicoli Gogol).
Michael Stewart convinced Herman to compose the score, and along with Mark Bramble (42nd Street, Barnum) collaborated on the libretto. As directed by Gerald Freedman and choreographed by Donald Saddler, The Grand Tour, in spite of a cast headed by Joel Grey, played the shortest run of any Jerry Herman musical, lasting seven weeks.
The plot is reasonably simple. Trying to stay one step ahead of the advancing Germans, Polish scholar S.L. Jacobowsky has bought a car, but he doesn’t know how to drive. Anti-Semitic Colonel, Stjerbinsky, also a Pole, knows how to drive, but has no car. They bring Marianne, the colonel’s paramour along on their road trip, only to have Jacobowsky fall in love with her. Clearly, the plot is old-fashioned, but the story is perfect for certain audiences.
And, there are a few gems in the score, specifically “Marianne,” and a Broadway Cast recording is available.
Today, Jerry Herman is in his early 80s, and teaches master classes on interpreting his songs. While Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage Aux Folles will continue to be produced frequently, thanks to Ten Thousand Things, we have the opportunity to see Dear World. And while Mack and Mabel or The Grand Tour may not be treasures, but it would be nice to see these musicals and find their qualities for ourselves.
And Herman may even write the score for a new musical before he’s done writing showtunes!
* By the way, the Café Chez Francis, where the first act is set, really does sit exactly where it’s described in Giraudoux’s stage directions. It’s across the street from Pont d’Alma, where sadly, Princess Diana’s car met its fate and it’s in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. It’s near the dock where Seine Boat Tours begin, too.