Seeing her entertaining act in person in Manhattan, I recall how she cutely
tells her audience in cabaret rooms that she used to be married to Jerry Herman.
It's true. No, not that Jerry Herman, theatre fans. The running bit was that
Peggy Herman was married to a Mr. Herman whose first name was Jerry ... but this
one sold carpeting. Anyway, on this CD (based on the live show), she sounds very
much married to the music and lyrics of the musical theatre legend, and three of
the 13 tracks are musical marriages: pairings of songs that co-habitate nicely
to inform each other's perspectives, despite being from different scores in each
case. For example, the bittersweet look back at a lost love, Dear World's "And I
Was Beautiful" is preceded by another tale of memories—which apparently can
change context so it does not have to imply that the lovers are still together.
It's La Cage aux Folles's "Song on the Sand." (The number is accidentally listed
in all three places on the CD and its packaging as "Song in the Sand"—oops—but
let's just say this nice song treatment shouldn't be buried). There's a little
sand sometimes in Peggy's throaty voice, as well as a widening vibrato, but it
mostly works to advantage for emotion and a sense of frequent-flyer miles in
life and love. (Her earlier album of songs mostly with Johnny Mercer lyrics has
invested drama and punch that hold up well, too.)
There's creative re-thinking here on many pieces that many of us have known so very well for so many years. Forget the notion of just recycling the happy and peppy and sing-alongy to (re)create a commotion. Pianist Alex Rybeck's creative arrangements and orchestrations for the seven musicians, the tempo choices, and the projected persona of this confident vocalist reap a rich bounty. It takes immersion and insight to be able to make this magic. They've got it.
This is no paint-by-numbers approach. And I think it's time the colorful Herman songbook got a new prism to reveal something beyond the bright, peppy colors of the bouncy optimism songs and the blue hues of the heartfelt ballads. The latter are treated more conservatively, without phoning it in or cloning it up at all. The musical comedy conservative may just wanna tap his toes may turn up his nose, but I'd do battle to try to convince because, interestingly, the gist of what each song is about at its very full heart comes through proudly intact. And that's true even when things might at first seem playful or casual.
Although, frustratingly, Jerry Herman is not the most prolific of the veterans, Peggy still finds more than the usual "usual suspects": it's marvelous to have her include choices from Milk and Honey (the album-ending warm "Shalom" and "It's As Simple as That," the latter paired with Miss Spectacular's "No Other Music"). There's also "To Be Alone with You" from Ben Franklin in Paris (a score he didn't get credit for adding to back in the day) and more. And for her full-length track slot from Hello, Dolly!, she chooses one of the rarely approached numbers—one written for the score, then dropped but re-inserted when the originally-hoped-for star, Ethel Merman, took on the role years later: a vibrant "World, Take Me Back."
Let's look at some examples from the score of Mame, an album I played non-stop as a teenager and whose original-cast performances and orchestrations I never fell out of love with. Smart and sometimes tart, there's more than an ear-opening splash of spunk to Peggy's recipes, suggesting a lyric line of one of the numbers she covers—Mame's title song: "You give my old mint julep a kick." She adds a welcome wink to it from the start, making it more than just a strut and a toast. There's an even bigger surprise with the score's other toast-to living life fully and in the moment "It's Today." It's done not with the usual pep-rally bounce and bubbliness, but in a slow tempo, as if anticipating and then relishing every moment mentioned. You could call it seductively sexy, too. (There's also a brief instrumental nod to another invitation to "Get Happy" with the Harold Arlen melody of that title.) When it's time to go deeper, Peggy Herman can turn in a lament that sounds lived-in and deeply felt, such as the non-bombastic "When He Walked Into My Life," treated pensively as an inner monologue. It's accompanied for much of the track primarily and sensitively by NYC cabaret's most ubiquitous guitarist, the talented, award-winning Sean Harkness. In fact, the fuller band appearing for and beyond the instrumental break to lead to the heartbreak and build are oddly anti-climactic after the delicacy. "Loving You" from the film version of Mame, where it was sung by Robert Preston, is also included and is played pretty straight as an affectionate, appreciative sum-up of contentment, laced with love and similes.
Fervent, fun, and feisty—with sufficient returns to form for the romance and regret—Peggy Herman on Herman on disc is a special pleasure for the more adventurous. File under H for Hallelujah!
If you haven't discovered Peggy Herman yet, now is the time. This is her sophomore album, and it's a gem. With a wonderfully expressive voice, nicely sitting in the middle register, Miss Herman sings some familiar and not-so-familiar Jerry Herman compositions. Smartly, she doesn't trot out all the usual Jerry Herman repertoire you find on other albums. And this album has some great arrangements that put a twist on some of the tunes, like the slowed down It's Today from Mame. In Herman's interpretation, it becomes a come hither ballad instead of an uptempo bouncy show tune. Thankfully, she returns to the poignancy of If He Walked into My Life instead of blasting it out that has become the norm. You can hear the ache in her voice. She gets sassy with the short but pungent Wherever He Ain't. The cleverness of I Won't Send Roses is outstanding. In it, Miss Herman takes both a male approach with a female response. I Won't Send Roses is the lovely sad ballad from the composer's Mack and Mabel musical failure but a failure containing some of his best compositions. This longing number becomes a mini-story in Miss Herman's hands ... and is oh-so-suitable for her style. Another bright twist is the Brazil-like samba beat behind the coupling of The Best of Times/Before the Parade Passes By, and it works! The album's only misstep is the attempt to jazz up the title song Mame, which simply doesn't lend itself to that treatment. It becomes too odd a number. Miss Herman is a belter when she wants to be, and she occasionally lets go, but it is always within the context of the song ... no straining here, like on The Best in the World. And just for sheer great singing and feeling there's Loving You and Song in the Sand/And I Was Beautiful. Herman has one of those voices to treasure ... you can feel all the emotions inherent in the material she chooses
JOE LANG'S review of Peggy's CD
A more contemporary songwriter, Jerry Herman, is the focus of an album by vocalist PEGGY HERMAN, no relation to her subject on Herman on Herman: Peggy Sings Jerry (Uncommon Sound – No Catalog Number). With Jerry Herman having celebrated his 80th birthday last July, the musical force behind such classics as Hello Dolly, Mame and La Cage Aux Folles, Herman has been the subject of many concerts and recorded tributes celebrating that milestone. Peggy Herman has included 16 songs among the 13 tracks on her album. The material covers nine shows, and she has selected many songs that are less known to the general listener. Probably the most familiar tunes for most people will be “If He Walked into My Life,” “Mame,” “I Won’t Send Roses,” “Song in the Sand” and “Before the Parade Passes By.” The wonderful thing about good Broadway scores is that there are so many terrific songs to be discovered with a little digging. Herman and her musical director and pianist Alex Rybeck have done a wonderful job of combining the familiar with the more esoteric to produce an album that is fresh and interesting. Herman handles the vocal part of the equation nicely, and Rybeck has put together a fine band to play his winning arrangements. This disc is a good way to spend some time with the music of one of the premier Broadway songwriters of the last half century.
Peggy Herman releases a brand new recording of her
critically acclaimed show, “Herman on Herman,” her tribute to Broadway
legend Jerry Herman, at Feinstein’s at the Loews Regency, 540 Park Avenue,
on Sunday May 6 at 7:30pm. The one-night-only concert features many of the
songs from the show’s premiere in May of last year, plus additional material
that was added to the project in the intervening months.
With arrangements by the renowned music director Alex Rybeck, “Herman on Herman (with a Touch of Merman)” gives the Jerry Herman songbook a whole new spin, lending a fresh take on these classic Broadway show tunes. Backing Herman on Herman – and blending a range of popular styles, including folk-pop, smooth jazz, Brazillian and Broadway -- are Rybeck on piano, Jered Egan on bass and Rex Benincasa on drums and percussion. The same threesome play on the album, augmented by strings, brass, winds, and guitarist Sean Harkness.
Peggy Herman does ‘Herman on Herman’
MONDAY, MAY 16, 2011
It’s Herman on Herman (with a touch of Merman)!
For quite a while this Herman could actually say “I’m Mrs. Jerry
Herman . . . not that one! But what’s in a name.” Seems she was married, for
a while, to Jerry Herman, a carpet salesman. After splitting with the rug
guy, she got back to doing what she was obviously born to do . . . sing!
After a hiatus from the cabaret scene, and with a natural affinity and love
of the Jerry Herman songs, her new club act sparkles with the brilliant and
unique arrangements of Musical Director Alex Rybeck and under the direction
of Peter Glebo, and nine-timeTony Award Winner Tommy Tune.
Wherever this Herman has been hiding, who knows? But the packed house at the Metropolitan Room and other cabaret enthusiasts have a good thing going with her return. She possesses a rich mezzo quality, with smatterings of all rainbow colors, and knows precisely how to use its subtleties.
Stories about her name, the mix ups and husbands are sprinkled throughout. The most essential, however, is how many familiar, and some unfamiliar, Jerry Herman tunes have been creatively presented. It’s like listening to his songs for the first time with Alex Rybeck’s distinctive arrangements. Paired with “No Tune Like a Showtune,” “It’s Today” as a slow bossa became a sexually suggestive rendition. The unforgettable “Mame” was a slow swing into quick double time, the name never even mentioned until the last breath. The poignant pairing of “Song on the Sand” and “And I Was Beautiful” presented an engaging story with a dusting of soft touches.
The usually frantic “Wherever He Ain’t” had more of a slow, burlesque take-it-off beat. The sadness of dreams dashed was emotionally expressed in what mama said . . . I’m the “Best in the World.”
Interestingly, I didn’t find as much Merman as I did the knowing professional’s quality of how to use a voice successfully. Peggy Herman not only has the vocal expertise, but the fine dramatic skills that will easily pave the way, as she concluded her story with “World Take Me Back.”
Additional band members included Jered Egan on bass and Rex Benincasa on drums.
Herman on Herman
with a Touch of Merman
New York, NY
Peggy Herman has said that she was born to sing the songs of Jerry Herman, who was clearly born to write showstoppers. Since Ms. Herman likes to perform big, brassy, dramatic tunes in the tradition of Ethel Merman, this particular marriage of singer and song was meant to happen.
Making her Metropolitan Room debut, Ms. Herman presented an eclectic collection of tunes from both Mr. Herman’s most successful musicals – Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage aux Folles and his least successful — Dear World and Mack and Mabel. Hello, Dolly! was represented by three of its incarnations – the original Broadway production (Carol Channing,) a slightly different version with Merman and Hollywood’s treatment (Barbra Streisand).
Ms. Herman began and ended the program with songs from Dolly – “Just Leave Everything to Me,” added to the film score for Streisand, and “World, Take Me Back,” sung by Merman upon joining the Broadway cast in the final year of the six-year run. Merman originally turned down the Dolly role which had been created with her in mind. The song had been written for the original production but dropped once Carol Channing was cast.
With a voice that’s the very essence of musical comedy, Ms. Herman performed every song with pizzazz, style and honesty. She can belt or turn it down, as she did in “Song on the Sand”/“And I Was Beautiful” (La Cage aux Folles and Dear World respectively), warmly romantic and intertwined. “Loving You,” a sweet song from the film version of Mame, suggested a tangible connection with the audience. In “I Won’t Send Roses” (Mack and Mabel), Herman rendered a stunning theatrical performance singing both the male and female lyrics as film director Mack Sennett and actress Mabel Normand.
“Wherever He Ain’t,” a finger-snapper and showstopper also from Mack and Mabel – “If he’s in heaven, I’ll go to hell,” and “Best in the World” (A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine), an evocative song about a stage mother and a daughter who eventually comes to believe that she’s a star long after becoming one, were quite effective.
Crooning to her husband, Ms. Herman sang “I’m with you as long as I live” from “As Simple as That” (Milk and Honey) and “No other music but your sweet music,” a lyric from “No Other Music” (Miss Spectacular), while Herman’s longtime musical director and arranger Alex Rybeck, a MAC winner in 2010, played an exquisite piano solo. Throughout the program, Jered Egan provided impressive support on bass. The act was conceived and directed by Peter Glebo and nine-time Tony Award winner Tommy Tune.
Unlike poor Mabel who had to suffer Mack for the singular “lack of romance in his soul,” Peggy Herman received lots and lots of roses at the conclusion of the show. Since her spouse of twenty-one years was last seen entering with armloads of flowers, it’s probably a safe bet that her love has not gone unrequited.
There’s only one more opportunity to see Herman on Herman at the Metropolitan Room – Sunday, June 5 at 4:00 PM.
May 16, 2011
by Jeff Rossen
Ah, a Johnny Mercer lyric. On the list of America's finest wordsmiths whose contributions to the great canon of the American popular songbook helped make it what it is, Johnny Mercer and Ira Gershwin were the tops when it came to expressing the most in the fewest words. And for a singer, Mercer's lyrics allow a range of interpretations, something Peggy Herman demonstrates wonderfully on Mercer and more... Listen to the outright joy she brings to Come Rain or Come Shine, softening the usually heard belt and replacing it with almost a giddy glee. Then there's the wistful reverie found in Moon River and acidic vengeance in the pairing of I Wanma Be Around/Goody Goody (which made me laugh out loud, thanks to her band's unexpected contribution). What an inspired journey she takes us on in On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe/I Thought About You, and the Blues in the Night ring out when Herman sets her chops into them. As for the "and more" of the album's title, Herman adds strong renditions of a pair of Alan and Marilyn Bergman lyrics with her disarmingly frank performances of Fifty Percent and How Do You Keep the Music Playing?, and her I'm a Brass Band is a delightful change of pace that helps make Mercer and more... an even more entertaining winner.
How can one keep from falling in love with a woman who possesses the richest voice in cabaret.... marvelous songs, old and familiar songs, sung the way they were meant to be sung...
January 2, 2004
by John Hoglund
Peggy Herman-"Mercer and more..." (Original Cast Records): On an album arranged and conducted by Alex Rybeck, big-band crooner Peggy Herman belts out some of the best standards ever written. In a brassy, almost Mermanesque delivery, Herman pours her heart and decibels into every cut on this lush album. Johnny Mercer mainstays like "Fools Rush In" (Mercer-Bloom), "That Old Black Magic" (Mercer-Arlen), and "Come Rain or Come Shine" (Mercer-Arlen) are given the full- tilt treatment. The Dorothy Fields-Cy Coleman tune "I'm a Brass Band" might be the title of her memoir should she write one. She's got a big voice that serves a big talent.
The Mount St. Helens of cabaret... her explosive and powerful voice renders any comparisons moot...
Herman really knows how to handle her voice, the songs and the mike. In short, she isn't afraid to be original and herself...
Vocally impressive with a big brassy mezzo belt... bubbly, confident and full of sass
A dynamic young artist whose singing and presentation absolutely galvanizes an audience....
"What a voice..."
Copyright © 2002 by Peggy Herman. All rights reserved.
Revised: 25 Nov 2014 08:45 AM