“I’m Mrs. Jerry Herman. No, not that Jerry Herman. Jerry Herman, the carpet salesman.”Peggy Herman isn’t kidding. Well, she is, but she’s also being truthful. The singer was married to a Jerry Herman. Imagine the assumptions. Her current show features the work of the composer/lyricist. “A touch of Merman” is represented by a single song written for Ethel Merman when she took over the lead in Hello, Dolly! Connecting immediately with her audience, Herman opens with a wry, anecdotal introduction.
Oddly, there’s no verbal segue into the first offering Just Leave Everything to Me (the show, Hello, Dolly!) “If you want your spanx pulled up,” “…your boobies lifted…” Revised lyrics seemed more jarring and crass than amusing. She’s giving us no hint as to where we’re going during the evening, eliminating the pleasure of anticipation. “Songs that are familiar may not seem familiar by the time we get through with them,” Herman says. True. The title number from Mame starts slow and swingy but before we can sway, inexplicably speeds up accompanied by lots of drum action, altering both meaning and mood. Wherever He Ain’t from Jerry Herman’s favorite musical, Mack & Mabel, becomes a vaudeville-honky-tonk-bump -n’grind. While musically fun, the lyrics lose their anthem-like poignancy. I Won’t Send Roses from the same musical fares better. I have no issue with interpretation when it’s in the service of the song.
Though To Be Alone with You (Ben Franklin in Paris), is unexpectedly a cha cha, the arrangement is pretty, the phrasing graceful, and the wistful emotion well preserved. A lovely coupling of Song in the Sand (La Cage aux Folles) with And I Was Beautiful (Dear World) follows. “H’I’m beautiful,” she sings with an evocative, signature catch in her voice. The light, easy pop rendition of Loving You (the film version of Mame) has quiet vocal backup by Rybeck and Egan adding texture. I Don’t Want to Know (Dear World) particularly suits the controlled register slide of Herman’s voice. She would kill in Jacques Brel.
As Simple as That (Milk and Honey), sung lovingly to her husband in the audience, and No Other Music (Miss Spectacular) showcase two of the best aspects of her performance. First, she has the ability to “sing out” without the rough edge Merman had. When she’s vocally expansive, we sail with her instead of bracing ourselves. Second, her solid, mid-range, sometimes breathy delivery, grounds the feeling of lyrics, making them universal.
The show is really a mixed bag. Except for the composer/lyricist, I found no through line and felt one was needed. Showtune: A Memoir (Jerry Herman), from which a single phrase was read, might’ve been an entertaining and informative source of quotes and stories with which to bridge. Herman can handle patter. The Merman song is unmelodic, implying it was put in only to create a clever show title. Though the evening was not entirely successful, I look forward to future shows with interest. Peggy Herman is a talented entertainer with a solid instrument and genial personality.
The excellent musicianship of the band was evident.
34 West 22nd Street
Peggy Herman, Vocals
Alex Rybeck, Musical Director/Pianist
Jered Egan, Bass
Rex Benincasa, Drums