Las Vegas Sun

November 21, 2018

Currently: 46° — Complete forecast

Composer to bring a bit of Broadway to Las Vegas

What: "Hello, Jerry!: Celebrating the Music and Lyrics of Jerry Herman"

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: UNLV Performing Arts Center

Tickets: $35 to $80; 895-2787

Long before Steve Wynn imported the ill-fated "Avenue Q" and courted the upcoming "Spamalot," he was flirting with Broadway.

He blew his first kiss at legendary composer and lyricist Jerry Herman, known for such classic Broadway musicals as "Mame," "Hello, Dolly!" and "La Cage aux Folles."

In the late 1990s Wynn commissioned Herman to write a Broadway-like musical for the Mirage. The result: "Miss Spectacular," the story of a girl from the Midwest trying to make it in Las Vegas.

The show didn't get off the ground, but you can hear some of the music from the "unproduced" production when the 73-year-old Herman brings "Hello Jerry!: Celebrating the Music and Lyrics of Jerry Herman" to UNLV on Saturday .

The production, also called Herman's "Legacy Series," is a joint effort of Herman and the ASCAP Foundation and is being presented in conjunction with UNLV's New York Stage & Beyond series.

Joining Herman onstage will be musical director-pianist Don Pippin and vocalists Jason Graae, Karen Morrow and Paige O'Hara, the Las Vegan who was the voice of Belle in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."

In addition to the concert, the cast will participate in a discussion session with students.

From his home in Palm Springs, Calif., Herman discussed "Miss Spectacular" and other subjects.

They try every once in a while. They did it with "Hairspray," and I thought that was a good idea, but I guess like everything in the theater, it's a very risky business.

Is Broadway itself in danger?

Yes. The monetary part of it is very much part of the problem - when you consider everything has gone up. My first Broadway musical, "Milk and Honey (1961)," was lavish for its time. It cost $300,000, and that means costumes and everything. That same show today would cost $12 million.

Is it becoming harder to find investors?

Definitely, definitely. There are so many failures. And the critics are very tough on new musicals. It's just been very difficult for the whole thing to stay afloat.

Do you think "Miss Spectacular" will ever be produced in Las Vegas?

I haven't given up. I would love to have it done, but it needs somebody like a Steve Wynn to get behind it and believe in it. That's what it needs more than anything else.

I've tried for years to get it done in Vegas, but I think a lot of people there are afraid of competing with the Cirque du Soleil concept. I don't blame them. You can't compete with "O" for sheer jaw-dropping excitement, and I guess that's where Vegas' head is right now, and my production is a show, a charming piece about a girl who comes to Vegas and finds her way - there's been a resistance to try something new like that.

What happened to the deal with Wynn?

Steve was all set to do it, but it was at the time when he sold his entire interest to MGM. My contract with Steve was part of that; so suddenly I found that my show was owned by Kirk Kerkorian.

MGM was wonderful, very kind to me. They said, "We don't have a venue at MGM Grand. We're booked like a decade in advance," which is true. So they actually gave me my contract back. It was very kind, very. I will always hold those people in very high regard.

Tell us about the "Legacy Series."

About five years ago my friend Michael Kerker from ASCAP called and said they had a request from a college in Utah - the kids would love to meet a Broadway composer-lyricist because they really didn't know anything about the genre. They were looking for someone to do a symposium. It interested me when I heard that they didn't know much about my favorite art form in the world, and so I thought, "Let me see what this is like."

We went to St. George and I had an eye-opening experience. We talked one-on-one with students and answered all their questions and then we did the show. They received it like a rock concert; when I came out in the middle of the show, they just went crazy.

When we left St. George, I said we just made like a thousand or 2,000 new fans of Broadway musicals. And ASCAP was so thrilled with the response that it got together with me, and I said that I would fund a tour. We've been doing this now all over the country in about 13 or 14 major cities, and we always get the same reaction.

That must be very gratifying.

I really feel that I'm doing something for an art form that is on the wane. It feels like we've been enlightening kids. It's wonderful to get into their world, to have them not be afraid of melody and a well-made lyric, which is what Broadway is all about.

What is the concert all about?

We do one number from "Miss Spectacular" and then there's a song or two from every musical I've ever written. The singers are superb. It's a very entertaining evening, but the real joy of it is to see the reaction that the kids have.

You will perform as well?

I come out and do a few things. They like to hear where it came from, the source. I do a couple of numbers, and I accompany several of the singers.

Do you have any other projects?

What I've been doing is big productions of the shows that exist. I just did a wonderful revival of "Mame" at the Kennedy Center, which was a huge success. I think it was the most successful production the Kennedy Center has ever had.

Your production "La Cage aux Folles" was recently revived on Broadway and closed quickly. What happened?

I have two Tony awards for "La Cage," for the original and the revival, but it didn't last. I think there's just been a change in some of the attitudes of some theatergoers. We were really shocked that it didn't have a two- or three-year run. It's a very risky business.