Some weekends are just plain spectacular.
On Sunday evening I was invited to a show that my friend Richard Skipper had been promoting at Feinstein’s night club in Manhattan. His friend Peggy Herman had recorded a new CD of songs by my all-time-favorite Broadway composer bar none, Jerry Herman. Jerry Herman is so multi-talented that he wrote the music and the lyrics to some of the best shows Broadway ever produced – like Milk and Honey, Hello, Dolly!, Mame, Dear World, Mack and Mabel and La Cage aux Folles – and more. His greatest inspiration was his beautiful mother, Ruth, who believed in Jerry from the moment he was born. Ruth even set up the meeting with another songwriter, Frank Loesser, that led to Jerry becoming the composer that the world loves. Ruth’s positivity wound up in every one of her son’s songs. In addition to the title songs of most of the shows, they include “Open a New Window,” “It’s Today,” “Each Tomorrow Morning,” “We Need a Little Christmas,” “With You On My Arm,” “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and “The Best of Times.”
That, right there, is already a collection of numbers bright enough to light up a large metropolis.
For me, though, Jerry Herman’s music means a whole lot more. Back when I was a kid being bullied by a gaggle of kids so vicious they could have done a Fascist youth group proud, it was a lifeline. I loved it, played it constantly, and, thank God, it kept me flying above the type of despair that plagued so many other bullied kids. If Jerry wrote it, I believed it. I particularly loved the line in “Open a New Window” that deliciously advocated, “Whenever they say you’re slightly unconventional just put your thumb up to your nose” while around people who couldn’t appreciate you. How perfect! Bullies destroy plenty of children, but after hearing that, they didn’t have a chance with me. Somehow I got the idea from those fabulous songs that great times were waiting for me, just as I was waiting for them. I was all of twelve years old.
It’s thirty-nine years later, but I still go to every Jerry Herman show or event possible. Fortunately, tons of them seem to happen right here in New York. This was one of the best. Feinstein’s is a great venue in Loew’s Regency Hotel on Park Avenue, and Peggy Herman’s event was as spectacular as Jerry Herman’s songs! I was seated at the same table as another friend, Elli the King of Broadway. This night was also the launch of Peggy’s CD, Herman on Herman: Peggy Sings Jerry, and she gave every person who attended the show a complimentary copy. And what a CD! I thought I knew all of Jerry’s songs, but Peggy found three even I wasn’t familiar with – “It’s As Simple As That,” “The Best in the World,” and “To Be Alone With You.” She also included one of my all-time but little-known favorites, “World, Take Me Back,” a Broadway belt number which was written for Ethel Merman when she took over the leading role in Hello, Dolly!
I thought one of the best parts of the night came towards the end of the show. Peggy acknowledged plenty of people, including her 92-year-old voice teacher. It just happened to be his birthday. Peggy led the audience as we all sang “Happy Birthday” to him and the waiters brought out a cake!
My weekend wasn’t done yet, because I’d put in for a long one at work and had Monday off, too, in honor of the fact that my Facebook friend Arlynn Presser was visiting from Chicago. Arlynn also has a blog here on WordPress. One day it was the “featured blog” and I read it – and was amazed. Arlynn’s agoraphobic but decided to fight it. She has been going around the world for over a year to meet all of her Facebook friends in person! Don’t every say anything can’t be done. She’s living proof that it can!
I was going to have Arlynn, who was staying in a Brooklyn hotel, meet me at the Brooklyn Museum and Botanical Gardens, but they close both on Mondays (oh, what nerve)! We met up at the Aquarium in Coney Island instead. Incredibly, we turned out to be so much alike that it was kind of astonishing, and I had more fun than I’ve had in ages. We look so much alike that the Cantonese woman giving me a manicure at nail salon in the Russian neighborhood by Coney that we hit after lunch thought we were sisters. We seem to have the same taste in just about everything. Next up, I’m visiting her in Chicago!
So it’s been a wonderful last couple of days. Thank you Richard, Elli, Peggy, Arlynn…and Jerry. Long, long ago, it was Jerry Herman’s songs that make me think that some day I’d have, well, spectacular weekends exactly like this one. If there’s any bullied kids out there, please take note – and take heart.
Mr. Herman, if you ever read this, please know that with what I owe you, you’ll absolutely never be broke. Hats off to your inspirational mother Ruth, too.