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Herman, Jerry (b. 1931)  
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The Diva's Dramatic Soliloquy

Second, every Herman play allows the diva a musical dramatic soliloquy. The song marks a moment of self-doubt in which she rallies her spirits, even while allowing the audience to see the price that the diva pays for her optimism.

Dolly sings about her loneliness in widowhood and her new-found determination to "raise the roof" and "carry on" as energetically as she can "Before the Parade Passes By."

Stunned when her adult nephew seems to reject all that she taught him in youth, Mame ponders what she would do differently "If He Walked into My Life Today."

Refusing to live in a world without music, laughter, love or joy, Aurelia passionately asserts that "I Don't Want to Know" that the world has turned ugly.

And when confronted with his lover's son's request to absent himself when the conservative family of the boy's fiancée comes to call, Albin refuses to hide who he is, insisting that "Life's not worth a damn / Till you can say / 'Hey, world, / I am what I am!'"

Such songs are invariably the most dramatic moment in the play, demonstrating the indomitable spirit that makes each Herman protagonist a diva. Similarly, the original actor's extraordinary rendering of them is what made Carol Channing (Dolly), Angela Lansbury (Mame, Aurelia, Mrs. Santa Claus), and George Hearn (Albin) stars, and kept their dangerously over-the-top performances from degenerating into caricature.

(While Herman clearly has a particular genius for fashioning such dramatic numbers, it is important to note that he has been ably aided by the directors and set designers of his shows. A semi-circular runway extending around the orchestra pit in the original production of Hello, Dolly! allowed Channing to sing within a few feet of her audience, winning them over even while towering above them.

The dramatic lighting for Lansbury's soliloquies, especially the amber gel and swirl of falling leaves as she questioned where she went wrong in "If He Walked into My Life Today," transfixed audiences, winning her Tony Awards for both Mame and Dear World.

And, in a piece of inspired direction, Arthur Laurents had Albin, still in drag after a performance as Zaza, pull off his wig at the conclusion of "I Am What I Am" and proudly exit down the center aisle, to the thrilled applause of the audience, at the close of La Cage's first act.

Herman's directors have created big theatrical gestures that magnify the inner resolve of these larger-than-life women.)

The Staircase Number

And, finally, every Herman play offers a "staircase number" in which the assembled company, in a pull-out-all-the-stops fashion, celebrates its transformation by praising the woman who raises the energy level of everyone around her by her mere presence.

Dramatically, there is no reason why the waiters should be so excited about Dolly Levi's anticipated return to the Harmonia Gardens restaurant that they break into a gallop as they serve and bus tables. But theatrically, the title number of Hello, Dolly! is the occasion to celebrate Dolly's joy in living, which washes over and renews everyone whom she encounters.

Likewise, the conservative Southern community into which Mame seeks to marry is so impressed by her performance on the fox hunt that crusty old Mother Burnside herself triumphantly asserts that, with Mame in their midst, "This time the South will rise again!"

The chorus of Mack and Mabel celebrates Mabel's return to movie-making in a rousing number that claims that every heart beats faster "When Mabel Comes in the Room," while the chorus of Dear World is in effect praising Aurelia in the stirring finale, "One Person."

The message of these songs is that the woman's presence revivifies the stodgy and pedestrian lives of her contemporaries; she brings imagination, magic, and a screwball-comedy madness to their humdrum existence.

But the songs are great theatrical moments as well. Think of Carol Channing's descent down a red-carpeted staircase in a red brocade gown, with red ostrich plumes in her brassy yellow hair, or the jubilant cakewalk on the terrace of an antebellum mansion as the company sings the title song of Mame, or Les Cagelles in their highest drag forming a sequined constellation around Zaza.

These are moments of glorious, jubilant theatricality that celebrate a woman whose strength of character and comic imagination allow her to resist the pressures of social convention and recreate herself as something bigger, brassier, and livelier than decorum allows. Such moments, like the characters themselves, are a drag queen's dream.

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