Even if you don’t recognize Jerry Herman’s name, you’ve heard his songs. Herman is the mastermind behind such Broadway hits as Hello, Dolly!, Mame, La Cage aux Folles and many more.
When a man named Paul Gilger decided to take some of those songs and put them into a revue, it might have turned into a bit of light entertainment that was easily forgotten. Instead, Gilger arranged the songs so they not only set moods, they actually tell a story.
The result is Showtune: Celebrating the Words & Music of Jerry Herman, which opens July 19 at the Savannah Community Theatre. It’s one of the more original productions to ever hit Broadway.
“There’s no dialogue in the show at all,” director Tom Coleman III says.
“It’s set in the Depression era around a cast of people auditioning for a show,” Coleman says. “They aren’t able to get work, and several of them end up in burlesque. Nine of them decide to go to Hollywood and try their luck in the movies.”
It is those nine who are the focus of the production. Showtune is the story not only of their pursuit of success, but also of three couples among the nine.
“The youngest couple is together and apart, together and apart,” Coleman says. “The middle couple has been together a long time. The older couple remembers back to when they were young.”
While there are trials and tribulations, worries and woes, it all comes out in the end. After all, the last number in the show is titled A Happy Ending.
Coleman originally had planned to do Beehive: The Musical, but that project has been postponed. “I wanted to do it now because the movie Hairspray was coming out,” he says. “I was counting on riding the success of that show.”
Getting the rights to the show proved harder than originally believed, but Beehive will be presented, probably in the fall. Coleman chose to do Showtune in its place, but worried about casting the show.
The show required nine actors who could be available for nine weeks in the summer, when many folks leave town. “I’m very lucky to have these people,” Coleman says.
He says Savannah audiences will enjoy hearing Herman’s music. “He wrote Hello, Dolly! in 1963, and then wrote Mame right after,” Coleman says. “He’s a composer and lyricist who’s had probably 17 to 20 shows on Broadway.”
Born in 1931 and reared in a musical family, Herman first became involved in theater -- as a director -- while spending summers in the Berkshires. When he was just a teenager, Herman was introduced to composer Frank Loesser. After hearing some of Herman’s music, Loesser encouraged him to continue composing.
Herman’s first production was an off-Broadway revue that opened in 1954 and ran for 48 performances. His next production was Nightcap, which opened in 1958 and ran for two years.
From A to Z was the title of Herman’s Broadway debut in 1960. A newcomer named Woody Allen contributed material for the show.
Producer David Merrick put Herman together with actress Carol Channing in 1964 for a project that would be called Hello, Dolly! It was the longest running musical of its time, and was later revived three times.
Herman followed that success in 1966 with Mame, starring Angela Lansbury. In 1983, Herman produced another winner in La Cage aux Folles.
The only composer/lyricist in history to have three musicals run more than 1,500 performances on Broadway, Herman has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“Jerry Herman has been to Savannah several times,” Coleman says. “He did a show at the Lucas.”
Showtune is great summer entertainment, Coleman says. “It’s a fast, fast paced show. It’s a whole lot of fun, a nice way to spend an hour and a half.”
Showtune: The Words & Music of Jerry Herman, will be presented July 19, 20, 21, 26, 27 and 28 and Aug. 2, 3 and 4 at 7:30 p.m. Sunday matinees are July 22 and 29 and Aug. 5 at 3 p.m. Performances are at the Savannah Community Theatre, 2160 E. Victory Dr. Tickets for evening performances are $25 for adults, $20 seniors and $15 students and children. All matinees are $15. Call 898-9021 for reservations or buy tickets online at