Jerry Herman, who passed away just after Christmas at the aged of 88, had a career that was less unusual that it might seem from a distance: his first three full-on Broadway musicals were all hits, Milk and Honey (1961), Hello Dolly! (1964), and Mame (1966) were all hits, the latter two blockbusters. Then, his career suddenly modulated into a distinctly minor key, when he next wrote three shows in a row that all closed quickly and but are all regarded as favorites of musical theater cognescenti, Dear World (1969), Mack & Mabel (1974) and The Grand Tour (1979), before he returned in style with one final epic triumph, La Cage aux Folles (1985).
Mack & Mabel in particular is beloved of musical theater geeks, even though it was not a success when it premiered on Broadway in 1974. (It's said that producer David Merrick dropped the ball when promoting the show, but also, it just could be that audiences were not in the mood for a very old fashioned show with traditionally-show-tune-y songs about silent movie stars in 1974, the age when everything from Sondheim to Andrew Lloyd Webber to the increasing number of rock-pop-oriented shows seemed very trendy.) Yet Mack & Mabel is easily one of Herman's masterpieces, with some of his most moving songs, including two masterpiece ballads, "I Won't Send Roses" (the rare love song written from the point of a self-confessed, insensitive male) and "Time Heals Everything" are two of his greatest ballads. The Encores production is, for me at least (and I'll never walk alone), one of the most anticipated events of the season, just to see the remarkable Douglas Sills, who looks and sings and acts as if he just stepped out of a vintage 1930 issue of Vanity Fair, in the leading male role as cinema pioneer Mack Sennett.