It really hit me that humans like to measure time in decades, so here we are; collectively, definitely aware that yet another one is ending. And like many others, I have gone deep into reflective mode: a hibernation of sorts, which actually works in pretty good conjunction with wintertime. Last night, I was perusing old journals from six to seven years ago. I remember looking at this page where I had scribbled some random thoughts and quotes. “The world is full of wonderful things!” - Cornelius Hackl. I guess on May 24, 2013, I needed some positive inspiration? And who better from than Cornelius: young, joyous, and in love, who exclaims this sentiment in the 1964 musical Hello, Dolly! This morning, I woke up to the news that Jerry Herman, the composer of Hello, Dolly! and other beloved classics of musical theater, had died. And then I cried.
Mr. Herman’s music has been part of my life for all of my decades, and provided the soundtrack to pivotal moments in my life and the lives of so many other people I know. In his music, he managed to capture the rawness and honesty of the human condition in the tenderest of ways, in the cleverest of ways, and in the most singable of ways. As a child growing up in the theater, the songs are beautiful, catchy, relatable, and fun to perform. And then you become an adult and you really start to understand the deeper layers of what it is to be alive and flawed and vulnerable and sad and happy and giddy and sentimental, sometimes all at the same time - and then Mr. Herman’s music can really be a soothing balm for that. You get it now. You are able to understand his music better. His music delivers encouraging messages for us to take chances, stay present, and enjoy life to the fullest. What a gift he gave us all.
I am a little girl, and my voice teacher and I are preparing for the vocal studio’s annual holiday concert. My piece would be “We Need a Little Christmas” and she’s going over the lyrics with me especially because it’s very wordy. The concert ends up going well, and I get all the words right. Then, I am nine years old, and get to see a local production of Hello, Dolly! I, of course, fall in love with it, and watch the video of the film version over and over again at home. Barbra’s facial expressions are imprinted in my brain. I also remember watching the Mame film as well at that age. Then I am fourteen years old, appearing in my first high school musical, in the ensemble of Hello, Dolly! The bloomers, the skirts, the hats, the harmonies, the sets, the dancing! It was my favorite of those entire four years. Then, years later, as Ernestina in a very special production with National Asian Artists’ Project, off-broadway with an all-Asian-American cast, at the Signature Center on 42nd street in New York City. That was so incredibly fun. Then, doing an all-Jerry Herman concert with National Asian Artists’ Project Broadway Community Chorus. Oh, my heart! Oh, our hearts! The essence of delight can’t help but ooze through us all when we are working on these pieces together; optimism really is contagious.
And then, this past summer, in the ensemble with StageWorks’ Fresno’s production of the Fresno premiere of La Cage Aux Folles. The same voice teacher who taught me “We Need a Little Christmas" all those years ago is our vocal director for the production. Full circle to the max. It’s hard to express just how in love I am with La Cage Aux Folles, but I am in love with La Cage Aux Folles because to me it is one of the sweetest love stories in musical theater. And one of its most important sentiments, “the best of times is now” is the simplest thing but the truest thing. Our entire run was sold out, and when the audience stood and clapped and sang along to “The Best of Times is Now” curtain call, it would choke me up every time. But I can’t help it. I’m a sap.
Jerry Herman’s work reminds us to seize the day, celebrate, and LIVE. An invaluable reminder for myself starting NOW - not tomorrow, not in four days on January 1, 2020, but now - is to do just that. “Tune the grand up/Call the cops out/Strike the band up/Pull the stops out/Hallelujah!/It’s today”. Thank you, Jerry Herman, and goodnight.