With a show named “A Tribute to Jerry Herman: I Am What I Am”, singer/actor Stan Buturla had a great advantage from the start. The man born Gerald Sheldon Herman on July 10, 1931 left behind a seemingly infinite playlist of songs that are just as enjoyable in 2022 as they were when first heard. There’s a reason why Hello, Dolly!, which made its debut on Broadway in 1964, enjoyed a successful revival with Bette Midler in 2017. There’s a reason why I Am What I Am, from La Cage aux Folles, became a transgenerational gay anthem, which Buturla pointed out before delivering it to the audience with gusto at his show’s climax. And there’s a reason why Buturla opened his show at New York City’s Laurie Beechman Theatre on June 2nd with It’s Today from Mame: Even the presumably few people in the audience who had never seen Mame, either on stage or in its cinematic incarnation, would start tapping their feet to the song’s instantly catchy melody. (More about the opening song later…) Of course, even the finest music and lyrics need a great singer to bring them to life. Buturla no doubt made Mr. Herman proud in this one man show– not only with his singing or his bona fide affection for the material, but also by sharing lots of Jerry Herman trivia throughout the evening. An example of the trivia: With the opening of Dear World in 1969, Herman became the first composer-lyricist in history to have three productions running simultaneously on Broadway. The others were (all together now…!) Mame and Hello, Dolly! Yes, kids, this was “educational cabaret”! To top it off, the proud grandfather threw more than a few, shall we say… “Dad jokes” (or should we say “Granddad jokes”?) into the well-chosen musical mix…
And what a mix it was! As mentioned before, Buturla kicked off with It’s Today from Mame. With lyrics like “Though it may not be anyone’s birthday, And though it’s far from the first of the year; I know that this very minute has history in it; We’re here!”, the song was no doubt chosen to get the crowd excited on this Thursday night. Over six feet tall, Buturla has a fine stage presence, and his voice is very strong and commanding to match. Given that It’s Today was always sung by women in the assorted Mames, it was a rare indulgence to hear the song done in “une voix masculine”. More songs from Mame came later on in the night, including Open a New Window, My Best Girl, and of course the title song. As mentioned before, the singer gave quite a bit of insight into the history and legacy of Herman’s works, which included sharing a snippet from an infamous review of the 1974 movie version of Mame with Lucille Ball. On a personal note, my favorite song from that movie is the title song, even if the reason I like it so much may be that Lucy does NOT sing that one! Performed by Robert Preston in the film, Buturla has the same robustness so dearly needed for this homage to one of Herman’s larger-than-life characters. If She Walked Into My Life, which is Mame’s so-called “11 o’clock number”, was a fine example of Buturla’s range. Throughout the show, the singer moved from Herman’s more buoyant songs (With You on My Arm, from La Cage) to the composer’s big, wet ballads (There’s No Reason in the World, from Milk and Honey; I Won’t Send Roses, from Mack & Mabel) with ease. Buturla has previously noted that for all the joy in so many Jerry Herman songs, there are also the ones that “really tug at your heartstrings”. Could there be a better example than Time Heals Everything, from Mack & Mabel?
By now you may be wondering about Hello, Dolly! A true piece of bona fide American pop culture, this is arguably Herman’s most popular musical; the audience’s reaction that night to the songs from Dolly! seemed to verify this. It’s just impossible not to sing along to the musical’s ageless title song, whether you’re 9 or 90. While some of the lyrics of songs like It Takes a Woman (“O yes it takes a woman, A dainty woman; A sweetheart, a mistress, a wife. O yes it takes a woman, A fragile woman; To bring you the sweet things in life!”) are dated to the point of being high camp, Buturla delivers that number with vocal vigor. He can equally convey high emotion with selections like It Only Takes a Moment.
Hello, Dolly! , Mame, and La Cage aux Folles are arguably Herman’s most well-known and/or popular musicals, but Buturla also brought the audience some underheard gems from Herman’s less appreciated shows, including Marianne from Herman’s 1979 The Grand Tour. Once again, this ballad is a great showcase of Buturla’s vocal range. Just Go to the Movies, from 1979’s A Day in the Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, is a bona fide Broadway bauble, delightfully dated with references to such classic stars as Erroll Flynn, Alice Faye, Don Ameche, and many others… plus some other vintage references such as “Busby’s beauties” and “cupie doll cuties”. Buturla clearly had fun singing this one… but then again, how could anyone not?!
The show wound down with the enduring favorite The Best of Times, which became a singalong, complete with projected lyrics for the audience. And yes, after 18 songs, there was an encore which I won’t give away. I will say, however, that it was time to say “Goodbye”… but hopefully, Stan Buturla will be saying “Hello” to audiences again really soon. As said before, Jerry (Sorry, but “Mr. Herman” just sounds way too formal…) would be proud.
“A Tribute to Jerry Herman: I Am What I Am” featured John Bowen on piano.