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October 10, 2002
   
"I see their souls, and I hold them in my hands, and because I love them, they weigh nothing," the late Pearl Bailey said of theater audiences.

I couldn't believe I found this quote. I'd just lunched with the theater's one and only Jerry Herman, and we had spoken of the many women who'd starred in his classic musical "Hello, Dolly!" Pearl was one of them.

But in spite of her loving quote, the star often forgot that her audience was waiting and expecting the curtain to go up promptly at 8. Pearl would keep Jerry in her dressing room, ignoring the stage manager's knocks, regaling him with stories and forgetting all about the audience.

TEN YEARS AGO, Jerry Herman departed New York for Los Angeles, because he felt he hadn't long to live, and he wanted to die in a balmy climate. Now, the songwriter says he feels better than he has in his entire life, and he is moving back to New York to take Broadway by storm just as he has been doing since his first big hit, "Milk and Honey," back in 1961. He also went on to "Hello, Dolly!," "Mame," "Dear World," "Mack and Mabel," "A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine," "La Cage aux Folles" and a number of Jerry Herman reviews.

Jerry and I lunched at Swifty's, where a bevy of beautiful, well-dressed dames came to the table -- let's just say Phyllis George, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Princess Firyal, Kathie Lee Gifford, Nan Kempner and Carolina Herrera were on hand -- to say hello to a talented true spirit of the theater. Jerry is staying here while his revue "Showtune" tries out at Nyack's Helen Hayes Theater for just 18 performances starting this weekend. If it works, they'll move it Off-Broadway. In this outing, 40 of Jerry's immortal show tunes are woven together into an offering with help from Paul Gilger. This little revue is being done with piano only, starring "A Chorus Line" Tony winner Donna McKechnie and Martin Vidnovic.

Meantime, Jerry wrote a show for Steve Wynn of Las Vegas, who wanted "spectacle and music." This one turned out better than Jerry had hoped. He says, "I simply love it." We'll see "Miss Spectacular" next year, being directed and choreographed by none other than Tommy Tune.

But Jerry's comeback to the old Rialto pales next to the plans being laid for him by Jimmy Nederlander. Starting next year, Jimmy's giant theater organization will revive and mount three of Herman's most famous shows -- first, "Mame," which made Angela Lansbury a greater star than she already was ... "La Cage aux Folles," the campy musical of the fabled French film, with a book by "Hairspray" star Harvey Fierstein, which will appear with certain gay facets altered into a new mode ... and finally, "Hello, Dolly!" the musical of Thornton Wilder's "The Matchmaker." That long-running blockbuster boasted such leading ladies as Carol Channing (the first and foremost Dolly), Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable, Bibi Osterwald, Pearl Bailey, Mary Martin, Phyllis Diller, Ethel Merman (who originally had turned down the role!) and God only knows who else. (In 1969, the 20th Century-Fox film starred Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau.)

This week, Jerry honors his longtime friend Carol Channing as her star, the very first, is placed in Broadway's new Walk of Stars. Producer Marty Richards is tossing a cocktail do tonight, honoring Carol, Jerry and the walk's spearhead, Arlene Dahl.

It's so nice to have the dapper, charming, talented Jerry Herman back where he belongs -- on Broadway!

BIGGIES TURNED OUT in droves to salute the new book "Live From New York" that Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller have written as an oral history of "Saturday Night Live." These two guys were on the crest of a wave of great reviews as they received kudos in the stunning downstairs Sony Style Store space on Madison Avenue. Sony's chief, Howard Stringer, hosted the gala, which reminded us that he once headed up CBS News.

"This is a party about fear!" said one wiseacre, noting the VIP media-ites who attended. (Shales is the grand poo-bah of critics for The Washington Post.) I said, "No, it's because people genuinely respect Tom!"

Yes, they do, but one wonders -- where were the "SNL" stars? Most of them gave interviews; few of them showed. Other important people made up for it. Diane Sawyer made an early appearance but rushed off to tape "PrimeTime." In the gang, one saw Lorne Michaels; Mike Wallace; Charlie Rose; Larry King; Cynthia McFadden; Barry Diller; Tom Brokaw; Dan and Jean Rather; Joy and Regis Philbin; Marshall Rose and Candice Bergen; Nora Ephron; Binky and Ken Auletta; Richard Cohen; Wayne Lawson; Avery and Judy Corman; Conan O'Brien; and the NBC News legend named Reuven Frank. Leaving, I ran into Paula Zahn as I was rushing for a cab. I thought I should have warned her that her No. 1 enemy, Fox titan Roger Ailes, was also downstairs. But I guess Paula can take care of herself. I know Roger can take care of himself!



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