Her apartment was overflowing with congratulatory roses. She is indeed a much-loved member of the theatrical community. Here are excerpts from our conversation:
TheaterMania: When did you find out about the Tony?
Sylvia Herscher: I got a phone call and said, "Excuse me, I'll have to call you back." The man said, "Wait, I want to tell you about an award." I said, "That's very nice, but I'm in the middle of a meeting and will have to call you back in the morning." I hung up on him.
TM: You hung up on him?
Herscher: I got his number. I said that I would call back in the morning. I'm a lady. I called in the morning, and he told me--and that was fun. TM: Was it always theater?
Herscher: It was theater in high school, theater in college, out of college; it's been theater all the way, even today. TM: What is it in the theater that makes it so important to you?
Herscher: A wonderful place to lose myself, to make believe. My mother and father loved the theater. I got a lot of it from them. My mother had been an actress in the Yiddish Theater. There was a passion about theater around us. You absorb it.
TM: Tell me about some of your favorite people.
Herscher: I was Jule Styne's general manager. Did Mr. Wonderful, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Visit to a Small Planet, Say Darling.
TM: Was he tough to work for?
Herscher: He was the best thing that ever happened to me. Alexander Cohen introduced me. I became a production associate on Make a Wish and Pal Joey. I graduated to general manager. Charlie Baker, from the William Morris Agency, offered me a job, and within no time I was rolling. Eric Segal's Love Story was dedicated to me. I put together Dylan, Tchin Tchin, worked on Any Wednesday, The Blood Knot, Oh What a Lovely War, and Golden Boy. I was lured away by music publisher Edwin H. Morris to head the theater department. I started to work with Jerry Herman.
Herscher: I put Ed Kleban together with Michael Bennett.
TM: Did you have any idea that Chorus Line was going to become what it did?
Herscher: Well everybody dreams, but the dream doesn't always pan out. This time it did. Michael Bennett was very, very gifted. We did Ballroom, Promises, Promises. After that, I was head of the theater department of G. Schirmer, a division of Macmillan Performing Arts, and continued to put together people and properties, including The Robber Bridegroom by Alfred Uhry and Robert Waldman (1976). When I was 70, I decided it was enough, and I came home and worked on my own, pro bono. One of the musicals I was working on is now finished and it's wonderful: Haunted, by Marilyn Stasio, with music by Steven Schoenberg and lyrics by Diane Seymour. The buzz is incredible.
TM: Was it difficult working in a man's world?
Herscher: When I was growing up my Mama and Papa said to me, "You can be and do whatever you want. All you need is a good education and have a passion for something." I never had a problem in any of the jobs. Alex Cohen and Jule Styne could care less. It was, "Just get the work done."
TM: What was the best experience you ever had in the theater?
Herscher: The most daunting was Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? with Jayne Mansfield, who was no dumb blonde. She had an awesome sense for self-promotion. She appeared on stage in a white terry cloth wrap on a massage table. She was supposed to wear underwear but ... One of the stagehands said, "If she doesn't stop running around naked backstage, we'll go crazy." I got the press agent to get a column written saying how remarkable it is that Jayne Mansfield, who has never been in the theater, is so disciplined. She never comes late to a performance and her behavior backstage is impeccable. Jane read it and behaved like a dream for the rest of the run.
TM: What show gave you the most problems?
Herscher: Mack and Mabel. It was the best score. Dear World is another show that had enormous potential. It's getting a second chance at Goodspeed Opera House in November. In those days we went out of town, reworking a script in Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington before you came to New York. Now it happens in regional theaters. The producers today do not buy from the page; they buy from the stage. I was in the glory times.
TM: Are you excited about the Tony Award?
Herscher: It will be a great night. There will be other great nights. I'm 87 years old. It's not over!
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