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Herman's Hermits Front Man Peter Noone Brings the British Invasion to the Stage

Noone's career inspired the new musical My Very Own British Invasion, running at Paper Mill Playhouse.

Picture it. The time was the swinging '60s, the place was the fashionable Bag O'Nails club in London's Soho district. Hendrix in one corner, Lennon and McCartney in another. In walks Peter Noone, teen heartthrob and front man of Herman's Hermits.

You know Herman's Hermits. "There's a Kind of Hush." "I'm Into Something Good." That single-versed novelty song with the lyric "I'm 'Enery the Eighth, I am." Their hits have endured ever since, and many fans can still sing them word for word.

Noone's life is now the inspiration for the new Paper Mill Playhouse musical My Very Own British Invasion, written by Rick Elice and directed by Jerry Mitchell. Immediately following a run-through of the production in the rehearsal studio, we sat down with Noone to discuss what it's like to watch your life reappear before your very eyes.

Peter Noone, lead singer of Herman's Hermits.
(© David Gordon)

The run-through just finished. It was your first time seeing the show on its feet. How do you feel?
It's kind of emotional for me. It's a lot of reminiscences. I keep going, "That's exactly how it happened."

What was the impetus for the production?
The Bag O'Nails. I walked into the Bag O'Nails one night in the '60s, and there was John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Twiggy, all sitting around in this nightclub. All of those people had hit records on the charts. We didn't know it was a "British invasion." We were all just these English people who kind of knew each other. [Looking back] I thought it would be a great idea for a musical. I decided that if I could get Jerry Mitchell and Rick Elice involved, it'll work.

Why them?
They were legends. Jerry was obviously the guy for this piece. He's the only person you could think of. I came upon Rick because I liked what he did with Jersey Boys, and he knows the music and quite a lot about the British scene. The producer of the show was chosen by my [music] producer, and with those three people, I thought we couldn't go wrong. I just kept telling stories, and Rick turned it into something magical.

The story is about the rock-and-roll business and how people have relationships that don't necessarily suit the situation. The songs are by the people who were in the room. There's a Zombies song and a Rolling Stones song, and Herman's Hermits.

What were some of the stories you told them for the foundation of the book?
John Lennon bought me a drink. I was 16 or 17. The waitress looked at me like, I'm not even gonna serve you. So John Lennon said, "I'll have two Bacardis, and he'll have two Cokes." [laughs]

Did you feel compelled to give notes after this run-through?
No. I can't intrude. I believed all the actors. The only things I wrote down are all musical. I didn't like the way they ended "Henry." They've got to do that right, because the audience will remember that. One of the things I noticed while watching was that I was singing along. I think they're going to have a problem stopping the audience from singing along.

Why do you think your music will stand the test of time?
The audience enjoys it. I only made records for one reason, and that was to hear them on the radio, and that's where they were. Every night that I sing "There's a Kind of Hush" and "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" and "I'm Henry the Eighth," everyone in the audience knows the words and they sing it so brilliantly. It's Music Hall. It's what we grew up to believe was the way to do it.

How many times do you estimate you've sung "Henry the Eighth," at this point in your life?
[laughs] A million times. I so wish I'd written a second verse.