21 Jul 2015
Herman's Hermits: Barry Whitman (from left), Keith Hopwood, Peter Noone, Karl Green and Derek Lekenby in the 1960s. Photo: Courtesy Everett Collection
Believe it or not, there’s more going on these days besides “Hamilton.” If I read one more puff piece about how Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop history lesson is a “game changer,” I’m going to use my influence at the US Treasury to have Aaron Burr replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill.
On Wednesday, in fact, producer Hal Luftig (“Kinky Boots”) is putting up a workshop of a musical about the wave of British pop groups that invaded America in the 1960s. The working title, aptly enough, is “The British Invasion Musical,” and it’s loosely based on the experiences of Peter Noone, best known as Herman of Herman and the Hermits.
Herman’s Hermits in 1968 Photo: Rex Features
Christian Borle (“Something Rotten!”) is playing the character based on Noone, and the script is by Rick Elice, who, having just lost husband Roger Rees, knows the importance of work at a time like this. (Rees, in fact, was a big advocate of the show. As a young actor in 1960s and ’70s London, he saw and probably knew many of singers of the era, the Hermits among them.)
The musical’s set in London, though it also deals with the impact the groups had on America. The early scenes take place in the Bag O’Nails pub, where many musicians, including the Hermits, got their start.
“It was sort of like the Brill Building of the London music scene,” Luftig says. “[Mick] Jag ger and Marianne Faithfull were there, The Beatles were there. They were considered renegades at the time, the anti-establishment. But then they came to America and quickly became the establishment.”
Indeed, most of them wound up on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” which was about as mainstream as you could get.
Elice, who co-wrote “Jersey Boys,” fashioned the script from Noone’s recollections, which I’m told include a love triangle involving himself, Jagger and Faithfull. (“It’s not strictly autobiographical,” Luftig says. “It’s more of a fable of the time.”)
The show will use some of the Hermits’ hits — “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” “There’s a Kind of Hush,” “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” — along with other songs from the era.
There’s no timetable for the show just yet, Luftig cautions.
“It’s taking its first baby step this week, and I hope there will be a second baby step,” he says. “We’re going to wait and see what [director Jerry Mitchell] and Rick think when we’re done.”