Shenandoah University said a final goodbye in January to a man who left a significant mark on both the university and its surrounding community over the course of more than four decades.
Shenandoah Conservatory Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Theatre and Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre (SSMT) Founder and Artistic Director Emeritus Harold “Hal” Herman, B.A., passed away Jan. 13 at age 83.
Herman, who served as a professor of theatre from 1973 until his 2006 retirement from the conservatory’s faculty, founded SSMT in 1984 and remained its artistic director until March 2015.
“Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre owes its existence to the vision and perseverance of one man: Harold Herman,” said Shenandoah Conservatory Charles B. Levitin Chair in Musical Theatre and Professor of Composition and Musical Theatre Direction and SSMT Artistic Director Thomas Albert, D.M.A. “He left an undying legacy that has touched tens of thousands of lives, and made theatre-going a way of life for all of us: students, colleagues, actors, musicians, music directors, choreographers, designers, technical and costume staff, and, of course, the audience. To paraphrase Jerome Kern on Irving Berlin, Harold Herman has no place in Shenandoah theatre. He is Shenandoah theatre.”
“Hal Herman had an extraordinary impact on our conservatory and community,” said Dean of Shenandoah Conservatory Michael Stepniak, Ed.D. “He loved the magic of musical theatre, and was brilliant in connecting audiences with great shows. Through his vision and determination, he developed a national-level summer music theatre season and founded the conservatory’s Theatre Division. His knowledge of musical theatre was encyclopedic, and his passion for the stage was infectious. He lived and breathed theatre. He will be greatly missed.”
Herman not only directed the SSMT and many of its productions, but also was one of its more beloved actors, becoming particularly associated with the role of “Teyve,” which he performed in the 1985, 1995, 2001 and 2008 SSMT productions of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Herman even brought one, now married, couple together during that last SSMT “Fiddler” run, as Michael Misko ’08 (musical theatre) recalls: “Before Sarah and I officially started dating, we were cast opposite each other in ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ She was ‘Hodel,’ I was ‘Perchick.’ During a rehearsal, Mr. Herman thought it necessary to place a kiss at the end of our second act duet, “Now I Have Everything.” It should be noted that in the book, there is not one single stage direction (anywhere) that indicates that anyone should kiss. After that rehearsal, Mr. Herman grabbed me by the arm and in his hushed Mr. Herman whisper winked at me and said, ‘You’re welcome!’”
“I had the privilege of playing the Fiddler in “Fiddler on the Roof!” with Mr. Herman (Tevye) in 2008 at SSMT. It is because of Mr. Herman that my career continues to exist today,” said arts studies alumnus Jason Labrador ’12. “My love for performing musicals started with SSMT in 1996 and has not stopped. He gave me an avenue to be a sponge and learn from my surroundings. I was not a theater major, but I was ALWAYS in the pit. He was a blessing directly and indirectly for me, and I will never forget what avenues he opened for me.”
Susan B. Calderon ’85, who earned a bachelor of arts in theatre, participated in the first SSMT season. But her first recollections of Herman date from a few years earlier. “My memories of Hal began the summer of 1980 when I traveled with my father down to Winchester, Virginia, to audition for an opportunity to attend Shenandoah. The audition was held in the theatre studio, and I was very nervous to say the least. I sang “Far From the Home I Love” from the wonderful musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” I was extremely nervous, and I recall, at the time, he was the only professor at the audition. He was very kind and welcomed me, making me feel comfortable. I guess I did a good job, because I was accepted to Shenandoah College & Conservatory of Music (Shenandoah was not a university yet) and was thrilled beyond my imagination. I attended Shenandoah from 1981 – 1985 [and] during that time, Hal gave me an education and onstage opportunities that I will always cherish. Everything I learned, and all of the skills I obtained, I continue to use and carry with me to this very day.”
“Hal’s passing is not just a loss for our university community, but also one for theatre-lovers throughout the region,” said Shenandoah University President Tracy Fitzsimmons, Ph.D. “He will be missed by every person who had the pleasure to work with or learn from him. His legacy, through SSMT, is secure.” To see more recollections about Hal or add your own, visit the We Remember Hal page.