Showstopper: Carol Channing in “Hello, Dolly!”

The success of Hello, Dolly! is one for the record books. Jerry Herman‘s second Broadway musical – and his first for infamous producer David Merrick – suffered a tortuous out of town experience. Originally, the show had the rather unmusical title of Dolly! A Damned Exasperating Woman. That was tossed out the window when Merrick heard Louis Armstrong’s iconic cover of the song “Hello, Dolly.” Reviews in Detroit and Washington, D.C. were disappointing, Merrick threatened firings and closings and tried to bring in other writers. However, director Gower Champion was able to bring it together for the opening night in New York. Dolly opened to unanimous raves and settled in for a 7 year run at the St. James Theatre. The musical held the record for most Tony wins (10) for almost 40 years, until The Producers came in and snatched up 12. Carol Channing hadn’t had a Broadway smash since Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which opened in 1949.

It almost wasn’t to be. Herman and librettist Michael Stewart adapted Thornton Wilder‘s The Matchmaker (already a hit play with Ruth Gordon and a film with Shirley Booth) with Ethel Merman in mind. However, following Gypsy she was no longer interested in originating any musical comedy roles and passed on the project (though she later closed the show). Channing was given the gift of a lifetime. She played the show for two years in New York and basically traveled the world with the show for the next thirty years. Her first Broadway return came in 1978, opposite Eddie Bracken. Then following an appearance in the famous red dress at Jerry Herman’s Broadway at the Hollywood Bowl, interest was renewed in yet another tour of Dolly. Channing took it out on the road and brought it back to Broadway in what was her final appearance in the role. Between the original production and her final tour, she clocked in over 5,000 performances.

Like we saw with Angela Lansbury and “Mame” a couple weeks ago, the company sings and dances a paean to the leading lady. The number even builds similarly, with parallels in the way the dance break and two pullbacks are situated in the vocal score. It was a showstopper; Mrs. Levi promised return in the stirring act one finale “Before the Parade Passes By” and here in the middle of the second act delivers it, promenading down the stairs of the Harmonia Gardens in that famous red dress.

What follows is a clip of the 73 year old Channing from her farewell tour. However, to see a clip of Channing in her prime, you can click through here to see video footage of the original cast appearance at the Johnson White House in 1965. The video is black and white and silent, dubbed over with the original cast album but it’s extraordinary to see. Channing also recorded a specialty cover for the 1964 Presidential election with new lyrics called “Hello, Lyndon!”

There has never been a production of Hello, Dolly! on Broadway that hasn’t used Champion’s original staging. Like Mame, I think it’s time for a brand new Dolly with a brand new everything.


Mary Martin in "Hello Dolly!"

There’s Carol, there’s Barbra and of course Pearlie Mae. But Mary Martin was the one who not only opened Hello, Dolly! in London but also toured with the show in Vietnam and Japan during the Vietnam War. This is incredibly rare footage of the curtain call and Martin’s specialty encore of the title song at the show’s first performance in Vietnam. The audience is made up of thousands soldiers, mostly American troops as well as some from Vietnam, Korea and New Zealand. This was taped for a 1966 television special called “Mary Martin: Hello, Dolly! Round the World,” which was a documentary about this touring production, narrated by Martin. Truth be told, I find this incredibly moving. Take a look:

Random Thoughts on This & That

One of the things I enjoyed best about “It’s a Business” from Curtains was that we were getting yet another fantastic auteur vamp from John Kander. It’s especially prevalent in the jubilant exit music that was unfortunately not recorded on the original cast album.

The complete cast for the Roundabout revival of A Man For All Seasons was announced today. Over which name do I get the most excitement? Maryann Plunkett!! A Tony-winner for Me and My Girl, she hasn’t been on Broadway in fifteen years and it’s wonderful to see that she’s to make a triumphant return as Alice More. (For those Sondheim-philes out there, she was also a replacement Dot in the original production of Sunday in the Park With George).

There has been much hoopla made over the selection of Bailey to replace Laura Bell Bundy in Legally Blonde. To quote a great literary/cinematic (and occasionally musical theatre) hero: “Frankly, I don’t give a damn.” I will never align with the ideas of casting professional musical theatre productions on any side of the pond based on a reality show. Thankfully the LB show didn’t allow the audience to decide (oh the humanity!), but still, there are too many qualified individuals pounding the pavements looking for a chance that have to audition along with all the rest. The determined ones who are in the closed room with the deadpan (dead?) casting director or assistant, minus the immediate criticism. You know, the old-fashioned way… So let us hope this lunacy is just a trend. (Though sadly it appears to be becoming a West End phenomenon, though you should check out Seth Rudestky’s recaps on playbill – they are brilliant, insightful, honest and HILARIOUS).

As promised, I was at The Dark Knight on July 18 at 12:01. The film is one of the most remarkable achievements of its genre, with much-deserved praise for the performance of Heath Ledger. It’s one of iconic stature, and not just because of his unfortunate and untimely death this past January. The boldness and bravery of an actor making such fantastic choices, and making them work brilliantly is a testament to the talent we, the world, have lost. Like so many other great artists we’ve lost at an early age, from George Gershwin to James Dean to Michael Bennett, we lament the greatness we will never know from Ledger’s woefully premature death.

And no, I will not be seeing Mamma Mia! Truth be told, I’ve not seen Hairspray, Dreamgirls, The Phantom of the Opera, or Rent, so it’s not really a big surprise that I wouldn’t be seeing a big-screen adaptation of a musical. I saw Sweeney Todd, but since that’s one of my all-time favorite shows, I was chomping at the bit to get there. For some reason I don’t take as well to the stage musical adapted for screen like I once did, though I still appreciate them immensely.

With Daniel Day-Lewis now signed for the role of Guido Contini in Rob Marshall’s film adaptation of Nine and rumored for the film remake of My Fair Lady, do you think he’s going to become a full-fledged musical theatre star? The only actor I know who has played both of these uniquely different roles is Jonathan Pryce in a London concert of the former and the 2001 Cameron Mackintosh revival of the latter. I only hope the actress cast as Eliza Doolittle will do her own singing, do it well.

Long-rumored negotiations over the film adaptation of August: Osage County are now officially under way. The show has settled in nicely for what appears to be a decent run, with Amy Morton continuing to tear up the stage as Barbara and Estelle “I can stand on my head” Parsons as Violet. Though we’ve discussed the play here often enough, I can’t get enough of it. The experience I’ve had as an audience member each time has knocked me for an adrenaline-rushed cathartic loop. However, that said, I feel a film adaptation may lessen the impact experienced when seeing the play when its alive with its electric intensity. Ideally, a taped for PBS version with the original cast would have been the best bet, preserving the legend for all-time, but I’m still intrigued at the prospect of the film. And everyone who’s anyone in Hollywood is interested – and rightly so. Thank God Tracy Letts is writing the screenplay.

There’s been a huge release of Jerry Herman music on itunes, amazon (digital) and at (CD issue). Most notably, they are reissuing the 1967 cast recording of Hello, Dolly! with Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway, which for my money is the best Dolly recording out there. (Pearlie Mae’s sass on “So Long, Dearie” is worth the price of the disc alone). But also, the Original London Cast Recording of the show with Mary Martin is getting its first-ever digital release. I’ve heard the album from an LP rip I received a couple years back. What’s most amusing is Martin’s yodeling “ole!” on the second pullback in the title song. I practically fell out of my chair laughing. It’s a cute album.

I love my blogging. I love the people I’ve met taking up this little venture of mine and am grateful for their kinship. Too many people have told me I should be a theatre critic as a result. But if anyone recalls my very first post, waaaay back in October of ought-7, I specifically stated that I refuse to be a critic, and I find that I really must stick to that gun. My blog is my hobby and I daresay, I doubt I will ever write an official “review” for anything ever again. In the meanwhile, I’m also finding myself simultaneously pulling back toward the creative individual I was when I was eighteen; dabbling in opera performance, musical theatre, acting, directing, creative writing, etc. Right now I find myself working on a project that came to me over the weekend. I won’t elaborate yet as the sperm has yet to penetrate the wall of the egg. (Wow, how’s that for graphic imagery?) Hopefully what I come up might be something of interest to all you out here in Blogsville, 😉 For the occasion, I’ve purchased my very first laptop, so I can have my writing and blogging accessible to me wherever I may go. This venture here has been one of the most satisfying things I’ve undertaken in a long time and am glad that I can continue to share my thoughts and information with you all. Oh, and of course the youtube/bluegobo videos…


Okay, so I’m about the seven thousandth person to make that pun. Sue me. However, thanks to the fantastic Pixar animation film Wall-E, which is one of the most loved films to come about this year, there is talk of the Nederlanders presenting their long-awaited revival of Hello, Dolly! It had actually been discussed when the revival of La Cage Aux Folles was first announced a few years back that the Nederlander Organization would present revivals of La Cage, Dolly! and Mame in succession. However, with the disappointing six month run of La Cage, the other two shows seemed to be put on the back burner.

Fast forward to right now. Jerry Herman is excited. The buzz created from the film is stratospheric. The Nederlanders’ interest is back up. And the internet boards are abuzz with chatter about who would make the perfect Dolly Gallagher Levi. So it makes perfect sense to strike when the iron is hot. And let’s face it, the film adaptation of Dolly is pretty lackluster. Barbra Streisand was somewhat out of her element (even if the note she holds at the end of “Before the Parade Passes By” for sixteen bars is impressive), the overall picture was low on humor and ultimately bloated with too much spectacle and little heart, with the story of Dolly’s re-emergence feeling lost in the shuffle. Another problem, for me, is that because of her youth and vibrance, there is a certain gravitas lost in the character’s arc. Where has she been?)

Jerry himself weighs in on some various “suggestions” in Variety:

Herman has been thinking of possible actresses to topline the revival for some time. While he concedes the role demands “a big star,” he declines to name any frontrunner. He acknowledges eyeing Queen Latifah to play Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi, but says her busy film career would make that casting problematic — at least so far.

Chat rooms and theater insiders have been volunteering casting ideas that range from the fantastic to the obvious: Oprah Winfrey (“An exciting idea, but I don’t think she could devote a year to the production,” says Herman); Meryl Streep (“She can do anything.”); Barbra Streisand, star of the 1969 screen version (“She’s the right age now, but she’s never coming back to Broadway.”); Patti LuPone (“Magnificent.”); Reba McEntire (“I’m crazy for her, but I’m not sure about the accent.”); Bernadette Peters (“We were close friends and I obviously love this lady, but I just don’t know.”).

Interesting comments from Mr. Herman. Hell, I think this revival should replicate the original: replace one formidable star with another. Why not have all these ladies come down the red staircase akin to Carol, Ginger, Betty, Martha, Pearlie Mae, Phyllis and Ethel.

It’s refreshing to see something Broadway related so fresh in the mindset of current popular culture. Makes me feel like I’ve seen a flash of what it would have been like to be a theatre fan in 1956.