Paul’s Valley Democrat
A classic returns, singing all the way
Mike Arie Jun 26, 2016
I had the great pleasure to enjoy a number of Dolly Levi encounters. Mrs. Levi is the name of the leading character in the Tony Award winning musical â€œHello, Dolly!â€ with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, a book by Michael Stewart and based on â€œThe Matchmaker,â€ a play by Thornton Wilder.
David Merrick was the legendary producer of the original 1964 production and over the years, it was a Broadway and touring showcase for a number of great ladies of theatre and film, from Ethel Merman and Mary Martin to Ginger Rogers.
Enter, stage left, Carol Channing, who would win a Tony Award as the original Dolly and for nearly four decades, tour the nation playing the role in thousands of performances. I was able to savor stops and up close and personal encounters along Dollyâ€™s journey into theatre history. Enjoy!
The first: Mr. Merrick was a man well ahead of his time. He assembled the first all African-American cast with Pearl Bailey as Dolly and legendary crooner, Cab Calloway as Horace Vandergelder, Dollyâ€™s love interest.
The Broadway matinee I saw turned out to be on Ms. Baileyâ€™s birthday and after the final curtain, she and the cast staged a party on stage where Ms. Bailey performed a comedy routine for the ages.
The second: I saw one of Ms. Channingâ€™s performances in LA, (she loved to tour and was legendary for never missing a performance), and an extra bonus was that a former summer theatre colleague of mine was in the cast in a leading character role. Michael would tour with Ms. Channing off and on for years.
The third: After the aforementioned LA production, Michael invited us backstage to meeting Miss Channing in her dressing room.
She is also well-known for never forgetting who she meets. Regrettably, I may never have an opportunity to test that out. Most memorable of all was that she was lovely and gracious after an already long evening.
Finally: A few years later, we enjoyed seeing Miss Channing and lifelong friend George Burns at Chasenâ€™s, the famous Beverly Hills restaurant. It was one of former President Ronald Reaganâ€™s favorite places and was a prominent fixture during his â€˜Westernâ€™ White House years.
The spring 2017 Broadway edition of â€œHello, Dolly!â€ will star Bette Midler and David Hyde Pierce, established stars in their own right. Ms. Midler from music and film and Mr. Pierce from television and theatre. As the production evolves, what will be interesting to follow are these two points:
â€¢ What to do with a weak book: As I have commented on before, for todayâ€™s audiences, I am not certain that the story will hold their attention. The reason producerâ€™s bring in major stars is to balance out todayâ€™s expectations and yesterdays winning formula.
â€¢ Will they revive the famous Gower Champion choreography? Mr. Championâ€™s memorable work was more than just the Harmonia Gardens scene with the dancing waiters and an historic song.
Coming soon: The SpongeBob Musical. Based on the popular cartoon, it begins its run up to Broadway in Chicago. The nationâ€™s Bicentennial takes stage once again, 40 years removed. Some personal, and â€˜dramaticâ€™ reflections.
â€œItâ€™s so nice to have you back, where you belong,â€ in our town.