You’re Lookin’ Swell, Dolly

by Genevieve Holt

Younger theater fans may not realize it, but Hello, Dolly! was the Hamilton of its day.  The show, which opened on Broadway in January 1964, was an instant sensation and one of the hottest tickets in New York, mounted by the legendary producer David Merrick.  With music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, a book by Michael Steward, direction from the famous Gower Champion, and based on a Thornton Wilder play, Dolly was a gigantic hit.

Set in the 1890s, Hello, Dolly! tells the story of the inimitable Dolly Levi, an endearing matchmaker who sets off to find a match for the curmudgeonly “well-known unmarried half-a-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder, while also helping a young artist named Ambrose woo Horace’s niece.  Dolly’s plotting grows to involve Horace’s shopkeepers and a hat shop owner in Manhattan, while it soon becomes clear she has set her own sights on marrying Horace.

The title role was played by the extraordinary Carol Channing (after famously being turned down by Ethel Merman), and the show opened in the same season as Funny Girl, pitting Channing against Barbra Streisand for the Tony Award for Best Actress.  Channing won for her unforgettable performance, though ironically Streisand eventually starred in the film version of Dolly.   The show also won another ten Tony Awards that year, which set a record that Dolly held for an impressive 37 years.  The musical was such a national sensation that the original cast album was #1 on the Billboard pop album chart for seven weeks.  The production closed after 2,844 performances, making it the longest-running musical in Broadway history at the time (though Fiddler on the Roof unseated it the following year.) 

After its initial run, Dolly enjoyed two more Broadway revivals, while also being immortalized in film and countless school, community and regional theater productions, making it one of the most beloved musicals of all time.  The show has touched pop culture in such deep-rooted ways that Channing’s iconic red satin costume is a treasure now displayed at the Smithsonian, and the film made a joyful cameo in Pixar’s Wall-E

Then in 2017, Dolly was given new life again in a major way. Broadway producer Scott Rudin staged the first major Broadway revival of the show in decades, turning out an exquisite new version at the Shubert Theater that Variety said “never looked better”, full of sumptuous turn-of-the-century costumes and lavish, fanciful sets by Santo Loquasto and directed by Jerry Zaks.  This fresh new production of Dolly broke box office records in New York and now heads out on a national tour so audiences across America can put on their Sunday clothes and enjoy Dolly back where she belongs.

Blurb: Winner of four Tony Awards including Best Musical Revival, director Jerry Zaks’ “gorgeous” new production (Vogue) of HELLO DOLLY! is a universally acclaimed smash that NPR calls “the best show of the year.” Breaking box office records week after week and receiving unanimous raves on Broadway, this HELLO, DOLLY! pays tribute to the original work of legendary director/choreographer Gower Champion – hailed both then and now as one of the greatest stagings in musical theater history. Rolling Stone calls it “a must-see event. A musical comedy dream. If you’re lucky enough to score a ticket, you’ll be seeing something historic. Wow, wow, wow, indeed!”

Learn more about HELLO, DOLLY here.

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