January 16, 1964– The original production of Hello, Dolly! opened on Broadway
Hello, Dolly!, with a score by openly gay Jerry Herman and a book by gay Michael Stewart, follows the story of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a strong-willed matchmaker, as she travels to Yonkers to find a match for the “well-known unmarried half-a-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder. She convinces his niece, his niece’s boyfriend, and Vandergelder’s two clerks to travel to New York City where hilarity ensues.
Hello, Dolly! was first produced on Broadway by David Merrick, and won a record-tying (tied with South Pacific) 10 Tony Awards. That record held for 37 years, until a little musical titled The Producers won 12. The Hello, Dolly! Original Cast Recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2002. The album reached Number One on the Billboard album chart in early June 1964 and was bumped out of the spot the next week by Louis Armstrong’s album Hello, Dolly! beating The Beatles’ The Beatles’ Second Album and a Hard Day’s Night.
The original production was directed and choreographed by Gower Champion at the St. James Theatre. It closed on December 27, 1970, after 2,844 performances. Carol Channing starred, with David Burns as Horace, Charles Nelson Reilly as Cornelius, Eileen Brennan as Irene.
After Channing left the show, Merrick employed a line of groovy actors to play Dolly, including Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable, Pearl Bailey (in an all-black version, she received a special Tony), Phyllis Diller, and Ethel Merman. The role was originally written for Merman, but she turned it down, as did Mary Martin, although she later played it. Second choice for the role was Nancy Walker. Yet, Merrick eventually hired Channing, who made Dolly her signature role, playing it again in 1978 and 1995 on Broadway. Champion was not the producer’s first choice for director. Hal Prince, Jerome Robbins and Joe Layton all turned it down.
The London production of Hello, Dolly! premiered in the West End on December 2, 1965 and ran for 794 performances. It starred Mary Martin as Dolly.
Two songs cut prior to the opening, typical belt style songs World, Take Me Back and Love, Look In My Window were restored for Merman’s run.
The show received rave reviews. The original production became the longest-running musical in Broadway history up to that time, surpassing My Fair Lady and then being surpassed in turn by Fiddler On The Roof.
The original Broadway production of Hello, Dolly! grossed $27 million. The current revival has grossed $91 million… so far.
The show has become one of the most enduring musical theatre hits, with four Broadway revivals and international success. It was also made into the 1969 film that was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and won three.
The Tony-winning Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly! bid farewell to its first Dolly: Bette Midler, who finished her Tony-winning stint at the Shubert Theatre on Sunday January 14. Fellow Tony winner Bernadette Peters assumes the role next, with performances resuming January 20 following a brief vacation for everyone involved in the production. She is joined by openly gay actor Victor Garber as Horace Vandergelder. It is just crazy that Hello, Dolly! is the first musical Midler has starred in with her name above the title. The whole project, with gay actors David Hyde Pierce as Horace Vandergelder and Gavin Creel as Cornelius Hack was like a love letter to musical theatre fans from openly gay producer Scott Rudin. Hello, Dolly! had the biggest advance tickets sales in Broadway history, topping $40 million, $9 million the first day!
The Hello, Dolly! history is long, picturesque, and quite gay. John Oxenford’s short farce A Day Well Spent (1835) had been adapted into a full-length play titled Einen Jux Will Er Sich Machen by Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy in 1842. Both writers were gay. In 1938, gay writer Thornton Wilder Americanized the Nestroy version and changed it to The Merchant Of Yonkers. The Broadway production was a dismal failure, running for just 39 performances.
17 years later, director Tyrone Guthrie (not gay) commissioned a new version of the play for his friend Ruth Gordon. Wilder extensively rewrote the piece and made the minor character of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a widow who brokers marriages and other transactions, the leading role. Wilder named this play The Matchmaker. Gordon went on to have a smashing success in the play in London and when it moved to Broadway the next year, Gordon won the Tony Award for playing the title role.
The charming 1958 film version starred Shirley Booth, Anthony Perkins (gay), Shirley MacLaine (loved by gays), Paul Ford, and Robert Morse.
A film version of the musical version was released in 1969 starring Barbra Streisand (gays seem to really like her) in the lead role. Ironically, Streisand in Funny Girl lost the Tony Award to Channing in 1965. Tom Stoppard (not gay, but talented and smart) reworked the story once again, in 1981, as the farce On The Razzle. Did you follow all that?