Thursday, February 22, 2024

Learn more about the major productions and adaptations of ‘Hello, Dolly!’ | London Theatre

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The beloved Jerry Herman musical is coming to the London Palladium this summer, starring Imelda Staunton, Andy Nyman, Jenna Russell, and Tyrone Huntley.

One of the major highlights of the 2024 theatre calendar is the much-anticipated West End revival of Hello, Dolly!, with Imelda Staunton starring as the legendary matchmaker Dolly Levi. The show comes to the London Palladium this summer, directed by Dominic Cooke.

Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart’s ever-popular musical has welcomed numerous incredible leading ladies over the years, as it continues to be staged on Broadway, in London, around the world, and adapted for the screen.

Find out all about the most significant productions and adaptations of Hello, Dolly! ahead of the Palladium run.

Book Hello, Dolly! tickets on London Theatre.

Fisher Theater, Detroit, 1963

The plot of Hello, Dolly! was based on an 1835 play by John Oxenford called A Day Well Spent – which, in turn, was translated into a German farce by Johann Nestroy, and then an American farce by Thornton Wilder. In fact, Wilder had two goes at it, and the second version, which expanded the crucial character of Dolly, was a hit: that was The Matchmater, in 1954.

Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart then decided to turn Wilder’s play into a musical. They had Ethel Merman in mind for Dolly, the indomitable widow in mid-19th-century New York who specialises in matchmaking – and who sets out to make the ultimate match for herself – but Merman turned it down.

So, it was Carol Channing who led the very first cast at the Fisher Theatre in November 1963, in a production directed and choreographed by Gower Champion, and produced by David Merrick.

St James Theatre, Broadway, 1964

The creative team overhauled the show between their first tryout and their eventual Broadway debut in January 1964 – including adding the song “Before the Parade Passes By,” and changing the name from Dolly, A Damned Exasperating Woman to Hello, Dolly! – the latter inspired by Louis Armstrong’s cover of the song.

The Broadway production was a massive hit, running for a huge 2,844 performances – making it the longest-running Broadway musical for a while – until it finally closed in December 1970. Replacements for Channing included Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable, Pearl Bailey, and, finally Ethel Merman.

The show won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Direction. Channing also won Best Actress, and Dolly became a signature role for her – one she reprised in 1978 and 1995 on Broadway, and in 1979 in the West End.

Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney, Australia, 1965

Carole Cook was officially the second ever Dolly, headlining the Australian production in March 1965. An Australian choreographer, Betty Pounder, reimagined the musical numbers.

Once again, Hello, Dolly! was a big hit with audiences. The production then played in Melbourne and Auckland, New Zealand the following year.

Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, 1965

Hello, Dolly! made its West End debut in December 1965 at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, with Mary Martin (who, like Merman, had originally turned down the role) now playing Dolly. Champion returned to direct and choreograph the show.

It did very well with London audiences, running until October 1967 for a total of 794 performances, with Dora Bryan succeeding Martin in the lead role from May 1966.

Major international productions, 1967 onwards

Hello, Dolly! has played around the world, with plenty of fascinating variations. Among those is the first Spanish-language production in 1967 in Mexico City’s Teatro Manolo Fabregas. That was led by the Argentine musical star Libertad Lamarque.

In 1968, the famous Israeli star Hanna Maron led her country’s premiere production of Hello, Dolly! – and it remained a beloved role for her. Haim Hefer translated the show into Hebrew.

In 1985, Dolly became Cuban thanks to Rosita Fornés and a well-received production at the Teatro Karl Marx in Havana – and then a TV adaptation.

All of these shows, and more, prove the resonance that the story has in different cultures, as well as the universality of Herman’s glorious score.

Hello, Dolly! film, 1969

Given the success of the show on stage, it was inevitable that it would be translated to the big screen. In 1969, Ernest Lehman wrote the screenplay for the movie version and Gene Kelly came on board to direct.

Barbra Streisand played Dolly in the film, and the cast also featured Walter Matthau, Michael Crawford, Tommy Tune, Danny Lockin, Fritz Feld, Marianne McAndrew, EJ Peaker, and Louis Armstrong.

It had a budget of $25 million, allowing for lavish period re-creations of New York, including an opening scene featuring an old-fashioned locomotive – which was specially restored for the movie. Herman wrote a new song, “Just Leave Everything to Me”, which replaced “I Put My Hand In”.

The film opened strongly, but was ultimately a box office disappointment. However it had another life as a popular home video option. It also won three Academy Awards – for Art Direction, Score, and Sound.

Scenes from Hello, Dolly! also later appeared in the 2008 Pixar film WALL-E, as the title character watches footage of “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” and “It Only Takes a Moment” – and so learns about love.

Hello Dolly film

Minskoff Theatre, Broadway, 1975

Among the many subsequent revivals of Hello, Dolly!, including tours and US regional productions, there was a particularly significant one in November 1975. Although it was a relatively short run (42 performances), it was a triumph as an all-Black version of the show.

Audiences first had the chance to see an all-Black Hello, Dolly! when Pearl Bailey took over the lead role on tour alongside Cab Calloway. It was so popular that Merrick brought them into the Broadway production in 1967, and Bailey won a special Tony Award – plus RCA Victor made a second original cast album.

Then, in 1975, Bailey returned to the role with Billy Daniels and an all-Black cast, presenting audiences with a completely fresh take on Dolly.

Prince of Wales Theatre, London, 1984

There was another landmark revival of Hello, Dolly! in 1984, this time with the first-ever drag artist starring in the show. That was the great Irish performer Danny La Rue, famous for his impressions of Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, Margaret Thatcher and more.

La Rue headlined this lavish West End production at the Prince of Wales Theatre, in which he wore a show-stopping series of extravagant costumes. If it was perhaps fashion parade more than musical, it was still a sign of what an iconic figure Dolly had become: that she was, in La Rue’s terms, now a camp icon.

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London, 2009

The London gem which has become renowned for its innovative staging of classic musicals, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre put its stamp on Hello, Dolly! in July 2009. Timothy Sheader’s dynamic revival featured Samantha Spiro in the title role, along with Allan Corduner, Josefina Gabrielle and Akiya Henry.

The much-praised production won Olivier Awards for Best Musical Revival, Best Actress for Spiro, and Best Theatre Choreographer for Stephen Mear.

Shubert Theatre, Broadway, 2017

The Hello, Dolly! revival in March 2017 was true event theatre. That’s because it starred none other than the great Bette Midler, with David Hyde Pierce as her co-star, directed by Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Warren Carlyle.

The production was a sensation: tickets were so in demand that prices rose to a $525 premium. Midler won the Best Actress Tony Award, and the show also won for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Actor in a Featured Role for Gavin Creel, and Best Costume Design for Santo Loquasto.

Donna Murphy appeared in select performances as Dolly, and, later in the run (which lasted to August 2018), Bernadette Peters played Dolly, alongside Victor Garber and Charlie Stemp.

Hello, Dolly! casting

London Palladium, London, 2024

Now, Imelda Staunton takes on the iconic role of Dolly, following her incredible performances in musicals like Gypsy, Sweeney Todd, and Follies. She’s directed by Dominic Cooke, who won one of his five Olivier Awards for that landmark revival of Follies.

The exciting 2024 Hello, Dolly! cast also features Andy Nyman (Fiddler on the Roof, Ghost Stories), Jenna Russell (Sunday in the Park with George, Flowers for Mrs Harris), Tyrone Huntley (Jesus Christ Superstar, Dreamgirls), and Harry Hepple (Pippin, Privates on Parade).

Book Hello, Dolly! tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: artwork for Hello, Dolly!; movie poster for Hello, Dolly!; Harry Hepple, Tyrone Huntley, and Clare Halse, who will star in the 2024 production. (Photos courtesy of production)

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