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Thirty years ago, a fresh new musical comedy opened to rave reviews on Broadway. Based on renowned playwright Thornton Wilder's piece The Matchmaker, with music by the young songwriter lerry Herman, Hello Dolly! was born and has captured a record breaking 10 Tony Awards. A great deal has changed in the three decades since its birth, but Hello, Dolly! remains an awe-inspiring show because its protagonist, Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi, maintains her 1950s "nice girl persona" while underneath being a woman of the '90s, fully in control of the world around her.
Carol Channing (Tony Winner for Best Actress) starred in the original Broadway show in 1964 and once again steps into the shoes of Dolly, the subtle yet domineering matchmaker who decides to make a match for herself. She instantly sees "husband material" in Jay Garner's character, Horace Vandergelder--New York's famous "half-millionaire" who has himself been seeking a "husky woman" for a wife. Her primary responsibilities would include "cleaning the stable and setting the table."
Although Dolly, busy matchmaking and teaching dance and practicing law, is the antithesis of Vandergelder's dream girl, she declares early on in her rambunctious voice. "He's all mine!" Dolly controls her own destiny and believes she can control the destinies of those around her. She never doubts that Vandergelder will want to marry her; she plays the role of innocent while manipulating and slowly altering Vandergelder's feelings. After he strongly declares, "I will not ask you to marry me, Dolly, and that's final" Channing bursts into "So Long, Dearie," in which she says that she will not marry him no matter what he says. Ever-determined, she takes it into her own power to show him her independence while subtly convincing him of what he truly believes.
Dolly does not have an easy task in winning Vandergelder's heart, though. Jay Garner shines as this stubborn and miserly character who is charming despite his faults. He has a Jonathan Winters-like talent with facial expressions that brings power to his humor in many of the scenes. Vandergelder's "It Takes a Woman," makes his claim that a wife should stay home, cook and clean. Despite being imbued with 1950's sexism, it remains lively and hysterical.
Vandergelder is every bit as domineering and controlling as Dolly, although he goes When about it in a much more blunt manner. When his employees, Cornelius and Barnaby, (played by Michael DeVries and Cory English, respectively) ask for one night a week off, he displays his tightwad mentality by absolutely refusing and threatening to fire them. Vandergelder's employees live in terror of him; after taking an afternoon off without permission, they're constantly afraid he will catch them, a fear which is realized in the end.
Garner's Vandergelder develops a great deal in front of us, with the delicate help of Channing's Dolly. Dolly is a shrewd businesswoman who teaches Vandergelder not only to love her but how to become more shrewd in his business dealings. Dolly's charm mesmerizes Vandergelder; he learns from her without realizing he is being taught.
The relationship between the two main characters is carefully contrasted between the meeting of another couple, Vandergelder's employee Cornelius and Dolly's milliner friend, Mrs. Malloy (Florence Lacey). While Malloy is an independent working woman, she is timid when she first meets Cornelius. After all,. he is a 35 year old man who has never kissed a girl but has decided now is the time. Cornelius, shy and lacking self-confidence, requires Dolly's help in wooing Mrs. Malloy; with Dolly's "boost" of confidence, he becomes an instant charmer. Cornelius and Malloy's duet, "It Only Takes A Moment," which rivals the title song as the best in the play, is a serious, beautiful contrast to the humorous wooing of Vandergelder by Dolly.
At the end of the play, however, after receiving a "sign" of approval from her deceased husband, Dolly and Vandergelder join in a reprise of the romantic balled "Hello, Dolly." While ever-faithful to her former husband, Dolly understands and accepts her desire to continue with her own life.
Many in the audience who had seen Channing originate the title role whole-heartedly believe that she has only gained in "youthful energy," vocal range and understanding of her character. After 30 years, Dolly will strut her stuff once again on the Great White Way. After the tour of the United States, the cast plans to spread Dolly's message internationally.
In the end, Channing will have starred as Dolly in over 5,000 performances; Hit should rival her honor as a one-time recipient of the Hasty Pudding's Woman of the year award as well as being a member of Richard Nixon's "Hate List."
Hello Dolly! received numerous standing ovations for Carol Channing and the entize cast on Press Night at the Colonial Theater, Channing's performance still remains strong, and that is grounded on the strength of her character. It is a sign of the continued administration belief in Dolly's independence that this character can stand the test of time and endure the changes which have occurred in the past 30 years.
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