Original Broadway Cast
Still Looking Swell
Hello, Dolly! is your basic Broadway show with few artistic pretensions. A classic tale of two love interests (one a mature couple, the other a pair of teenagers), it's got broad, anthemic tunes, caprices that rise out of nowhere to animate whatever's happening on stage, and songs catchy enough to stand apart from the plot, which is derived from Thornton Wilder's play The Matchmaker.
Formula isn't bad when it's executed by a master like Jerry Herman, who was young and relatively untested at the time. Herman wrote several of the songs in a weekend as part of an audition for producer David Merrick. His gift for fetching, durable melodies quickly became impossible to miss: Louis Armstrong's version of the title theme was a Top 40 hit before the show even opened on Broadway.
Herman was also adept at developing his characters: The personas of Hello, Dolly! acquire dimension gradually, in offhand ways. Until the Act 1 finale, "Before the Parade Passes By," Dolly has functioned as a purveyor of blithe songs and comic moments. Here, although the music is lighthearted, she deepens unexpectedly as she sings about moving beyond the ghost of her deceased first husband. She's thinking of herself as an individual, and the plucky way she vows to rebuild her identity makes the moment stirring.
Hello, Dolly! was written with Ethel Merman in mind. After Merman, then at the height of her fame, demurred, Carol Channing got the part. It became Channing's first hit since Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1949, and it's easy to hear why: Channing is a fireball, drawing on internal fortitude and determination to jolt these endlessly tuneful songs into unexpected emotional terrain.
Released: 1964, RCA (2003, expanded edition)
Key Tracks: "Hello, Dolly," "Before the Parade Passes By"
Collector's Note: The expanded edition includes several tracks from a 1965 all- black cast version featuring Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway.
Catalog Choice: Mame, Original Broadway Cast
Next Stop: Sarah Vaughan: The Rodgers and Hart Songbook
Book Pages: 357–358