We’re just weeks away from Dolly Gallagher Levi’s return to Broadway! The highly anticipated revival of HELLO, DOLLY! starring Bette Midler begins previews on March 15th, officially opening at the Shubert Theatre on April 20th. To prepare for the Divine Miss M’s star turn, let’s take a look at some of the wonderful leading ladies who’ve tackled this iconic musical theatre role. Here they are, in rough chronology:
1. Carol Channing
It all began with the one and only Ms. Channing. Though Jerry Herman first envisioned Ethel Merman as Dolly, it was Carol Channing who originated to the role, forever putting her stamp on it. Ms. Channing opened the show on Broadway on January 16, 1964, winning the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. In all, HELLO, DOLLY! won 10 Tony Awards, a record it held for 37 years.
2. Ginger Rogers
The first star to succeed Ms. Channing on Broadway was film star Ginger Rogers, who took over in August of 1965. Director Gower Champion restaged the show to highlight Rogers’ dancing ability.
3. Martha Raye
The “Big Mouth,” Martha Raye, took over in February of 1966. Composer Jerry Herman was hospitalized with severe hepatitis for her entire run, and he never got to see Raye as Dolly.
4. Betty Grable
After leading the touring company, Jerry Herman’s childhood idol stepped into the role on Broadway in June of 1967. Betty Grable wowed audiences by revealing her “million dollar legs” in Dolly’s dance sequences.
5. Bibi Osterwald
Ms. Osterwald, who had understudied the part of Dolly for years, officially assumed the role for just one week: November 6th-11th, 1967.
6. Pearl Bailey
As ticket sales began to wane, producer David Merrick came up with a plan: he cast Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway as Dolly and Horace, leading a full cast of African-American actors, in a new production that toured the country. In November of 1967, Pearl Bailey and the new cast brought their show to Broadway. Bailey made the role her own, ad libbing throughout and addressing the audience during her curtain call.
7. Thelma Carpenter
Ms. Carpenter, who had developed a successful career on Broadway after making a splash as a jazz singer for Count Basie and other big bands, played Dolly on Wednesday matinees, and eventually took over the role in 1969.
8. Mary Martin
Meanwhile, musical theatre legend Mary Martin led the London company of HELLO, DOLLY! on the West End. She subsequently toured the world as Dolly, taking the show to Viet Nam and Japan.
9. Barbra Streisand
The 1969 film adaptation of HELLO, DOLLY!, directed by Gene Kelly, featured 26-year-old Barbra Streisand as the meddlesome widow pursuing middle-aged Walter Matthau as Horace Vandergelder. The film included two new songs: “Just Leave Everything To Me,” which Jerry Herman wrote specifically for Ms. Streisand, and “Love Is Only Love,” originally written for MAME.
10. Phyllis Diller
While Barbra Streisand was appearing as Dolly in movie theaters across the country, stand-up comic Phyllis Diller descended the staircase at the Harmonia Gardens on Broadway. Though Diller had created a raunchy onstage persona in her nightclub act, she played Dolly straight, with a sensitivity that surprised many theatregoers.
11. Ethel Merman
After years of resisting, Ethel Merman finally gave in and joined the DOLLY juggernaut. She assumed the role – which had been created for her – 6 years after its Broadway opening. Merman played Dolly for nine months, from March of 1970 until the show closed on December 27th. Jerry Herman reinserted two songs, “World, Take Me Back” and “Love, Look In My Window,” which were originally written for Merman but were cut when Carol Channing was cast.
12. Bette Midler
Though HELLO, DOLLY! was revived three times on Broadway (once starring Pearl Bailey and twice starring Carol Channing), the 2017 revival of DOLLY will be the first to star an actress who did NOT play Dolly in the original run. Bette Midler begins previews on March 15th and the show officially opens on April 20th. What will the Divine Miss M bring to the part? Audiences eagerly await her grand entrance.
Beginning June 13, 2017, two-time Tony Award-winner Donna Murphy will play Dolly on Tuesday evenings. (Midler will continue in the other seven performances each week.) The extraordinarily talented Ms. Murphy is sure to bring her own spin to the role. We can hardly wait!
If you can’t make it to Broadway, you can still see Dolly in your own town! HELLO, DOLLY! is available for licensing exclusively from Tams-Witmark. Put On Your Sunday Clothes, get Dancing, and Dolly will never go away again!