Looking at the Old Girl Now — Hello, Dolly! 50 Years Later

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21 Jan 2014

Carol Channing
Carol Channing
Photo by Dramatic Forces

Playbill.com offers a behind-the-scenes look at the celebratory brunch hosted for former cast members of Hello, Dolly!, in honor of the award-winning musical's 50th anniversary.


The NY Sheet Music Society came to relative order over the weekend, and the auditorium of Local 801 Musician's Hall on West 48th Street was filled to capacity with tales from the Harmonia Gardens, both rhapsodic and melancholy, relayed by denizens of Yonkers and Little Old New York (i.e., clusters of past Hello, Dolly! casts).

They came in waves — first the original Broadway show with Carol Channing, then the national-turned-international Mary Martin edition and, finally, La Channing's two subsequent tours-to-Broadway revivals. The room was swaying, you could say.

Hello, Dolly! officially marked its 50th anniversary Jan. 16, but its surviving casts delayed their celebration until the weekend. In addition to the story-swapping orientation on Saturday, there was a Sunday-brunch schmooze-fest and ultimate photo-op ("selfies" included) at Sardi's. When the anniversary cake was wheeled out, Charles Karel of the original cast led the gang in "a 50-year key reduction" version of "Hello, Dolly!" Nobody wanted it all to end, but it did after three hours.

Channing, who will turn 93 on Jan. 31, made neither event. Mindful of Kitty Carlisle's advice ("I don't care what they say, 96 is not as easy as 95!"), she was shoring up her strength for a Town Hall Q&A held Jan. 20, but she did send a note, which Mary Jo Catlett, also from the original cast, read to the gathering — in the star's inimitable speaking style:

"While I am blessed and grateful to be working, I am saddened that the preparations and challenges of putting on a good show keep me from joining you today. My energy isn't what it used to be — but don't tell anybody. You have all been more than kind to me. You've been my champions." [The word "champions" wasn't arbitrarily arrived at and brought chuckles: The show was directed and choreographed by Gower Champion, with a silent assist from Mrs. Champion (Marge) and a loud-and-clear assist from his official "assistant to the director," Lucia Victor.] "You are the reason Dolly has triumphed for over 50 years. Gower and Mr. Merrick would be so proud."

All weekend long, whenever someone had a direct Channing quote to deliver, they did it in her distinctive baby-talk rasp. The best at this, by far, was Lee Roy Reams. Jerry Herman, who wrote the show's iconic score, also sent a note: "Dear Dolly alumnae... I want to personally thank you for your talent, your loyalty and your wonderful contribution for making this milestone possible. All I can say is: 'Wow, wow, wow, fellas. Look at the old girl now, fellas.' With thanks and much love."

Francine Pascal showed up and spoke for her late brother, Michael Stewart, who wrote a superb and hilarious book for Dolly. "For some reason, it's the punishment for dying too young," she said. "His name is forgotten and not mentioned enough."


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