Was 1964 Broadway's Greatest Year for Musicals? Dolly, Fiddler, Funny Girl and Other Groundbreakers

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15 May 2014

January 16: The year got off to the best possible start with the opening of Hello, Dolly!, with its classic score by Jerry Herman, staging by Gower Champion and featuring the comeback stardom of Carol Channing in a role that had been turned down by other actresses including Ethel Merman. The out-of-town tryout was a legendary mess, but Champion lived up to his name by overseeing a miraculous transformation that had critics and audience flinging their hats in the air, as the period expression goes. How big a hit was Dolly? The title song, as sung by Louis Armstrong, pushed the Beatles (who had made their US debut on the Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9 at what is now the Ed Sullivan Theatre on Broadway at 53rd Street) out of the Number One spot on the Top 40 chart, the week of May 9, 1964. Lyndon Johnson used the song as the theme for his ultimately successful campaign for a full term of his own. Football fans may prefer to forget, but the halftime show at the Super Bowl I was Carol Channing singing the title song. The show would eventually surpass My Fair Lady to become, for a while, Broadway’s longest running musical.


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