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    Hello, Dollys! Famous faces who have played the iconic role

    It’s ironic that a show focused on finding ‘the one,’ has had so many flings with well-known stars!

    Theatres love affair with Dolly got off to a bumpy start when actors Ethel Merman and Mary Martin both rejected the role ahead of the initial Broadway run. Since then, the show has become one of the most enduring musical theatre hits of all time, with four Broadway revivals, 14 Tony awards and an Oscar winning film adaptation to its name.

    With the latest revival opening later this year, say hello to the Dollys that made this musical a Broadway and West End staple.

    Carol Channing (1964, 1978, 1979, 1995)

    Clocking in more than 5,000 performances over three decades, Carol Channing is the Dolly for thousands of theatregoers, but she wasn’t originally meant for the role. In fact, she had to beg producer, David Merrick, to give her the chance after he told her “I don’t want that silly grin with all those teeth that go back to your ears.”

    She convinced the shows director, Gower Champion, to give her the role after a lengthy late-night call, and once she got a hold of the part she wasn’t about to give it up. Over the course of her record-breaking run, she missed only half of one performance, thanks to a bout of food poisoning. You’ve got to feel sorry for her understudy, Jo Anne Worley! When Channing overheard Worley practising her vocals in the theatre corridor and calmly informed the young actress ‘not to worry about it, dear’

    Channing received the Tony award for Best Actress in a Musical when she originated the part in 1964, she was then nominated in the same category at the Olivier awards when she reprised her role 15 years later. 23 years after that, in 2002, she took home the Grammy award for Hello, Dolly’s original Broadway cast recording. The album reached number one on the billboard charts when it was first released in 1964, the cast recording was knocked off the top spot a week later by Louis Armstrong’s rendition of the same album!

    Channing was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1981, received a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award in 1995, and was the first celebrity to perform at the Super Bowl half time show!

    Mary Martin (1965)

    Martin toured the U.S. and Asia with Hello, Dolly!, before opening the show in London. Like Ethel Merman, Martin had originally turned down the role on Broadway, but ultimately relented when Channing catapulted to stardom, having made the musical a record-breaking success. (Well, you would, wouldn’t you) 

    Martin continued to travel the world after her successful stint in London, touring Vietnam and Japan with the show during the Vietnam War. Her exploits overseas were filmed for a 1966 television special: Mary Martin: Hello, Dolly! Round the World.   

    There is a statue of Peter Pan in Texas dedicated in her honour, after she portrayed the role on Broadway and TV to critical acclaim. She also scooped up a Tony and Emmy award for this part (which were considerably easier for her to display on her mantlepiece)

    Like Channing, Martin was also inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame for her impressive stage and screen career, and also received the Kennedy Center Honors, on top of a star on the Hollywood walk of fame.

    Hello, Dollys! Famous faces who have played the iconic role


    Barbra Streisand (1969)

    One of the most famous reincarnations came in the form of 27-year-old Barbra Streisand. Although she was at least 20 years younger than that of the middle-aged matchmaker, Streisand made the role her own, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else starring in the film.

    The movie grossed more than The Sound of Music when it first opened and went on to pick up three Oscars of the seven it was nominated for, including Best Music, Score of a Musical Picture.

    Like the film adaptation she starred in, it’s fair to say that Barbra Streisand has had her share of award success. She’s been nominated for an incredible 43 Grammys, of which she took home eight, and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame four times.

    In addition to her record-breaking music career, and lead role in Hello, Dolly! Streisand has starred in other iconic musical films, including A Star is Born and Funny Girl, before landing major comedy roles alongside Robert DeNiro.

    Ethel Merman (1970)

    The iconic character was written with Merman in mind, but she didn’t step into the titular role until the productions sixth year.  

    The story originated from a 19th century play A Day Well Spent by John Oxenford, which Johann Nestroy adapted into the farce Einen Jux will er sich machen (He Will Go on a Spree or He'll Have Himself a Good Time)Thornton Wilder then adapted Nestroy's play into his 1938 farcical play The Merchant of Yonkers, which was later renamed The Matchmaker and eventually Hello, Dolly!

    When he was adapting, the addition, of an adaption, Wilder only had eyes for Merman. However, it wasn’t love at first sight for the Broadway legend. Merman already had huge success with Gypsy, earning her a Grammy award and Tony nomination, and had received a Tony for Call Me Madam in the decade prior, for which she had also won the Golden Globe award for the screen adaptation. The previous incarnation of Hello, Dolly! (The Merchant of Yonkers) was a flop, and it wasn’t a risk she was willing to take. 

    Of course, the show became a huge success, and Merman rekindled her relationship with the show. Her performance was met with critical acclaim, and she went on to win the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical for her portrayal. The last award of her distinguished career.

    Pearl Bailey (1975)

    While all-black casts were not uncommon in shows with ‘black’ themes in the 70s, it was genuinely shocking for an entire production, which had been played by a white cast, to be revived with an all-black company. However, sceptics were silenced by the producers ‘revolutionary’ casting choice, when the production became a runaway success and earned its star, Pearl Bailey, a special Tony award for her role. 

    Bailey and her cast also released their own version of the soundtrack and continued in the role until the closing of the original run in 1970. A number of famous faces saw her in the part during her tenure, including President Lyndon Johnson and the First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson.

    Bailey was unaware that the rest of the cast were going to be black when she accepted the role, however she was unfazed by the bold choice, stating ‘If anyone was worried about integration, why didn’t they worry about it at the time of the first Dolly?’

    Bailey’s career skyrocketed, and she continued to head successful projects both on stage and screen. She received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild, in addition to an Emmy for Outstanding Performance, and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Performance.

    Imelda Staunton (2024)

    Exactly 60 years after the show premiered on Broadway, Imelda Staunton is ready to say 'Hello!' to the iconic role! The multi-Olivier and BAFTA winner has had an incredible career spanning more than four decades, most recently starring in Netflix’s The Crown and Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget.

    Staunton gained widespread recognition for her chilling portrayal of Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter series. Outside of films, she has received critical acclaim for her work in various theatre productions, including her Tony Award-winning performance in the Broadway revival of Gypsy, and the Olivier award-winning transfer to the West End. She has picked up a further three Olivier wins for her roles in Sweeny Todd, Into The Woods and A Chorus of Disapproval.

    Staunton hailed Hello, Dolly! as being ‘A truly joyous show’ before adding ‘Dolly Levi is one of the great characters in musical theatre, and I can’t wait to join the company in bringing our new production to the iconic London Palladium.’

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