It’s one of the shows I’ve had the fun of seeing produced by a local theater group, and has some wonderful songs and a lot of comedic moments. Spoilers ahead as we talk about the Broadway hit “Hello, Dolly!”
A Brief Synopsis
Dolly Gallagher Levi keeps busy by “meddling” – in her own words; she especially likes matchmaking. But one this particular day the widow is working on her own match! She’s been told to find a wife for Horace Vandergelder who lives in Yonkers, but she’s thinking about marrying him. Meanwhile, Horace’s niece Ermengarde wants to marry Ambrose Kemper, an artist. This couple implores Dolly’s aid to change the strict uncle’s mind.
In Yonkers, Horace has a discussion with his shop-clerks – Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker – at his feed store, announcing his plans to get married and how Dolly will introduce him to a lady that day in New York City at a special celebratory parade. However, plans change when Dolly arrives and hints that Irene Molloy might not be the right woman and he really should meet an heiress Ernestina Money. Once their employer leaves, Cornelius and Barnaby hatch a plot to leave the shop for the day and go to New York for a holiday.
In Irene’s hatshop, the two runaway clerks start a little flirting, but it turns humorous when Cornelius himself arrives. Dolly arrives as Horace leaves – angered that there are men hiding in Irene’s shop and thinking scandalous things. She does a little matchmaking, teaches Irene, Minne, Cornelius, and Barnaby how to dance and sending them out to dinner.
At the New York parade, Dolly decides that she’s going put the past and her mourning behind before “the parade passes her by.” Horace Vandergelder is getting irritated by Dolly sending him all over town and finally agrees to meet Ernestina Money at a fancy dining establishment that evening.
Dinner starts with the poor clerks arriving with the girls and Horace appearing with Miss Money who is definitely not refined or rich and definitely annoying. The head waiter lets his team in on a secret: Dolly Gallagher Levi is coming back that evening! She arrives in style to the triumphant tune “Hello, Dolly” and then proceeds to take over at Horace Vandergelder’s table, informing him that she will not marry him.
In a mistake, the clerks get hold of their employer’s wallet and pay their dinner bill. Horace sees his niece and her boyfriend at a polka contest and in the ensuing chaos everyone gets hauled to the police station. There, Cornelius admits he’s in love with Irene and Dolly persuades the judge that the only crime of the evening was being in love. Horace has to pay the court fines, and when Dolly talks to him about marriage again, he storms off.
However, the following morning at the feed store, Horace finally admits that he needs Dolly in his life and she says she will “never go away again.” Everyone – Cornelius & Irene, Baranaby & Minnie, Ermengarde & Ambrose, and Horace & Dolly – plans to live happily ever after.
On Stage & In Film
Hello, Dolly!‘s plot has very historical roots in an 1835 English play called A Day Well Spent which transformed into a farce. Then, Thornton Wilder wrote The Merchant of Yonkers in 1938, then revised and retitled it The Matchmaker in 1955, giving Dolly a leading role.
The play became a musical directed by Gower Champion and produced by David Merrick. The songs and original script were changed many times, but the musical opened on January 16, 1964 and won awards in ten catagories at the Tony Awards – tying with South Pacific previous record. It became one of the most popular shows on Broadway during the 1960’s and ran for 2,844 shows. The musical opened in London in 1965 and has had many popular revivals through the decades.
Louis Armstrong – the famous jazz influencer – helped popularize the song Hello, Dolly! through his album recordings and performances. It became one of the top hit songs of the decade. Armstrong even performed the song in the 1969 film version of the musical!
Some of the hit songs include:
- It Takes A Woman
- Put On Your Sunday Clothes
- Before The Parade Passes By
- Hello, Dolly!
- So Long, Dearie
Before The Parade Passes By
Hello, Dolly is set right at the turn of the 19th and 20th Century. New York City hosted big parades for celebratory occasions and the musical uses this bit of history as part of a plot point. There were St. Patrick’s Day Parades, Horse Parades, Military Parades, Fourth of July Parades, and parades hosted by local businesses for lesser events or holidays.
These parades drew large crowds and community participation with businesses, charity organizations, fire stations, police forces, political groups, and others joining in the marches.
“I Stand For Motherhood”
One of the songs – Motherhood – is created to distract Horace Vandergilder in the hat shop. (You can find the full lyrics here.) Patriotic in tone, it also reflects a historical situation.
At the turn of the century, women were involved in many causes. Prohibition, votes for women, care of orphans, and other goals. This song echoes many of the patriotic views that women were advocating for and even marching on the streets and in parades to support.
Inspired By History
Capturing the small town and large city feel of turn of the century America, this musical has hints of the growing leisure time and interest in leisure activities in culture. Going to a parade, seeing a museum, buying hats and “Sunday clothes,” dining at a restaurant, and dancing the polka are reflected in the play.
Again, we find a little history and cultural themes woven into a famous musical. Hints of history in some of our favorite entertainment!