I was sure I had posted this here -- and may have, since there have been glitches over time, and some things can't be found when searched -- but I can't find it when searching. But if I did post it before, it was a while back and deserves a repeat. And if I didn't, I should have. And will now.
Back in 1968, David Merrick pulled off a major coup when he took his long-running musical Hello, Dolly! that was on its last legs after about five years, and gave it new life by re-casting the show entirely with an all-Black company. And got Pearl Bailey to star as Dolly Levi, and Cab Calloway as Horace Vandergelder.
On my first trip-ever to New York, this was one of the three shows I saw. And it was utterly memorable and an absolute treat. (So were the other two: the original casts of 1776 with William Daniels and Howard Da Silva, and Promises, Promises with Jerry Orbach. Quite a trip. But Hello, Dolly! was unique and part of Broadway history.) Pearl Bailey had such an infectious, breezy way about her that fit the role wonderfully. And Cab Calloway, being a legend in his own right, was a brusque comic foil. My recollection is that the whole production was vibrant. I also recall that she gave a bit of a curtain call speech and brief performance at the end, which I suspect she did every night for about 10 minutes.
Here are two songs from that production done for the 1968 Tony Awards. It's a rare thing for them to do, promoting a show long into its run, but it was clearly a special production. And they were giving Pearl Bailey a special Tony Award. Fun, too, beyond just to two production numbers, is that's all introduced by the original Dolly, Carol Channing. And then afterwards, presenting the award itself, is none other than Jack Benny. So, all that, plus the acceptance speech.
They do a nice job, too, building the drama of Pearl Bailey's entrance, withholding her appearance and the reveal until after the first number.
1/6/2018 01:36:08 pm
Thanks for that clip, just wonderful. I was fortunate enough to see Ms. Bailey in "Dolly" when I was in high school -probably 1975- when she toured in the show. My buddy didn't like the way she kept breaking character and addressing the audience directly, but I was completely enchanted by her. Enjoyed Bette Midler and looking forward to Bernadette Peters, but at an after-theater roundtable at New York's Westway Cafe a group of us decided that Queen Latifa could shine in this role. And these days it wouldn't be necessary to recast the entire show.
1/6/2018 11:28:11 pm
When I saw Pearl Bailey in the role on Broadway in 1968, she did *not* break character. The only time she spoke to the audience was, as I noted, during the curtain call. Perhaps after having done it for so long she started to regularly break character to keep it "fresh" for her -- though without having seen that, I can't say I'd personally like it. But still, at its foundation, it's a great, rich performance, so lucky you got to see it.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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