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January 16: Hello, Dolly Levi!

January 16, 2014

1Hello, Dolly!, the musical produced by David Merrick, opened on Broadway at the St. James Theatre on this date in 1964, to run for 2,844 performances. With music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and book by Michael Stewart, Hello, Dolly featured Dolly Gallagher Levi, a meddlesome matchmaker who was the widow of a Jew named Ephraim Levi. Carol Channing (not Jewish), who owned the role, told the New York Times in 2006 that she had played Dolly as a Jew “on the basis of my own early marriage right out of Bennington. I married into a Galician, Yiddish-speaking family. . . . To me, she’s got a New York accent. She was born under the Third Avenue El. So she can’t stop shouting.” For Tovah Feldshuh (Jewish), however, who took on the role in the late 1990s, Dolly was a product of the potato famine in Ireland, who “with her 12 siblings made it out of Ireland, starving . . . when she was about 12 years old, and they settled on the Lower East Side. And then she met this great Jewish husband.” Louis Armstrong’s recording of the musical’s title song rose to number one in 1964, making him, at age 63, the oldest person to ever have a #1 hit.

“I’ve found that you turn Jewish when you’re married to a Jew.” —Carol Channing