Hello, Dolly!: Synopsis, Characters & Monologues

Instructor: Chris Chouiniere

Chris has taught music and has a master's degree in music education.

''Hello, Dolly!'' is one of those musicals that keeps appearing in Broadway revivals, community theaters, and high schools everywhere. In this lesson, we will examine this peculiarly successful musical.

Hello, Dolly! -- A Brief Background

Hello, Dolly! film still
Hello, Dolly!

The song Hello, Dolly! was the opening number from the musical, you guessed it, Hello, Dolly!. With music written by Jerry Herman, and Michael Stewart writing the book, 'Hello, Dolly!' was first performed on Broadway in 1964. The story itself is based on the 1955 play The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder. It won a record 10 Tony awards during its first run, and ran for almost 3000 performances. It saw revivals on the West End in 1965, three separate Broadway revivals (including an all-black version in 1975), and a film version in 1969.

Hello, Dolly! -- Characters and Story Synopsis

Let's talk about the main character, Dolly Levi (played by Carol Channing in the first run). She's a widower and meddling matchmaker. Her love interest is Horace Vandergelder, who owns a feed store and is a half-a-millionaire. Next we have the cast of characters that are the objects of Dolly's matchmaking: Cornelius Hackl, Barnaby Tucker, Irene Molloy, Minnie Fay, Ambrose Kemper, Ermengarde, and Ernestina Money.

Carol Channing as Dolly Levi
Carol Channing

In typical musical theater fashion, the story is full of intrigue and drama. The premise of the story is Dolly's work as a matchmaker, and her desire to marry Horace. Basically, everyone ends up with his or her desired partner. There's some intrigue when they all have to go to night court for trouble they cause at a restaurant, and Dolly meddles with everyone else's business: typical musical theater drama.

Then there's the climax, when Dolly finally gets Horace to marry her. She needs to know from her long deceased husband it's OK to move on. He was known for helping people (with money), and Dolly wants to do that again, only now with Horace's money. In a sign that her late husband gives his blessing, Horace quotes him, with what became one of the more memorable lines in musical theater: 'money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It's not worth a thing unless it's spread around encouraging young things to grow.'

Hello, Dolly! -- The Music

One of the peculiar things about Hello, Dolly! is that, beyond the title song, there aren't any other truly standout songs. The New York Daily News wrote: 'I wouldn't say that Jerry Herman's score is memorable.' Only Hello, Dolly! remains in the common repertoire, though It Only Takes a Moment is making a slight comeback due to its use in 'Wall-e'. Other important songs include: Put On Your Sunday Clothes, Ribbons Down My Back and Before the Parade Passes By.

All that being said, Hello, Dolly!, is one of the most famous songs in all of musical theater. Louis Armstrong's recording was a huge, critically important piece. It won a Grammy and was number one for 9 weeks. Who else recorded it? How about Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Liza Minelli, Marvin Gaye, Benny Goodman, and Frank Sinatra, among others.

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