Interview: RICHARD SKIPPER Celebrates HELLO DOLLY at Laurie Beechman Theatre

60 years in, Dolly is "still going strong"

By: Mar. 05, 2024
Interview: RICHARD SKIPPER Celebrates HELLO DOLLY at Laurie Beechman Theatre
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For years, Richard Skipper has been performing as Carol Channing (with the blessing of the late star herself) and serving as a historian for one of her most notable shows: Jerry Herman’s iconic Hello, Dolly! Now, on the occasion of Dolly’s 60th anniversary, he’s taking to the Laurie Beechman Theater in Manhattan with a show weaving together Dolly history and performances of songs from the show. He’s taking the show back to the Beechman one more time on March 29th at 7 pm with special guest Lorna Dallas, who played Irene Malloy in the 1984 West End revival of Dolly.

Skipper’s first last month was completely sold out, and March 29th is the last date, so if you’re thinking about going, I’d urge you to buy tickets now. We spoke a bit about the enduring legacy of Dolly and what audiences can expect from the show this month.

Poster

Do you want to tell me a bit about your show?
This is a celebration of 60 years of Hello, Dolly. The show opened officially at the St James Theater on January 16th, 1964. I performed for 20 years as Carol Channing. The greatest gift that came out of doing that was my relationship with Carol. Carol liked what I did, thank God. We became good friends, and Carol suggested years ago that I chronicle the history of Hello, Dolly, because she thought that I had a vast knowledge of the show. So I started working officially to do a book 10 years ago to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Hello, Dolly!. And then when Bette Midler came to Broadway, that seed opened up again.

But I made the mistake of putting all my eggs in one basket. I was working with a particular person who said, “Don't do anything without me, and I will work with you.” And he dropped the ball. And when that happened, my interest in a book basically dissipated a little bit because life was happening, and then the pandemic came along.

And then as this year began, I was asked to do a presentation on the history of Hello, Dolly at a local library. And so I started working towards that. I wanted to do a show on my birthday, which is February 11th, I just had it, and it was basically going to be just a cabaret show with me singing some of my favorite songs and hoping that friends and colleagues would show up for that performance.

But working with a career coach, I realized that the show that I was doing at the library was a much more commercial entity, if you will, as opposed to just getting up and singing some of my favorite songs.

So I reached out to James Beaman to be my director on the show, and when I told him what my idea was in terms of creating a show celebrating 60 years of Hello, Dolly, he said, “I know the perfect musical director,” and he reached out to Dan Pardo and we started collaborating on this idea. And that basically is the genesis of how this all came to be.

How did the first show go this month?
We did it on Super Bowl Sunday at the Laurie Beechman, and not only were we sold out, but they were turning people away. And it was probably one of the largest crowds to be in that room in a long time, because as I'm sure you know, not only cabaret, but in the theater, off-Broadway, Broadway, regional theaters, it's gotten harder to get an audience to come in and see a show since the pandemic. People are still a little gun shy in terms of going out, so I was blown away at the response that we got.

What do you think gives Hello, Dolly such an enduring legacy?
I think it's the message of Hello, Dolly. First of all, it's about love; it's about not giving up on love. It's the, as Dolly sings, “Before the Parade Passes By,” getting out there and seizing these opportunities. It's about taking chances. [If you’re familiar with Hello, Dolly] then you know that all of the characters… Cornelius, Barnaby, Irene Malloy, Minnie Fay, Horace Vandergelder, Dolly Levi… They're all stepping outside of their comfort zone.
When Barnaby and Cornelius decided they're going to go for a day in New York City from Yonkers, they realized that if they don't take this chance now, that chance will never come again.


And I think that's the real message of it. When Hello, Dolly! opened on Broadway in 1964, it was right on the heels of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The nation was in mourning. The landscape that the original run was against, with the women's movement and gay pride movement and civil rights and everything that was happening… The Vietnam War was going on, the way that we were listening to music was changing... As a matter of fact, the Beatles arrived on American shores shortly after the show opened. So it was all of those messages. But when Carol Channing left after almost two years of doing it on Broadway to do the national tour, David Merrick brought in Ginger Rogers, a bona fide movie star, and I think that was the beginning of what we now refer to almost as stunt casting. Each time there was a lag in the box office, he would bring in another star. Ginger Rogers was followed by Martha Raye, and then Betty Grable, Pearl Bailey with an all African-American company, Phyllis Diller, and then Ethel Merman. And that made it at that time the longest running show in Broadway history. It ran for seven years. While that was going on, Mary Martin did an international tour, taking it to Vietnam and around the world. There were Vegas productions and there were productions in every country in the world. And it became this worldwide phenomenon.


And being in an audience where Hello, Dolly is happening, your pulse has to stop for you not to feel the exuberance and the love when Dolly Levi descends those stairs at the Harmonia Gardens. It's all about life and love and taking chances.

Are you making any changes to the lineup for the next one coming up in March?
Well, when I did the first show, I reached out to Lee Roy Reams, who I consider Mr. Hello, Dolly!. Not only did he do Dolly with Carol Channing – in 1977, when she did her first revival tour after the first time. Lee Roy Reams was her Cornelius Hackl – he has gone on to direct some of the greatest names in show business: Leslie Uggams, Jo Ann Worley, Michelle Lee, Madeline Kahn. And then when Carol did her very last revival of Dolly, Lee Roy Reams was the director of that production. I went to Florida to see Lee Roy play Dolly opposite Lewis J. Stadlen, who has also done many productions of Dolly as Horace Vandergelder.

And then for the next show on March 29th, my special guest is Lorna Dallas, who is a phenomenal singer, phenomenal actress. And she just had a sold out show last night at Chelsea Table. She played Irene Malloy opposite Danny LaRue, who was the first man to play Dolly in the West End.

That's great. Is there anything else that you want to add?
Well, my hope is that as I take this on the road, you'd be hard pressed to find any theater in this country that has not either done Dolly or it's coming up in their future. And so my hope is that with each of the performing arts venues that I take it to, that there will be Dolly alumni in every city that I play and that I will be able to bring a Dolly or a Horace or a Cornelius or a Barnaby or any other person connected with the production to join me on stage for a chat about their experiences with Dolly, and of course have them do a number or two themselves.

Tickets to the March 29th show are available here. For more information, visit the Laurie Beechman's website.

For more information on Richard Skipper, visit his website

Header photo credit: Ron Fassler.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.




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