'Hello, Dolly,' starring Sally Struthers as the eponymous matchmaker, returns to the stage after almost 20 years. (Suzanne Rossi)
‘Hello, Dolly. It’s so nice to have you back where you belong.” So go the lyrics to the title song for “Hello, Dolly,” the Tony Award-winning musical that comes to Detroit’s Fox Theatre this weekend.
It has been several years since the musical toured nationally.
“It hasn’t been out on a national tour for (nearly) 20 years, since the last time Carol Channing did it,” says Sally Struthers, who stars in the “Hello, Dolly” 50th anniversary tour. “And that they’re letting me do it is quite an honor.”
The musical is a take on the 1938 play “The Merchant of Yonkers,” by Thornton Wilder. Wilder revised the play in 1955 and renamed it “The Matchmaker.” Nine years later, it premiered on Broadway as the David Merrick production “Hello, Dolly,” with music by Jerry Herman and starring Carol Channing. That same year, trumpeter Louis Armstrong recorded his version of the title song, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Pop Chart.
“Hello, Dolly” is the story of matchmaker Dolly Levi, a widow who travels to Yonkers, N.Y., to find a match for an ornery “well-known, unmarried half-a-millionaire” named Horace Vandergelder (played by “Sex and the City” actor John O’Creagh). But Dolly decides she is the match for him.
Struthers, a two-time Emmy winner most known for her role as Gloria in the 1970’s TV series “All in the Family,” has kept busy over the years.
“After ‘All in the Family,’ I had a baby. Then after I had a baby, I made a television pilot, and then I did a play, and I did a musical,” says the energetic Struthers by phone from Syracuse.
Her credits include TV’s “All in the Family” spin-off “Gloria,” a recurring role on “Gilmore Girls,” movie roles in “Five Easy Pieces” with Jack Nicholson and “The Getaway” with Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw, “The Odd Couple for Two” on Broadway, and voiceover work in children’s cartoons.
All of that, Struthers says, was “laced with theater ... I literally have never stopped.”
Playing Dolly is not new for the actress. Struthers says she has taken on the role in regional theater productions five other times.
“You go to that town or that city and you rehearse there,” she says. “You put the production on there, and it lasts two weeks to four weeks and it’s over. This time, I’ll be doing it for seven solid months — and living on a bus,” she offers, sounding a bit miffed about the bus situation.
Struthers calls “Hello, Dolly” a classic piece of American theater with dialogue so perfect you do not need music. The addition of music and dancing, she says, is icing on the cake.
“There are only a handful of musicals like that, that stand the test of time, and this is definitely one of them,” she says.
There are very few pieces of American theater, she adds, that star a female of a certain age.
“I mean, usually when you get as old as I am, which is 66 years old, you’re told you’re washed up — at least by show business and by television. But there’s always theater,” she says with gratitude. “And this is a role in theater for a woman who can easily, at 66 years, play it if she has the stamina.”
The stamina, Struthers says, is necessary for “Hello, Dolly’s” 90 pages of dialogue and seven song-and-dance numbers. Her favorites include songs “Before the Parade Passes By,” “It Only Takes a Moment” and, of course, the title song at the top of Act 2.
“It’s sung mostly to Dolly,” she says. “It’s the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant scene where she enters at the top of the stairs in a red dress and red feathers in her hair, and all of the waiters in the restaurant sing to her and she sings back to them. That’s the number that everyone waits for, and that’s the one where the crowd goes crazy.
“And that’s joyful, to sing and dance with 12 beautiful, athletic men, who all are looking adoringly at me,” she chuckles.
O’Creagh’s Vandergelder, the other 25 “sublimely gifted” cast members, and breathtaking costumes, Struthers says, make it “nirvana.”
starring Sally Struthers
8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday
2211 Woodward, Detroit
Andrea Daniel is a freelance reporter.