Jenifer Lewis

Jenifer Lewis, a star of film (Sister Act I and II, What’s Love Got to Do With It, Jackie’s Back!), TV (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, In Living Color, Friends), and stage ( Motormouth Maybelle in Broadway’s Hairspray and as Yvette in George Wolfe’s star-studded Mother Courage, helmed by Meryl Streep), describes the role of Dolly as a “lifelong ambition,” one to which she brought her own original interpretation. Her professional relationship with director David Armstrong goes back to New York in the ‘80s, when he directed her in a series of influential cabarets. These shows, including Jenifer Lewis on the Couch and Jenifer Lewis in the Cosmos, helped her create her comically outrageous Diva persona, and culminated in her hit show at the Public Theatre, The Diva is Dismissed. Lewis says that while her “diva experience” was useful for approaching the role of Dolly, it lacked one crucial attribute: warmth. “Dolly’s a star who has been humbled,” she explains. “That’s what makes her so appealing, and so wise. She’s wise, warm, and wonderful. You want Dolly on your team.”

In June 2010, Lewis’ distinctive voice was in fine form as she told The Jazz Joy and Roy syndicated radio show, “I just did a production of ‘Hello Dolly’ at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle and it had to be one of the greatest productions that I have ever done, because I got to just do a character, Dolly Levi, and it was just great.”

Broadway, film and television star Jenifer Lewis was a safe bet to don the formidable shoes of Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey, Ethel Merman and many others as Dolly Gallagher Levi, and that bet paid off in the David Armstrong directed and choreographed Hello, Dolly!. But casting Pat Cashman, a veteran radio and TV personality with little or no stage experiences as skinflint Horace Vandergelder? Or Suzanne Bouchard, one of Seattle’s primo purveyors of sophisticated women’s roles from Shakespeare to Coward in the open-hearted and vocally challenging soprano role of Irene Molloy? That was the gamble. Well, the payoff was on 5th Avenue stage in a satisfying Dolly! with some captivating choreography that did the memory of the show’s original director/choreographer Gower Champion proud without slavishly mimicking his work. (Source: Risky Casting Pays off in 5th Avenue’s Hello, Dolly!)

Dolly (Jenifer Lewis) shows she knows how to make an entrance, flanked by the sharpest waiters in town in the 5th Avenue's current production of Hello, Dolly! Photo: Chris Bennion

Seattlest became familiar with this tale as portrayed by Barbra Streisand in the 1969 film version, so it was a treat to see it on the stage starring the inimitable, undeniable Jenifer Lewis. The 5th’s entire production has been well-cast, with many players who frequently appear on the 5th Avenue stage. The songs are still as purposeful and catchy as ever, and the choreography as athletic. There’s a reason plays like Hello Dolly survive decades and cultural shifts. In this case, it’s mainly because the theme of finding true love—more specifically of love not being all accessible and rosy and easy and perfect all the time—are timeless.(Source: Hello Dolly Proves Timely Still Review)