Mimi’s enduring career as a singer and a comedienne started on August 28, 1958 when she and her partner, Phil Ford, appeared on “THE TONIGHT SHOW” for the first time. Mimi sang “Till There Was You”, Jack Paar cried and Ford and Hines were in instant demand, frequently appearing on that show and many others. After headlining in all the top nightclubs and showrooms in the country, Mimi parlayed her career by replacing Barbra Streisand on Broadway in “FUNNY GIRL”, running this star vehicle for 18 months on her own star power. Following “FUNNY GIRL”, Mimi starred in national touring companies of “I DO! I DO!” and “PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE”, as well as star packages of “ANYTHING GOES”, “NEVER TOO LATE”, Pajama Game, “THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN”, “NO, NO, NANETTE”, “SUGAR” and many others. During this period, Mimi also recorded several very successful albums (recently released on compact disc by Harbinger Records) and appeared often on television.
Hines appeared as Mrs. Latimer on the television program Frasier and returned to Broadway in 1994 for the Tommy Tune production of Grease, in which she appeared as the schoolteacher Miss Lynch. She toured the world for a year in the title role of Hello, Dolly! directed and produced by Jeffrey B. Moss. She doesn’t recall who did the choreography for the company but it emulated the original Gower Champion choreography. They also had a great supporting cast. He requested Mimi Hines and Phil Ford to star.
They did 127 one nighters! She didn’t know there were that many theaters in America prior to this tour! They traveled by a big “rock and roll” bus. There was one bus for the crew and one bus for Phil and Mimi. There were two trucks for the sets and costumes.
This was 1988 and ’89. On August 2nd, 1990, they were in San Francisco’s airport en route to take the show to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taipei in Taiwan. That was the night the Gulf War started. They were sitting in the airport when they heard that news on the television. All in all, Mimi Hines spent three years playing Dolly Levi. There was a huge press event in Hong Kong as the rest of the crew traveled on to Singapore to prepare them for their next city. When Dolly was offered to her, she jumped at it. As she says, “Who doesn’t love Hello, Dolly?” The songs are great and the writing is beautiful. The lyrics are breath taking. When Phil and Mimi found out they could do it together, that was an added bonus. He was the perfect Vandergelder and was perfection.
Out of David Burns, Mimi feels that Phil was the best Vandergelder she has ever seen. Hello, Dolly is truly an American show with American thoughts and values. Mimi especially remembers the name of the theater in Singapore. It was the Culang. She used to go around singing, “Culang, Culang, Culang went the Dolly!” The Asian audiences laughed at things that didn’t get huge laughs in America.
They got humor out of it that American audiences laughed at differently. When they got to Taipei, certain lines would have the audiences howling. Mimi commented to Phil that she could not believe they were finding the real humor in certain scenes. They understood and speak the English language very well.
There was a great poster design with Mimi and the Harmonia Gardens waiters. When they got to Taipei, they saw a video screen larger than any she had ever seen before with a video clip of them doing the title number. She and the cast stood in disbelief in front of this HUGE screen watching themselves. It was an amazing moment. It brought her back to the first time she saw Dolly on stage with Carol Channing, it was a thrilling moment. Opening night in Taipei, The Prime Minister and his wife came. On closing night, the President of Taipei and his wife were in attendance. Mimi went into the audience and she was presented with hundred of lilies. She brought a microphone out and got the President to sing Hello, Dollywith her. She, Phil, and the entire cast had a wonderful time. She just loved it.
Taipei would be the culmination of almost three years work. She had a young dresser who told her on closing night, “I want to come to America and be ‘Hello, Dolly’ like you!” Another thing she shared with all the Dollys was the passarelle, an integral part of Gower Champion’s Dolly. Mimi doesn’t remember exactly where this tour commenced but she seems to remember it was in New Jersey close to New York. Mimi believes that Jerry Herman’s legacy is that he has made a huge contribution to American Musical Theater. Mimi feels that Hello, Dolly is THE Great American Musical. It is about an America of a certain time in our history. It is wonderfully depicted in the play. To her credit, Mimi Hines was enormously successful in the role of Fanny Brice when she took over for Barbra in “Funny Girl” and managed to keep the show running with a very healthy box-office for eighteen post-Streisand months. When the 33 year old Mimi made her Broadway debut in “Funny Girl,” the show had moved from the Winter Garden to the Majestic Theatre, a few short blocks away, and then ultimately to the Broadway Theatre where the show played out the duration of its run. Hines played opposite Johnny Desmond (as Nick) and her real life husband, Phil Ford (as Eddie Ryan). At the time, Phil and Mimi were well known as the comedy team of Ford and Hines. When “Funny Girl” entered their lives, Ford and Hines had already made a name for themselves on television, in New York showrooms, and on the Las Vegas strip. They were extremely popular, so casting them in “Funny Girl” insured full houses well into 1967, when the show ultimately closed for good.
When Mimi was appearing in Funny Girl across the street from the St. James Theater at The Majestic Theater, she got to see all of the Dollys through her run. There were Sunday matinees of Dolly for Equity and the Funny Girl cast would go and catch the show. She saw the Dollys from Ginger Rogers to Ethel Merman. The later Dollys were after Funny Girl had closed. The Funny Girl curtain came down earlier than the Dolly curtain and several cast members would run across the street to see the end of the show to see Pearl Bailey and company. Miss Bailey was a friend of Mimi’s and Phil’s and she would often bring them on stage for her “third act.” The rest of the cast would be glaring for them to stop so they could go home. Mimi also saw Carol Channing when she first did the show. Mimi loves her dearly and feels that she IS Dolly, of course. She’s the one and only original. Each lady brought something different to the part. Mimi says she was not influenced by any of the Dollys who preceded her. She always brings her own personality to whatever role she is playing. Mimi also had something that no other Dolly had, Phil Ford. Mimi was already an established comedienne on television when she signed on to play Dolly. Audiences knew her and her work and flocked to see her. She had a “pixie” quality to what she did. Making Dolly real and not over the top came naturally for Mimi. She says “it’s in the writing.” “Just say the words and sing the songs and feel the emotions.” She was never over the top. She feels that her best work was in the late ‘90s when Phil and she did it upstate New York and at The Gateway Playhouse in Long Island. Her director for those productions was David Armstrong. David Armstrong is the Executive Producer and Artistic Director of The 5th Avenue Theatre, as of this writing, in Seattle where he has directed acclaimed productions of Candide, Sweeney Todd, HAIR,A Little Night Music, Company, Hello, Dolly, Anything Goes, MAME, Pippin,, The Secret Garden, Vanities, White Christmas, The Rocky Horror Show, Yankee Doodle Dandy and Scandalous.
Under his leadership The 5th Avenue has emerged as one of the nation’s leading musical theater companies especially in regards to the development and production of new work. Mimi loves David and thought he was a great director. David came into Mimi’s life when he directed her in From Rodgers and Hart with Love. They would continue to perform it in many venues up and down the East coast including the Kennedy Center with great reception. Mimi says David is a great director and when Hello, Dollycame up again at The Gateway Playhouse once again, this time at The Gateway Playhouse, she requested him. They did two weeks there as well as another theater upstate.
The book is very concise in its qualities. Everything is spelled out beautifully. The original direction by Gower Champion created a blueprint that most try to capture. Being a “fantasy character” from the past, Dolly didn’t speak to Mimi on a personal level beyond the fact of her love of Phil. The speeches to Ephraim have stayed with Mimi. She feels the same about her love for Phil. He passed away in June of 2005. Mimi would play Dolly tomorrow if someone asked her. She has never performed Dolly without Phil by her side. Sadly enough, Mimi was very sick on her opening night at The Gateway Playhouse. She had a temperature of 103 and could barely speak. She went on anyway, which was the tradition she belongs to. She feels in hindsight that it was a big mistake and she shouldn’t have gone on…but it WAS opening night! A reviewer came in and said she was finished and couldn’t sing anymore.
The reviewer was unaware of the challenges she was battling that evening. The producers invited him on another night for a second look but he refused. Other than that, she received great reviews. Phil was magnificent in the show. It still makes Mimi cry recalling the way he said “Wonderful woman” at the end of the show each night. Mimi didn’t want it to end, she loved it so much. Mimi adores Jerry Herman. Dear World is on Mimi’s bucket list. She performs And I Was Beautiful in her act. She performed the song in her most recent appearance in New York. That was Feinstein’s in March of 2005. Between Jerry Herman and Jule Styne, they have musical theater wrapped upfor Mimi. It was also a total blow to musical theater the day Gower Champion died. Hello, Dolly for Mimi is rich with great music. The music is an added essence to an already wonderful book. The Matchmaker translated beautifully for a musical. It is beautifully written. It is beautifully designed. It is THE Great American musical. It will always live in Mimi’s heart as the great American musical. “You cannot ask for anything more enriching than anything written by Jerry Herman.”
1998-09-05 Gateway Playhouse, Bellport Long Island NY
Cast: Mimi Hines (Dolly Levi), Phil Ford (Horace Vandergelder), Kendra Kassebaum (Minnie Fay), Christopher Yates (Cornelius Hackl), Joe Upton (Barnaby Tucker), Michelle Dawson (Mrs. Irene Molloy), Meg Donaldson (Ernestina), Robert Armitage (Ambrose Kemper), Julie Megan Smith (Ermengarde), Kevin Del Aguila (Rudolf Reisenweber), Chuck Ragsdale (Judge), Martin A Aviles (Court Clerk)