One of the peak experiences that I’ve had in theatre-going was to see Pearl Bailey in Hello, Dolly!
1967, Bailey and Cab Calloway headlined an all-black cast version of Hello, Dolly! The touring version was so successful, producer David Merrick took it to Broadway where it played to sold-out houses and revitalized the long-running musical. Bailey was given a special Tony Award for her role and RCA Victor made a second original cast album. That is the only recording of the score to have an overture which was written especially for that recording. Bailey opened on November 12, 1967. (Source: Wikipedia)
In his New York Times review, Clive Barnes wrote, “For Miss Bailey, this was a Broadway triumph for the history books. She had no trouble at all in stopping the show-her problem was getting it started again. On her entrance, the audience wouldn’t even let her begin.
After about a minute’s applause, she cleared her throat, grinned amiably and…murmured: ‘I’ve got a few more words to say in this show’…Bailey took the whole musical in her hands and swung it around her neck as easily as if it were a feather boa.” Mr. Barnes also noted the “polished” and “stylish” Mr. Calloway and that seated “center front” was Miss Channing, “a blaze of platinum hair.”
The Broadway production ran for two years before Bailey’s health problems forced it to close. She toured with the show after her recovery, and again in the mid-1970s.
According to Ernestine Jackson. Bailey was notorious for missing shows. It made the columns that Merrick bought her a diamond bracelet just saying “and you’ll watch your attendance.” So, we don’t know when she formally left and Thelma/Bibi started sharing. Likely, Pearl had no smash closing on a Saturday night-but missed Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and then it was acknowledged that Merrick was looking for Dolly number six.
Cab’s daughter Chris Calloway was also in this production. Another wonderful talent has gone too soon.
From the Broadway Masterwork's Website: Flamboyant Broadway producer David Merrick never was at a loss to find the right publicity stunt that would save or prolong the life of his shows. Even though Hello, Dolly! had been hugely successful since it first opened on January 16, 1964, when receipts began to sag at the box office three years later he decided the musical needed a shot in the arm. His answer to the problem – a Black version with no less than Pearl Bailey as Dolly and Cab Calloway as Horace Vandergelder, in this musicalization of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker by Jerry Herman. With Emily Yancy as Irene Molloy and Winston DeWitt Hemsley as Barnaby also in the cast, it officially opened to rapturous reviews on November 12, 1967 at the St. James Theatre, where the previous incarnation, starring Betty Grable, had closed three days before. This new version closed on December 27, 1970, bringing the total cumulative Broadway run to 2,844 performances. Click HERE for MORE