Hello Imelda! It’s So Nice to Have You Back Where You Belong

After her stint playing Queen Elizabeth II in the Netflix series The Crown, Imelda Staunton will be returning to her role as the Queen of British musical theatre in a revival of Jerry Herman’s Hello Dolly over the coming summer at the world-famous London Palladium. She joined a small gathering in the venue’s Cinderella Bar to chat about the production with director Dominic Cooke and The Reviews Hub’s Stephen Bates was there to eavesdrop.

The idea for the production fist sprang up when Cooke and Staunton were working together on the 2017 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies at the National Theatre. It began taking shape and was scheduled to open at the Adelphi Theatre in the Spring of 2020. And then came lockdown. However, Staunton sees the delay as being, in some ways, serendipitous, because it means that the show will now be seen at what she regards as the perfect theatre for a spectacular Broadway musical from a golden era (the early 1960s). She recalls fondly that, as a child, she watched all the great stars of the era performing on ITV’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium and then coming here to see live performances by Josephine Baker and Bing Crosby. She says that she will need to banish these memories from her head if she is not going to be too terrified to set foot on the same stage.

Similarly, the star hopes to banish thoughts of the famous names who have played Dolly Levy before her, including Carol Channing and Bette Midler on Broadway and Barbra Streisand, who she acknowledges was 40 years too young for the role in Gene Kelly’s 1969 film version. She says that Dolly has neither the anger and ruthless ambition of Mamma Rose (in Gypsy) nor the inner sadness of Sally (in Follies), Staunton’s two most recent musical triumphs, but she sees a force of positive energy in the character which will strike a chord with audiences in modern times. She believes that it is important to bring back old musicals for young audiences who may never have heard of them. She jokes that she has already been asked if the show is about Dolly Parton.

Cooke is keen to emphasise the musical’s roots. It is adapted from The Matchmaker by the great American playwright, Thornton Wilder. He sees the relationship between the play and the musical as similar to that between George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and My Fair Lady in that many lines are common to both. However, in this new version, additional lines have been taken from Wilder’s play and the director believes that this will make a musical that is already very funny even funnier.

Another change will be the the insertion of the opening number which Herman wrote for the film. Staunton knew the composer/lyricist slightly, having worked with him many years earlier on a production of Mack and Mabel, so she telephoned him to gain permission for the change, which she got. Sadly he is no longer with us, but, hopefully, he will approve from above. When asked how she would like to see theatre grow as it rebounds from the pandemic, Staunton replied that her concern is that the current boom in the West End is not being matched elsewhere. and she would like to see more support for regional theatres. Perhaps a national tour of Hello Dolly could help.

So, after a delay of four years, the sets are being built, the costumes are being sewn, the actors and dancers are in rehearsal. Now we all await now for the curtain to rise.

Runs from 6 July to 14 September 2024

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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