I owe a lot to Carol Channing. As I’ve mentioned before, it was her 1994 pre-Broadway tour of Hello, Dolly! that got me hooked on theatre. The show was a true God-send to me.
I was a senior in high school and had worked away my summer in a miserable job at Target, but that job turned out to be the best thing ever because it gave me the money to see the show. My family was not well-to-do in the least, and when my mom saw that Carol Channing was coming to town in Hello, Dolly! and that there was this amazing discount on the tickets (I’ve never seen an Equity show do such discounts since), we went on a whim. She wanted to see Carol Channing, and while I knew who she was, I just went just for something different.
Everything about the show was amazing. I listened to the CD for two months straight afterwards, no exaggeration. In fact, it was in the week after seeing that show that I decided that I wanted to write a Broadway musical and came up with the premise for the show that I’ve been pursuing ever since (though I didn’t write the first draft until a year out of college).
It’s hard to explain Carol Channing’s appeal except to say that she filled that theatre with her presence. Yes, she had dead-on comedic timing, moved well, and was an amazing actress. But it was like she was a giant magnet and we, the audience, were all metal scraps unable to turn away. I was one of the first ones to stand up after the “Hello, Dolly!” number, and it was because I had to, not because I wanted to. Same with her curtain call at the end of the show. I was propelled to my feet; it wasn’t a choice. Even then, standing and clapping didn’t feel like enough to acknowledge this thing . . . this performance (which seems too small a word to describe it) which I had seen.
Ten years to the week after I had originally seen the tour, Carol Channing came to town again in her one woman show. She re-enacted the choreography for that wonderful title number, even indicating what she had done with her dress. I had chills down my spine remembering that moment and seeing this indescribable woman doing it again.
It is my dream to see her do the show again. Until then, I’d love to see some footage on YouTube (Hint, Hint). She’s recently indicated her desire to do it, though I don’t know if she could physically do it at her age. I once read in an interview that she does the show every 15 years, which means that she should be back coveting Vandergelder’s cash register in two years. I’m holding my breath.
In my dream world, when I’ve had hits on Broadway and on television and in film, I have enough money to build a new theatre on Broadway called the Carol Channing Theatre. Not only will it be one of those really big ones that can house expensive independent musicals with lots of knee room for people 6’5”, but it will have classical style artwork depicting great performances from great shows all over the walls. Above the proscenium arch will be Carol Channing with waiters in Hello, Dolly!
July 11, 2007