November 9, 2015
'Hello, Dolly!' Florida Production Casts Male In The Lead Role Made Famous By Carol Channing, Barbara Streisand

A Florida theater has cast a male actor in the lead role of the Broadway classic Hello, Dolly! This is the first time that a male has appeared in the lead role -- made famous by the likes of Carol Channing and Barbara Streisand -- in a production sanctioned by the Broadway trade union Actors' Equity Association.

As the Broward County Sun-Sentinel reports, veteran Broadway actor Lee Roy Reams takes on the lead role of Dolly at the Wick Theater in Boca Raton. Reams has twice appeared in Hello, Dolly! as Horace Vandergelder (Dolly's romantic lead) -- opposite Carol Channing herself -- and has even directed a production of the show.

Reams says that this is the first time a man has taken on the role of Dolly in a production sanctioned by a theater union in the United States, and only the second time worldwide.

"Danny La Rue did it years ago in England. But I never saw that show. In England they are accustomed to men playing women's roles and vice versa."

Because of the Broadway actors' union's strict rules, putting a man in a lead role designated for a woman meant jumping through a few hoops -- namely, getting permission from Hello Dolly! composer Jerry Herman himself. Fortunately for The Wick, Reams and Herman go way back. Reams had worked with Herman before, when Reams had taken on the lead role in La Cage aux Folles. Further, the Wick's managing executive director, Marilynn A. Wick, had also worked closely with Reams, who lives in nearby Miami.

"[Herman] came to see him in 'La Cage' and that's when we started talking about it. It was near the end of 'La Cage,' which was so popular, and I asked Lee, 'What would you like to do next at The Wick?' And he said, 'If I could get Jerry Herman to give permission, I'd like to do 'Hello Dolly.' It's a role I've always wanted to do.'"

The idea of putting a man in the role of Dolly is not a new one, says Reams via the Daytona Beach News-Journal. It's been talked about but never done until now.

"[The original producer] wanted Jack Benny to play Dolly and George Burns to play Horace Vandergelder. They turned him down. Then he wanted Liberace to play Dolly and he turned him down. The idea has always been there. It was just finding the producer brave enough to do it."

Hello, Dolly! opened on Broadway in 1964 and went on to win 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Pearl Baily, Cab Calloway, and Morgan Freeman starred in an all-black 1967 production, and a film version followed in 1969, with Barbara Streisand in the lead role.

Hello, Dolly! tells the story of a matchmaker, Dolly Levi, who blows into Yonkers, New York, and upends the lives of a wealthy, dour shopkeeper and his employees. The show has produced memorable songs, including "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" and, of course, the title song, "Hello, Dolly!" whose 1964 recording by Louis Armstrong was a smash hit.

For Lee Roy Reams, the time is right to put a man in the lead role of Hello, Dolly!

"The atmosphere is prime. It's time. People are no longer being told what they should play. People can play all kinds of roles now, regardless (of) their sexual orientation or ethnicity. I think we're all more open to that now."

Hello, Dolly! runs at Boca Raton's Wick Theater from now until December 6.

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