EXCLUSIVE: The Crown’s Imelda Staunton will lead a revival of the classic Jerry Herman-Michael Stewart Broadway musical Hello, Dolly! into the Andrew Lloyd Webber-owned London Palladium next summer.
Echoing words in composer and lyricist Herman’s titular number, the show’s producer Michael Harrison observed that “it’s so nice to have Imelda back on stage where she belongs.”
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Directed by Dominic Cooke, the production — with Staunton playing matchmaker Dolly Levi — will begin performances at the Palladium on July 6 for a strictly limited 10-week season ending September 14.
The Palladium, designed by Frank Matcham, opened on a site close to Oxford Circus in 1910, the year King Edward VII died. It was to become a favorite venue of the Royal Family, often hosting the annual Royal Variety Show in the presence of the late Queen Elizabeth II, great-granddaughter of Edward VII.
Wholly appropriate, then, for Staunton — who, in a deeply affecting performance, portrays Queen Elizabeth II in acclaimed Netflix series The Crown. The drama ends with its two-part sixth season that starts November 16, when it premieres with an initial four episodes. Watch a trailer here.
“Actually, I think Imelda deserves her season at the Palladium and in that part,” Harrison proclaimed. “When you look at that wall of fame and look at the people that have performed there, I’m pleased she gets the opportunity to tread those famous boards.”
The roll call of famous names that have played the Palladium includes the Marx Brothers, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope, Shirley Bassey and Julie Andrews.
Staunton signed on to play Dolly back in 2019. Originally planned to open in summer of 2020, the show was delayed by both the pandemic and the star’s shooting schedule on Season 5 and 6 of The Crown. Hello, Dolly! was postponed until 2022, then again until 2023.
Deadline revealed last year that Hello, Dolly! eventually would open in 2024 after Staunton confirmed that she would “definitely” be playing Dolly. “I’ll be ready for her,” she added.
Cooke, who directed Staunton in Follies at London’s National Theatre in 2017, said that the very last professional thing he did before the lockdown in March 2020 was to gather with set and costume designer Rae Smith to show Staunton the Dolly set. At that point, it had been created for the much-smaller Adelphi Theatre, where Hello, Dolly! had been due to open.
Back in late 2019, Staunton met with Herman, who died on December 26, 2019, seeking permission to use ‘Just Leave Everything to Me,’ a song performed by Barbra Streisand in the 1969 film version of Hello, Dolly! Another number, ‘Love, Look in My Window,’ added during Ethel Merman’s run as Dolly on Broadway, also will be given an airing at the Palladium.
Cooke told us that the show also is putting another Herman song, ‘Penny in My Pocket,’ featured in the recent Scott Rudin Broadway production starring Bette Midler, which is a solo number for Yonkers store owner Horace Vandergelder. Andy Nyman has been confirmed to play that role.
Hello, Dolly! is based on Thornton Wilder’s story The Matchmaker, about a widow pondering how to get on with her life.
“Hello, Dolly!’s known as this glitzy, showy piece, which it is, but I’ve always thought there’s much more to it because The Matchmaker is sort of about a woman coming back to life after grief. She asks herself, ’Do I have the energy to go a second round?’ I think there’s something profound about that,” Cooke mused. ”A lot of people give up after they lose their partner.
“So, Dolly sort of goes, ’Right, I’m ready!’ And so it starts with that decision. And that’s why Imelda was the right person. Obviously she can do the singing and the dancing, but she’s got so much depth, that’s why I wanted her to do it.
“That very first production in 1964 was Carol Channing being sensational, camp and delightful, but there wasn’t that much depth there,” said Cooke. “That’s the texture we’re looking to find.”
Great musicals are underpinned by something, added Cooke. “It’s about taking them seriously without being dour and boring. You have to enjoy them. If you look at all the big musicals — Rodgers and Hammerstein being a great example — they do have something underneath that they’re properly exploring. They’re proper works of art; they’re not just escapist entertainment.”
Cooke admitted that “it’s fair to say” that Staunton didn’t initially “jump at it.”
“She had to think very deeply whether my version of this made sense to her, which is to allow those slightly more complicated moments, and we had a lot of conversations early on.”
Once her mind was made up, Staunton did not waver. She has stayed with Hello, Dolly! through all of its many delays.
Cooke hailed Staunton “as one of our greats,” commenting that she spent a decade working in regional theater before she ever did a show in London. ”She did everything — she did Shakespeare, she did Alan Ayckbourn, musicals. She did the lot.”
He revealed that Staunton and Nyman will participate in a pre-rehearsal session in January “just with her and Andy, sitting around and singing through and talking through the show. Just exploring, because she likes to spend a lot of time prepping and thinking.”
Staunton also has taken up singing classes to get her voice in shape because, as Cooke said, “she hasn’t done a stage musical since Follies.”
When Hello, Dolly! tickets were on sale for the Adelphi in late 2019 and early 2020, it carried an advance of £3 million ($3.64 million). Ticket cash was refunded to ticket holders in 2020.
The aforementioned Adelphi season would have run for 30 weeks. However, with Palladium capacity at 2,300 seats — 800 more than the Adelphi — Harrison pointed out that “the 10 weeks at the Palladium, at eight shows a week, is the same capacity as we would have had in 30 weeks on seven shows a week at the Adelphi.”
Hello, Dolly! at the Palladium is capitalized at £5 million ($6.1 million) with £400,000 ($487,400) weekly running costs.
Such costs meant, Harrison said, that “ticket prices are going to be a little bit high,” but he promised “a wide spread of prices across the house,” with the lowest seat in the £25 ($33.33) range. He argued that “you’re forced to go high” with top prices because of high energy costs and other fees. ”We’ve all been hit, and it’s the producer who’s left with this.”
He had sharp words for less-considerate rivals. “What’s criminal is when it’s all at the top end and there aren’t any accessible tickets, and that’s when it gets a bit greedy.”
One of the reasons for the Palladium’s popularity its super sightlines. There’s not really a bad seat, “even if you go up to the upper circle and the back of the stalls,” said Harrison.
Harrison, who first collaborated with Staunton in the West End when the celebrated Chichester Festival Theatre production of Gypsy transferred to the Savoy Theatre, confirmed that joining Staunton and Nyman will be Jenna Russell as Irene Molloy, Tyrone Huntley as Barnaby Tucker and Harry Hepple as Cornelius Hackl.
The creative team includes Smith, sets and costumes; Bill Deamer, choreography; Paul Groothuis, sound design’ and Nick Skilbeck, musical supervisor, music director and music arrangements; Jon Clark, lighting design; and Finn Ross, video designer.
There will be an 18-piece orchestra with a cast of 35. Rehearsals begin in May. Priority booking opens December 6.
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