Classic musical reintroduces itself to Philly

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“Hello, Dolly” national tour company Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes

The Tony Award-winning revival “Hello, Dolly” comes through Philly for some comedic and romantic musical hijinks Feb. 19-March 1.

The musical, set in the late 1800s, first debuted in 1963 and followed Dolly Gallagher Levi, a headstrong matchmaker who travels to New York to find a match for the well-to-do Horace Vandergelder. Along the way, she tries to find matches for Vandergelder’s employees Cornelius and Barnaby, who play hooky from their jobs and head off to the big city for kicks. Naturally, things go comically wrong and right along the way.

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Daniel Beeman

Out actor Daniel Beeman plays Cornelius Hack in the production and said he connected with the character’s itch to run off and have some fun.

“I relate to Cornelius because I’m from the Midwest originally,” he said. “I’m from Nebraska. Growing up, I was feeling ready to try something new — to move to New York City…. And that’s exactly what Cornelius does. At the top of the show, he’s the chief clerk at Vandergelder’s Hay and Feed, and he just wants to have one day off where he can go down to New York City and have an adventure with his best friend, Barnaby. That’s what I relate to, that youthful energy of trying something new, falling in love and having an adventure.”

“Hello, Dolly” has seen a number of theater icons in the titular role since the musical debuted, which is something Beeman said contributes to the show’s enduring popularity over the decades.  

“What I love most about this show is the appeal to multiple generations of people,” he said. “People come to me saying ‘Oh, I saw Carol Channing do this on Broadway,’ or ‘I saw Pearl Bailey do it on Broadway,’ in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. I have people that have grown up with this, but I also have high schoolers who come to the stage saying ‘Hello, Dolly’ is the first musical they’ve ever seen, and they laughed the whole night.”

Beeman said the play is ingrained in American culture. 

“Everyone knows the music, whether they absolutely know it or not. Everyone has heard the tunes and the music.”

Ruminating on the characters, Beeman said, “Cornelius, falls in love with Irene, and we’re in our 30s. Barnaby and Minnie fall in love, and they’re in their teens. Eventually, Dolly and Vandergelder fall in love, and they’re later in their life. It’s a beautiful thing everyone can relate to it. It’s set in the 1800s, but the show’s universal theme of love transcends all that.”

Beeman added that even the generation that grew up with the likes of Match.com, Tinder and Grindr will be able to relate to the adventures of a matchmaker from another century.      

“We all kind of know a Dolly in our lives,” he said. “We all have that person that is always meddling with people like ‘You should go talk to him.’ That’s what I related to. We all know these archetypes in our mind. People of today will definitely connect with the characters of the show.”

When it comes to the show’s appeal to the LGBTQ community, Beeman said that the show’s history of diva star power over the years has earned the show a significant LGBTQ following.  

“The performances of Carol Channing were iconic,” he said. “When Ethel Merman performed this role, she just sang the snot out of it. With the LGBT community, we’ve always kind of grabbed hold of those divas during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Dolly’s costumes are elegant, and she is radiant. It harkens back to the older musicals that I fell in love with growing up. The message of falling in love, and anyone can do it at any age is something I connected with, and I think the LGBT community will connect with it in that way as well.”

Broadway Philadelphia presents “Hello, Dolly” Feb. 19-March 1 at the Kimmel Center’s Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St. For more information or tickets, call 215-893-1999.