Features

“Hello Dolly” Celebration

STILL GOING STRONG:  RICHARD SKIPPER CELEBRATES 60 YEARS OF “HELLO DOLLY” AT REVOLUTION STAGE COMPANY IN PALM SPRINGS, CALIFORNIA, APRIL 19TH, 2024

By: Joel Vig

May 4, 2024: In early 1964, a musical opened at the St. James Theatre in New York City which would become one of the most beloved shows in Broadway history.  The show was called HELLO DOLLY and starred Carol Channing.  The librettist was Michael Stewart who already had successes on Broadway with BYE BYE BIRDIE and CARNIVAL. 

Jason Graae shares Jerry Herman memories with Richard Skipper.

STILL GOING STRONG:  RICHARD SKIPPER CELEBRATES 60 YEARS OF “HELLO DOLLY” AT REVOLUTION STAGE COMPANY IN PALM SPRINGS, CALIFORNIA, APRIL 19TH, 2024

By: Joel Vig

May 4, 2024: In early 1964, a musical opened at the St. James Theatre in New York City which would become one of the most beloved shows in Broadway history.  The show was called HELLO DOLLY and starred Carol Channing.  The librettist was Michael Stewart who already had successes on Broadway with BYE BYE BIRDIE and CARNIVAL. 

The composer/lyricist was a young man named Jerry Herman who was just at the beginning of what would become one of the most successful careers in American Musical Theatre history.  HELLO DOLLY, now celebrating its 60 year anniversary, is now considered a classic, and in the words Richard Skipper borrows from the musical’s title tune, HELLO DOLLY is “Still Going Strong.”Richard Skipper has been a fan of HELLO DOLLY his whole life.  Both Carol Channing and Jerry Herman stated that Mr. Skipper knows more about the musical HELLO DOLLY than any person in the world.  In an evening at the Revolution Stage Company, Palm Springs newest theatrical venue founded in late 2023 by artistic director Gary Powers, Richard Skipper sang and told stories to an enthusiastic crowd that made the 85 minute show fly by.  Joining Mr. Skipper on stage was Broadway song and dance man Jason Graae.

Ellen Boyer, Joel Vig, and Broadway HELLO DOLLY Minnie Fay actress Alix Korey at the performance of Richard Skipper’s STILL GOING STRONG.

HELLO DOLLY did not have the easiest gestation and birth.  Written specifically for Ethel Merman, the offer for Ms. Merman to star was met with a definite “No, thank you.”  A number of other stars including Nanette Fabray and Mary Martin also declined.  When Carol Channing accepted the part, there was still rough going as the musical played to out of town audiences and scenes and songs were cut and others added.

Producer David Merrick.and director Gower Champion were never a match made in heaven, but they forged ahead.  Just weeks before HELLO DOLLY was to open on Broadway, President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, TX.  The country was grieving and in shock. It was hardly an ideal time for a sweet and sentimental musical comedy to open.  But in January of 1964, HELLO DOLLY exploded on Broadeay with a message of love and hope about a world “full of wonderful things.”  HELLO DOLLY went on to win a record number of Tony Awards and continued its long Broadway run after Carol Channing took the show on the road with David  Merrick bringing in an amazing list of legendary stars to play the title role.  With star names including Ginger Rogers, Pearl Bailey, Phyllis Diller, and finally Ethel Merman, HELLO DOLLY became the longest running musical in Broadway history when it finally closed in December of 1970.  

Richard Skipper celebrates HELLO DOLLY STILL GOING STRONG.

Richard Skipper is the perfect guide for this celebration of HELLO DOLLY.  Having studied and seen many productions of the beloved musical over the years, Richard tells all the stories and dishes the dirt.  For many years, Richard had a successful career as a tribute artist portraying Carol Channing.  Ms. Channing embraced Mr. Skipper’s portrayal and the two became close friends.

Richard Skipper has assembled an amazing array of still images and film clips of various stars and productions of HELLO DOLLY over the years.  Special memories shared on film  from actresses including Ruta Lee, Tovah Feldshuh, and Beth Leavel, let the audience know how the part of Dolly Levi is one of the most treasured roles in all of the American Musical Theatre.  A very powerful film clip is of Sondra Lee, the original Minnie Fay on Broadway.  Sondra shares not only the triumphant memories but also some of  the darkest moments.

Gary Powers, founder and artistic director of Palm Springs newest theatre, the Revolution Stage Company, welcomes Richard Skipper’s HELLO DOLLY STILL GOING STRONG

Skipper’s guest star for the evening was the affable and charming Jason Graae.  Jason amused the audience by telling how he auditioned for HELLO DOLLY but was never cast.  Jason did have a long association and friendship with Jerry Herman.  Jason’s stories about Jerry Herman’s great talent and sweet spirit gave the audience another insight into the legendary composer.  Jason shared the Jerry Herman song MRS. S.L. JACOBOWSKY which was one of the highlights of the evening.

Richard Skipper plans to perform this show all around the country during this 60th anniversary year.  As HELLO DOLLY actor/director Lee Roy Reams has said about this show, ” Wow, Wow, Wow, Fellas!  Look at Richard Skipper now, Fellas! No one knows more about HELLO DOLLY! Have an adventure and enjoy his world outside of Yonkers, Barnaby.”

Jason Graae greets prize winning Oak Park High School theatre director of HELLO DOLLY Ellen Boyer.