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What some who've played Dolly say about the role

We reached out to some recent Dollys, to find out what makes the role so iconic.

The Tony-winning Dolly

Cady Huffman as Dolly Levi in Ocean State
Photo Credit: Mark Turek

“It’s one of my favorite gigs ever,” says Cady Huffman, who won a Tony playing blonde bombshell Ulla in “The Producers,” before starring as Dolly at Theatre by the Sea in Wakefield, Rhode Island, in 2010. “It’s a massive role, but so well-designed for an actress — the songs are well-paced, with enough time in between for recovery.” 

The last-minute Dolly

Leslie Alexander from The ateway Playhouse production of
Photo Credit: The Gateway/Jeff Bellante

“I got a phone call — ‘Are you available to do Dolly . . . right now?’ ” recalls Leslie Alexander, who stepped into the Gateway Playhouse production at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts in 2010, after their star dropped out. Alexander (of Broadway’s “Mamma Mia” and “The Boy from Oz”) learned the show in a week. “I’d get up at 7 a.m., power walk and memorize lines, go to rehearsal, dinner, rehearsal again, then fall into bed.”

The Asian Dolly

Christine Toy Johnson starred as Dolly Gallagher Levi
Photo Credit: Bruce Alan Johnson

Christine Toy Johnson (Broadway’s “The Music Man,” “Grease”) starred in the National Asian Arts Project production in 2013. “There’s a special bond between people who’ve put on Dolly’s shoes,” she says. “I never dreamed I’d play Dolly, but the role transcends race and ethnicity. It’s the kind of life-affirming, joyous part that musical theater does better than anything else.” 

The one-armed Dolly

Marilyn Maye in attendance for Marilyn Maye at
Photo Credit: Everett Collection/Derek Storm

Legendary vocalist Marilyn Maye is, like Dolly, a survivor. She celebrated her 89th birthday performing to a packed house at 54 Below. (That nightclub run continues through April 23.) She sang “Hello, Dolly!” on her first RCA album (in 1965, later recording the entire score), played Dolly in Kansas City (1970), then Galveston (four summers in the 1980s), rehearsing midnight to 5 a.m. “It was an outdoor theater and the only time it was cool.” One night, someone stepped on her costume offstage, sending her flying, and shattering her shoulder. “That summer I was a one-armed Dolly,” she says, laughing. “They gave me slings to match my costume.” 

The male Dolly

Lee Roy Reams—who played Cornelius Hackl in the
Photo Credit: Lee Roy Reams

Lee Roy Reams made history in Boca Raton in 2015 as America’s first male Dolly in a sanctioned production. “I played my mother,” he says. “I had a terrific hillbilly mother from Kentucky. I threw that in.” To him, the casting wasn’t a stretch. “She’s a masculine character. She takes control of situations. The only downside is having to wear all that stuff—the wig, corset, high heels, hose.” 

The high school Dolly

Kate Brady as Dolly Gallagher Levi in Manhasset
Photo Credit: Ariana Tadler

It’s a singer’s worst nightmare. “The doctor said I might have nodes,” recalls Kate Brady, who was a senior and star of Manhasset High School’s “Dolly” production in 2015. She’d woken up the morning of her first performance with laryngitis. A doctor prescribed steroids, and no singing that night, or she’d risk rupturing a vocal cord. “I thought, ‘Whatever, I’ll risk it,’ but Mom was like…no.” Her understudy, Regan Lavin, stepped in. Brady, luckily, did NOT have nodes, recovered and played the rest of the run. She’s now a music production major at Elon University in North Carolina. As for her favorite moment in the show? “The ‘Hello, Dolly!’ number. Just walking down the stairs in a beautiful dress, all the men singing to me — it’s definitely a good time.” 

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