Bit of a Dolly Mixture
If "Hello, Dolly!" had been made 20 years earlier maybe it would have worked, maybe it wouldn't have struggled at the box office and maybe it wouldn't have been a disappointment. Yes "Hello, Dolly!" is a disappointment because this is a musical which is seriously out of balance, be it casting issues or the big musical numbers which over whelm the story it doesn't quite work. Basically it looks like someone at Twentieth Century-Fox wanted to make one of those big 1940s MGM style musicals but never fully understanding what made those musicals the classics that they have become.
Widow Dolly Levi (Barbra Streisand - Funny Girl) has made herself a living as a matchmaker and she is on her way to Yonkers to assist single millionaire Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau - Charade). Now Horace wants Dolly to take his niece Ermengarde (Joyce Ames) to New York City and find her a more appropriate husband than artist Ambrose Kemper (Tommy Tune), but Dolly has her eyes set on Horace himself. When Horace tells Dolly he is off to the city to ask Irene Molloy (Marianne McAndrew) to marry him she encourages his clerks Cornelius (Michael Crawford) and Barnaby (Danny Lockin) to head to the city with her, Ermengarde and Ambrose to interfere in Horace's plans.
To appreciate why "Hello, Dolly!" doesn't work is to understand that originally it was just a romantic comedy called "The Merchant of Yonkers", it then became known as "The Matchmaker" as it was made into a movie with Shirley Maclaine and also a stage production. But then come the 1960s and "The Matchmaker" became "Hello Dolly!", became a musical and a popular Broadway production before finally being turned into this 1969 musical with Barbara Streisand. But somewhere in that transition from just a romantic comedy into being a musical it lost something and I am pretty sure it was lost whilst making the movie.
Now that something is in fact a few things and most noticeably is balance between the musical aspect and the story. "Hello Dolly!" is almost 2 and a half hours long and I reckon that maybe 45 minutes of that is actual story telling with the rest being lavish musical productions. It basically means that the fun little story about matchmaker Dolly Levi trying to set herself up with millionaire Horace Vandergelder whilst also setting up a couple of other people becomes unimportant. And at the same time the humour of this storyline seems to be just as unimportant with those big musical numbers lacking the humour that the various romantic situations deserve.
Now to be fair these big musical numbers are lavish affairs, the sort which as already mentioned dominated the musical genre in the 40s. But every single one goes on far too long and you just wish someone had turned around to those in charge and I don't just mean director Gene Kelly and said do we really need those extra dance elements to each song. For me personally if they had cut every musical number down by a third not only would "Hello, Dolly!" been a better length but it would have had a better energy about it.
But "Hello, Dolly!" has another problem and that is Barbara Streisand. Now Streisand is a wonderful musical star but being a twenty something playing a woman who is not only a widow but looking to woo a much older millionaire doesn't work. Let's be honest Streisand is just too beautiful as Dolly to be believable as someone who is interested in a grumpy old man and as such no matter how good she is with the comedy and the singing it's not believable. Thankfully the rest of the casting does work be it Walter Matthau as the millionaire or the wonderfully versatile and flexible Michael Crawford as Cornelius Hackl.
What this all boils down to is that whilst "Hello, Dolly!" is a lavish production but it just doesn't quite work. Between Barbara Streisand being wrong for the role and the out of balance story to musical number ratio "Hello, Dolly!" just ends up entertainingly average.