Even From Afar, Carol Channing Served Up That Broadway Wow | Modern Society of USA

Even From Afar, Carol Channing Served Up That Broadway Wow

Even From Afar, Carol Channing Served Up That Broadway Wow

Long before I saw Carol Channing in the flesh in the title role of “Hello, Dolly!,” I had already watched her performance many, many times in my mind’s eye — and in very specific detail. When Ms. Channing, who died on Tuesday at 97, first appeared in the part with which she would forever be identified, I was only 9 years old and living in Winston-Salem, N.C.

But as a boy in thrall to all things New York, and especially all things Broadway, I monitored whatever was happening on its stages as closely as long distance allowed in the pre-internet age. My parents subscribed to The New Yorker, so that was a help, and I could go to the Wake Forest College library, just a bike ride away, and check out the arts pages of The Times.

But even without such auxiliary aids, I have the feeling that Ms. Channing’s Dolly would have imprinted herself on my imagination. That show, and her performance, seemed to have infiltrated the oxygen of the entire United States in 1964, much as the musical “Hamilton” would half a century later. Its exuberance, as embodied by its title song, had a neon-bright kick that helped dispel the shadow of John F. Kennedy’s assassination the year before.

[Read the memories of Carol Channing from those who knew her]

With my sister, who was seven years older but almost equally smitten with the romance of musical theater, I acquired the original cast recording (three sacred words to me at the time). I studied the photographs on the inside of the album cover, memorized the liner notes and, within at most 36 hours, knew every lyric to each of its songs.

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