Title page for ETD etd-10192011-185619

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Mehler, Charles Eliot
Author's Email Address cem8877@gmail.com
URN etd-10192011-185619
Title "Baby, Dream Your Dream:" Pearl Bailey, HELLO, DOLLY!, and the Negotiation of Race in Commercial American Musical Theatre
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Theatre
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Leslie A. Wade Committee Chair
Femi Euba Committee Member
Kristin Sosnowsky Committee Member
William F. Grimes Committee Member
Jeremy King Dean's Representative
  • musical theatre
  • race
  • Pearl Bailey
Date of Defense 2011-07-01
Availability unrestricted
In October of 1967, producer David Merrick closed his successful production of Hello, Dolly! Merrick reopened the show one month later with an all-black cast that featured the talents of performers Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway. While this Bailey Dolly! was a mammoth commercial success, this production brought attention to various problems concerning the interaction of black and white creative and performing talent in the venue of commercial American musical theatre.

One such problem involved the risk of possible loss of genuine black culture and ignorance of recalcitrant intra-black-community difficulties and the extent to which African Americans should have desired entrée into bourgeois society, as the play Hello, Dolly! itself portrayed onstage. Another such problem involved the possibility of the production avoiding dealing with racism head-on in order to avoid alienating white audiences. A corollary of such problems begged the question of what vision of American integration and civil rights the show represented.

On a more practical level, the Bailey Dolly! raised questions of the extent to which the Broadway stage needed reform with respect to its treatment of non-white participants. In this regard, questions arose as to whether there was any middle ground between calls for black separatist theatre and African-American participation in white commercial theatre, as well as to what extent white-dominated commercial American musical theatre would allow for black control of the creative and economic process.

In exploring these broad areas of concern, the study finds a fundamental conundrum. The production, to a great extent, glossed over everyday problems that the African American faced in 1960s America. At the same time, the Bailey Dolly! celebrated the victories of the civil rights era, providing a blueprint for African-American bourgeois entrée. Thus, despite acknowledged detriments with respect to portraying a genuine African-American experience, the Bailey Dolly! served as a flashpoint of change in the treatment of African Americans in commercial American musical theatre, and as a harbinger for improvement in such treatment.

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