Plot: Dolly Levi (Barbra Streisand) is a matchmaker in turn of the century Yonkers, outside of New York. She is hired by Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau) to find him a wife. He also hires her to take his niece Ermengarde (Joyce Ames) to New York City, to encourage her to forget about marrying her artist beau, Ambrose (long-legged Tommy Tune). Instead, Dolly makes matches for his two clerks (Michael Crawford and Danny Lockin), advises them on how to get promotions from Horace, and helps Ermengarde get permission to marry Ambrose. Finally, after a series of intricate maneuvers, Dolly makes a match for herself, with Horace.
Discussion: This is one of the last of the big-time, old-fashioned musicals, with lavish production values and a dozen hummable tunes. The very slight story is bolstered by terrific singing and dancing — staged by two masters of the genre: Gene Kelly, who directed, and Michael Kidd, who choreographed. The elaborate sets, costumes, and musical numbers make this movie a treat for the eyes and ears.
Dolly is almost a magical figure, with business cards for every purpose. When she tells Ermengarde and Ambrose they can earn the money they need by winning the dance contest at Harmonia Gardens, she produces one that says “Artists Taught to Dance.” With all the confidence it takes to transform the lives of everyone around her, she still hesitates when it comes to herself. She still mourns her late husband Ephraim, but she wants more out of life “Before the Parade Passes By.” Yet when Horace finally proposes, she waits for a sign of Ephraim’s approval. What she gets is a sign that Horace has the qualities she is looking for, that, as she suspected all along, his gruff exterior conceals a warm heart and a wish to help others.
Questions for Kids:
· Why doesn’t Dolly just tell Horace the truth about what she thinks is right for him and for Ermengarde?
· How does she help the people in the movie to think differently about themselves, and how does that help them change?
· What does Dolly mean when she sings “Before the Parade Passes By”?
· When the young couples sing “We’ve Got Elegance,” do they really think they are fancy?
· What would you do if you were Barnaby and Cornelius at the Harmonia Gardens?
· What is the difference between Dolly’s view of money and Horace’s view?
Connections: Michael Crawford went on from male ingenue parts (“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”) to star in the title role of “Phantom of the Opera.” This story, originally a German play, has been produced in a number of forms, including “The Matchmaker,” a non- musical play written by Thornton Wilder (of “Our Town”), filmed with Shirley Booth, and most recently redone by avant-garde playwright Tom Stoppard from the perspective of the two clerks as “On the Razzle.”
Activities: Take the kids to a parade, preferably one where they can march along. They might also enjoy making some hats inspired by the spectacular creations in the movie.