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Male actor takes on famous lead role in ‘Hello Dolly’

A Boca Raton, Florida, production of Hello Dolly is breaking ground with a male actor taking on the iconic lead role made famous by Carol Channing and Barbra Streisand.

Boca Raton’s Wick Theatre had to get special permission from composer Jerry Herman. The Sun-Sentinel ( reports it will be the first production in the U.S. where the role of Dolly Levi has been played by a man. Danny La Rue took on the role in England in 1982. This time around, Lee Roy Reams is stepping into the part.

Reams is friends with the composer, who lives in Miami Beach, and decided to pay him a visit to get his blessing. It might have helped that the theater had recently done two of Herman’s most popular shows — Mame and La Cage aux Folles.

Reams has also starred opposite Channing twice in the Tony-award winning show and has even directed it.

“I love this show,” Reams says. “It was my second show with Carol Channing. When I was in Lorelei with Carol we became close. When they were doing a revival she called me. That voice. She said, ‘Hello Lee Roy. It’s Carol.’ Like I didn’t know. She said, ‘Look, I want you to play Cornelius Hackl. The director doesn’t know you, so you have to audition. But don’t worry, you got the job.’ “

Channing also asked him to direct the last Broadway revival in 1994.

The musical, which has won 10 Tony Awards since debuting on Broadway in 1964, tells the story of a matchmaker who sweeps into the staid lives of a Yonkers store owner and his staff, as well as two ladies in a New York millinery. Streisand played Dolly in the 1969 movie version directed by Gene Kelly.

“You know David Merrick, the original producer, wanted Jack Benny to play Dolly and George Burns to play Horace Vandergelder (Dolly’s romantic lead). They turned him down. Then he wanted Liberace to play Dolly and he turned him down. The idea has always been there. It was just finding the producer brave enough to do it,” he said.

Reams credits Marilynn A. Wick, the theatre’s founder, for taking the risk. The show runs through Dec. 6.

“The atmosphere is prime. It’s time. People are no longer being told what they should play,” said Reams. “People can play all kinds of roles now, regardless (of) their sexual orientation or ethnicity. I think we’re all more open to that now.”

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