Original Broadway Production (1964)
It has sometimes been erroneously stated that "Come and Be My Butterfly" was replaced by "The Polka Contest" (performed by Ambrose, Ermengarde, Irene, Cornelius, Barnaby and the ensemble). shortly after the opening. In Before the Parade Passes By, a biography of Gower Champion by John Anthony Gilvey, it is stated (on page 152) that the change was made when Ginger Rogers took over as Dolly on August 9, 1965. This also seems to be incorrect as a playbill from July 1965 does not list "Come and Be My Butterfly" but does list "The Polka Contest." A playbill from June 1965 does list "Come and Be My Butterfly." So the change seems to have been made sometime between June and July. This alighs with something else that has occasionally been stated — that the change was first tried in the first national company, which opened in April 1965, and then was put into the Broadway production. Some state that the change was first made in the Australian production, which opened in March 1965, and it was then used in the first national company. This may be true but we have not been able to definitively confirm it.
The playbills we have seen suggest that the change was made in the Broadway production when Charles Nelson Reilly and Eileen Brennan left the show and were replaced by Lawrence Holofcener and Patte Finley in mid-July 1965. Carol Channing was still in the show at the time. Playbills from July 1965, with Channing as Dolly (along with Holofcener and Finley), list "The Polka Contest" and do not list "Come and Be My Butterfly."
At the matinee on Wednesday, September 9, 1970, this musical surpassed My Fair Lady to become the longest-running Broadway musical in history, but it held that distinction only briefly. On July 21, 1971, Fiddler on the Roof surpassed the performance total of Hello, Dolly!
Hello, Dolly! went through extensive changes during the pre-Broadway run in Detroit but was never in danger of closing, even if producer David Merrick reportedly threatened to close it. But Merrick was known for making such threats simply to scare the creative people into making changes. In this case, director/choreographer Gower Champion responded Merrick's threat by offering to buy him out, and Merrick immediately retreated. By the time the show opened in Washington, D.C. (the second city on the tryout), it was in good shape.
Dolores Gray was one of the initial candidates to replace Carol Channing as Dolly.
On Oct. 7, 1963, an article in the New York Times informed readers that the show's title had been changed from Dolly, A Damned Exasperating Woman to Hello, Dolly! This was more than five weeks before the first pre-Broadway performance in Detroit.
On Saturday, September 6, 1969, the current Dolly, Pearl Bailey, was unable to complete both the matinee and evening performances. Her standby, Thelma Carpenter, took over in midperformance for both performances. Carpenter had been playing Wednesday matinees since February. Starting on September 8, Bailey was out for a month or so. During that time, Carpenter played all performances. Bailey returned to the show on October 9. On October 10, there was an article in the New York Times about Carpenter having played been playing the role since September 8. The following day, the Times reported that Bailey had returned to the role "after an absence of more than four weeks because of a back ailment."
When Bailey returned, Carpenter performed Saturday matinees as well as Wednesday matinees through the end of Bailey's run (December 21).
After the "Pearl Bailey company" played its final performance on Saturday, December 20, 1969, there were no performances till the following Thursday, December 26, when Phyllis Diller took over as Dolly.