Hello, Dolly! Plot and Songs BACK
At the turn of the 20th century, all of New York City is excited because brassy widow Dolly Gallagher Levi is in town ("Call On Dolly"). Dolly makes a living through what she calls "meddling"–matchmaking and numerous sidelines, including dance instruction and mandolin lessons ("I Put My Hand In"). She is currently seeking a wife for grumpy Horace Vandergelder, the grumpy well-known half-a-millionaire, but it soon becomes clear that Dolly intends to marry Horace herself.
Ambrose Kemper, a young artist, wants to marry Horace's weepy niece Ermengarde, but Horace opposes this because Ambrose's vocation does not guarantee a steady living. Ambrose enlists Dolly's help, and they travel to visit Horace in Yonkers, New York, where he is a prominent citizen and owns Vandergelder's Hay and Feed. Horace explains to his two clerks, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, that he is going to get married because "It Takes a Woman" to cheerfully do all the household chores. He plans to travel with Dolly to New York City to march in the Fourteenth Street Association Parade and propose to the widowed hat shop owner, Irene Molloy.
Dolly arrives in Yonkers and "accidentally" mentions that Irene's first husband might not have died of natural causes, and also mentions that she knows an heiress, Ernestina Money, who may be interested in Horace. Horace leaves for New York after telling Cornelius and Barnaby to mind the store. Cornelius decides that he and Barnaby also need to get out of Yonkers and have an adventure of their own. They resolve to go to New York, have a good meal, spend all their money, see the stuffed whale in Barnum's museum, almost get arrested and each kiss a girl! They blow up some tomato cans causing a terrible stench in
order to create a good reason to close the store.
Dolly mentions that she knows two ladies in New York they should call on: Irene Molloy and her shop assistant, Minnie Fay. She also tells Ermengarde and Ambrose that she'll enter them in the polka competition at the upscale Harmonia Gardens Restaurant in New York City so that Ambrose can demonstrate his ability to be a breadwinner. Cornelius, Barnaby, Ambrose, Ermengarde, and Dolly all take the train to New York ("Put on Your Sunday Clothes").
Meanwhile, in New York, Irene and Minnie open their hat shop for the afternoon. Irene wants a husband but does not love Horace Vandergelder. She declares that she will wear an elaborate hat to impress a gentleman ("Ribbons Down My Back"). Cornelius and Barnaby arrive at the shop pretending to be rich. Soon after, Horace and Dolly also arrive at the shop, and Cornelius and Barnaby are forced to hide. Irene inadvertently mentions that she knows Cornelius Hackl, and Dolly tells her and Horace that even though Cornelius is Horace's clerk by day, he's a New York playboy by night; he's one of The Hackls. Minnie screams when she finds Cornelius hiding in the armoire. Horace is about to open the armoire himself, but Dolly distracts him with patriotic sentiments
("Motherhood"). Cornelius sneezes, and Horace storms out, realizing there are men hiding in the shop, but not knowing they are his clerks.
Dolly arranges for Cornelius and Barnaby, who are still pretending to be rich, to take the ladies out to dinner at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant to make up for their humiliation. She teaches Cornelius and Barnaby how to dance since there is always dancing at such establishments ("Dancing"). Soon, Cornelius, Irene, Barnaby, and Minnie are happily dancing. They go to watch the great Fourteenth Street Association Parade together.
Alone, Dolly decides to put her dearly departed husband, Ephram behind her and to move on with life ("Before the Parade Passes By"). She asks Ephram's permission to marry Horace, requesting a sign from him. Dolly catches up with the annoyed Vandergelder, who has missed the whole parade, and convinces him to give her matchmaking one more chance. She tells Horace that Ernestina Money would be perfect for him and arranges for him to meet the heiress and asks him to meet her at the swanky Harmonia Gardens that same evening.
Cornelius is determined to get a kiss before the night is over, but Barnaby isn't so sure. As the clerks have no money for a carriage, they tell the girls that walking to the restaurant instead shows that they've got "Elegance". At Harmonia Gardens, Rudolph, the head waiter, prepares his service crew for Dolly Levi's return. Their usual lightning service, he tells them, must be "twice as lightning" ("The Waiters' Gallop"). Horace arrives with his date, Ernestina, but she proves neither as rich nor as elegant as Dolly had implied; furthermore she is soon bored by Horace and leaves, just as Dolly had planned she would.
Cornelius, Barnaby, and their dates arrive, unaware that Horace is also dining at the restaurant. Irene and Minnie, inspired by the restaurant's opulence, order the menu's most expensive items. Cornelius and Barnaby grow increasingly anxious as they discover they have little more than a dollar left.
Dolly makes her triumphant return to the Harmonia Gardens and is greeted in style by the staff ("Hello, Dolly!"). She sits in the now-empty seat at Horace's table and proceeds to eat a large, expensive dinner, telling the exasperated Horace that no matter what he says, she will not marry him.
Barnaby and Horace both hail waiters at the same time, and in the ensuing confusion their wallets are inadvertently switched. Barnaby is delighted that he can now pay the restaurant bill, while Horace finds little more than spare change. Barnaby and Cornelius realize that the wallet must belong to Horace. Cornelius, Irene, Barnaby, and Minnie try to sneak out during the "The Polka Contest", but Horace recognizes them and spots Ermengarde and Ambrose as well. The ensuing free-for-all culminates in a trip to night court. For everyone.
Cornelius and Barnaby confess that they have no money and have never been to New York before. Cornelius declares that he will always fondly remember the day he met Irene even if he has to dig ditches the rest of his life. Cornelius, Barnaby, and Ambrose then each profess their love for their companion ("It Only Takes A Moment"). Dolly convinces the judge that their only crime was being in love. The judge finds everyone innocent and cleared of all charges. Everyone, that is except Horace, who is declared guilty and forced to pay damages.
Dolly mentions marriage again, and Horace declares that he wouldn't marry her even if she were the last woman in the entire world. Dolly angrily bids him "So Long, Dearie," telling him that when he's bored and lonely, she'll be living the high life.
The next morning back at the hay and feed store, Cornelius and Irene, Barnaby and Minnie, along with Ambrose and Ermengarde each set out on their new paths in life. A chastened Horace Vandergelder finally admits that he needs Dolly in his life, but Dolly is unsure about the marriage, until he repeats an old saying of her late husband: "Money is like manure. It's not worth a thing unless it's spread about, encouraging young things to grow."
Dolly believes this to be the sign she requested from Ephram and agrees to marry Horace. He tells Dolly life would be dull without her, and she promises in return that she'll "never go away again" ("Hello, Dolly” [reprise]).