The Matchmaker

The Matchmaker is a 1954 play by Thornton Wilder, a rewritten version of his 1938 play The Merchant of Yonkers.


The play has a long and colorful history. John Oxenford's 1835 one-act farce A Day Well Spent had been extended into a full-length play entitled Einen Jux will er sich machen by Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy in 1842. In 1938, Wilder adapted Nestroy's version into an Americanized comedy entitled The Merchant of Yonkers, which attracted the attention of German director Max Reinhardt, who mounted a Broadway production, which ran for 39 performances.[1]

Fifteen years later, director Tyrone Guthrie expressed interest in a new production of the play, which Wilder extensively rewrote and rechristened The Matchmaker. The most significant change was the expansion of a previously minor character named Dolly Gallagher Levi, who became the play's centerpiece. A widow who brokers marriages and other transactions in Yonkers, New York at the turn of the 20th century, she sets her sights on local merchant Horace Vandergelder, who has hired her to find him a wife. After a series of slapstick situations involving mistaken identities, secret rendezvous behind carefully placed screens, separated lovers, and a trip to night court, everyone finds themselves paired with a perfect match.


The play starring Ruth Gordon as Dolly and Sam Levene as Horace Vandergelder, debuted at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland on November 4, 1954; at the Edinburgh Festival, in Berlin—for the troops and at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London's West End. Due to a salary dispute with Broadway producer David Merrick, Sam Levene left the production after playing the role of Horace Vandergelder for over a year in Europe. Loring Smith replaced Levene as Horace Vandergelder and opened on Broadway December 5, 1955 at the Royale Theatre, later transferring to the Booth to complete its run of 486 performances.[2] Ruth Gordon's performance in the title role earned her a Tony Award nomination as Best Actress; Guthrie won as Best Director.[3]

Characters and original Broadway cast

The characters and original cast of The Matchmaker are recorded at the Internet Broadway Database.[3]

  • Horace Vandergelder, a Merchant of Yonkers – Loring Smith
  • Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi, a Friend of Vandergelder's Late Wife – Ruth Gordon
  • Irene Molloy, a Milliner – Eileen Herlie
  • Minnie Fay, Mrs. Molloy's Assistant – Rosamund Greenwood
  • Cornelius Hackl, a Clerk in Vandergelder's Store – Arthur Hill
  • Barnaby Tucker, an Apprentice in Vandergelder's Store – Robert Morse
  • Ermengarde, Mr. Vandergelder's niece, whom Ambrose wants to marry — Prunella Scales
  • Miss Flora Van Husen, a Friend of Vandergelder's Late Wife – Esme Church
  • Malachi Stack – Patrick McAlinney
  • Ambrose Kemper, an Artist – Alexander Davion
  • Gertrude, Vandergelder's Housekeeper – Charity Grace
  • Miss Van Husen's Cook – Christine Thomas
  • Rudolf, a Waiter – William Lanteau
  • Joe Scanlon, a Barber – Philip Leeds
  • August, a Waiter – John Mulligan


The 1958 film version, adapted by John Michael Hayes and directed by Joseph Anthony, starred Shirley Booth as Dolly, Anthony Perkins as Cornelius, Shirley MacLaine as Irene, Paul Ford as Vandergelder, and Robert Morse reprising his Broadway role as Barnaby.[4]

In 1964, the play enjoyed yet another incarnation when David Merrick, who had produced the 1955 Broadway production, mounted a hugely successful, Tony Award-winning musical version entitled Hello, Dolly!, with a score by Jerry Herman and starring Carol Channing.[5]

A film version of Hello, Dolly! was released in 1969 starring Barbra Streisand in the lead role.[6]

The 1981 Tom Stoppard farce On the Razzle is also based on the same story.[7]


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