The Matchmaker tells the story of a rich widower, Horace Vandergelder, who employs the services of a matchmaker, Dolly Levi, to find him a wife. While he is in pursuit of his own happiness, Vandergelder does his best to thwart the happiness of others, including his two overworked clerks, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, and his niece Ermengarde, who wants to marry Ambrose Kemper, a penniless artist. Act 1 takes place in Vandergelder’s living quarters above his general store in Yonkers. In the opening scene, Vandergelder informs Ambrose that he will never be allowed to marry Ermengarde. That done, Vandergelder proceeds to outline his plans for the day, plans that include a trip to New York City to visit Irene Molloy, a widowed milliner whom he is thinking of marrying. While he is getting ready to go out, he is visited by a shady character named Malachi Stack, who is looking for a job. On an impulse, Vandergelder hires the man and sends him ahead to New York to book a hotel room.
Meanwhile, Ambrose tries to persuade Ermengarde to elope with him, but she will not hear of it. Mrs. Levi interrupts the couple to counsel caution, reminding Ambrose that Ermengarde stands to inherit a fortune if she does not disobey her uncle. She also informs them that Vandergelder might soften toward their situation because he himself is planning to marry. She then reveals her philosophy of “profit and pleasure,” explaining that by arranging things for people she ekes out a living, but that her real pleasure is in making life more interesting. She says that she is like an artist who finds that nature is never completely satisfactory and must be corrected.
In the next scene the audience gets its first glimpse of Mrs. Levi and Vandergelder together. Although ostensibly she is operating as a matchmaker to find him a suitable bride, it is clear to the audience that she herself has her cap set for him and will probably use every trick at her disposal to catch him. In fact, in order to cool his ardor for Irene Molloy, Mrs. Levi invents a new love interest for him, “Ernestina Simple,” and promises to introduce them that evening at the Harmonia Gardens in New York. Meanwhile, Cornelius and Barnaby decide that it is high time to get out of Yonkers and have an adventure, so they light a fire under some canned goods until the cans explode, creating such a mess that the two clerks have no choice but to close the store and head for New York.
Act 2 takes place in Irene Molloy’s hat shop. As the curtain rises, Irene is lamenting to her assistant, Minnie Fay, that she longs for some excitement in her life. At that point Cornelius and Barnaby, who have been wandering around town, enter the shop to avoid being seen by Vandergelder, whom they have just seen with Mrs. Levi in the park. Pleased by the unexpected intrusion, Irene helps them hide when Vandergelder appears in the shop a few minutes later. From their hiding places, they overhear Irene boast to Vandergelder that she knows a certain Cornelius Hackl, a wealthy young man-about-town who dines regularly at the Harmonia Gardens—misinformation supplied by Cornelius in an effort to impress her. Even Mrs. Levi tries to protect the young men from discovery, but a sneeze betrays them; Vandergelder, suspecting the worst, storms out, vowing to turn his attentions to Ernestina Simple. Irene insists that Cornelius treat them all to an evening on the town, complete with a fancy meal at the Harmonia Gardens. Act 2 ends with the clerks agreeing that, although they have no idea how they are going to pay for the evening ahead, they are, indeed, in the middle of a real adventure.
Act 3 takes place at the Harmonia Gardens, where Vandergelder and Malachi Stack arrive together, followed by Mrs. Levi with Ermengarde and Ambrose in tow. The moment Mr. Vandergelder spots them, he orders Malachi to see to it that Ambrose and Ermengarde are taken to the home of a spinster friend, Miss Flora Van Huysen, with a note instructing...
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