Movie review: ‘Carol Channing: Larger Than Life’ documentary is terrific

Dori Berinstein’s documentary “Carol Channing: Larger Than Life” is a terrifically entertaining, smartly constructed trip down memory lane with one of the American stage’s most legendary troupers.

Although the 90-years-young Channing may be instantly recalled for her saucer-eyed, red-lipped, raspy-voiced loopiness — and as an affectionate target of comic impressionists and drag performers alike — this enlightening valentine to a game, devoted and ebullient talent deftly belies the caricature. That the Tony-winning Channing starred in more than 5,000 performances of “Hello, Dolly!” — and never missed a single one — certainly speaks volumes.

Producer-director Berinstein, who also co-wrote with editor Adam Zucker, mostly lets Channing tell her own illustrious life story while following the tireless actress coast to coast for various rehearsals, appearances and presentations. Often at Channing’s loving side is the just-passed Harry Kullijian, the childhood sweetheart she married after a near-70-year separation (itself an amazing tale).

Such famed Channing collaborators as “Dolly!” composer-lyricist Jerry Herman, dancer-choreographer Marge Champion and “Lorelei” costumer Bob Mackie, plus fellow performers Chita Rivera, Debbie Reynolds, Tyne Daly and the late Betty Garrett, all warmly weigh in here.


Fun footage from Channing’s many stage, TV and film appearances (including her Oscar-nominated turn in 1967’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie”) along with clever, Al Hirschfeld-inspired animated bits round out this winning portrait.

“Carol Channing: Larger Than Life.” MPAA rating: PG for mild thematic elements including brief smoking. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes. At the Nuart Theatre, West Los Angeles.