Hello, Dolly!

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Hello, Dolly!

Shubert Theatre, NYC, April 28, 2017

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Bette Midler

Hello, Dolly!  “Well, Hello, Jerry!” It’s so nice to have you back where you belong. Jerry Herman’s landmark musical of 1964, Hello, Dolly!, returns to the Great White Way, dazzling with the star power of Bette Midler as Dolly Gallagher Levi, ruling Yonkers with warmth and exuberance.  

Carol Channing originated the musical role of Dolly Levi, followed by Pearl Bailey, Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable, Ethel Merman, and others.  For Streisand fans, a very young Barbra sang like an angel in the film, but was not convincing playing a middle-aged widow. Now it’s the Divine Miss M’s turn and she is in a league of her own. No, her singing is not in Streisand’s league and her dancing is more half-kick than high-kick, but Midler’s personality supersedes all, stamping in her own individuality with an inimitable mischievous guile and bringing the audience to four standing ovations in the this show. 

The moment she steps off the trolley, you spot “It,” a star-presence confidence that says, “I’m here where I belong.” She is the right age to play the pushy Dolly, and she has the authority. The audience knows it, the cast knows it, Bette Midler knows it and relishes in it, infusing the musical with optimism, interpreting Dolly Levi less broadly than Channing, but with astute timing and a sly audience connection. 

Set in 1890, Michael Stewart’s musical version of Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker aims more toward entertainment than artistry. It centers on Dolly as the widow who considers taking another chance at love and security now, “Before the Parade Passes By.” She is a woman of many occupations, including matchmaking. As she says, “I meddle.” Her latest client is Horace Vandergelder (David Hyde Pierce), the skinflint owner of a hay and feed store, whom she describes as “half-a-millionaire.” She arranges him to meet with two New York women. Secretly, however, Dolly has her sights set on Horace for herself, and thus begins a delightful screwball comedy musical bouncing through two and a half hours of laughs and songs.

Bette Midler & David Hyde Pierce

David Hyde Pierce has a moment in front of the curtain to sing “Penny in My Pocket,” showing a rich full voice. Wearing generous mutton chops, he is a first-class Vandergelder, lovable even in his grouchiness, and finally vulnerable to Dolly’s charms. Not that there is any sizzling charisma between the two; it’s more of an efficient partnership. Early in the show, Vandergelder admits, “It Takes a Woman” to run a successful business. 

As one of Vandergelder’s two shop helpers, Gavin Creel’s lanky Cornelius Hackl is determined to hit the big city and paint the town. Tagging along is Taylor Trensch as nervous Barnaby Tucker. Together they finds love and adventure: Cornelius with Irene Molloy, played by red-haired soprano Kate Baldwin, who delivers a plaintive “Ribbons Down My Back”; Barnaby joins Irene’s assistant, a giggly scene-stealer, Minnie Fay (Beanie Feldstein) in broad comedy. Director Jerry Zaks goes overboard with broad slapstick in the silly courtroom scene, although Creel gets the chance to sing the engaging “It Only Take a Moment.”

Beanie Feldstein, Taylor Trensch,
Kate Baldwin, Gavin Creel

A blue ribbon for this production must go to Warren Carlyle who adds his wit and vibrancy to the wonderful late Gower Champion’s original choreography. Captivating is “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” the ensemble strutting up the Yonkers street to board the train for the city. “Dancing,” in the hat shop, is a dizzying whirl of a waltz. As for the show-stopper, “Hello, Dolly!” in the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, swathed in David Merrick’s ubiquitous red, “The Waiters’ Galop” sends the dancers soaring across the stage and Dolly, leading the parade, has her arms outstretched in joyous triumph. 

Scenic and costume designer Santo Loquasto added vibrancy and color with the painted backdrops of old New York, and his rainbow of delicious costumes spotlights the breezy story and delightful music. Jerry Herman’s score continues to enchant today, with help from songwriter Bob Merrill, who wrote the charming “Elegance.”

With a 23-piece orchestra in the pit, Hello, Dolly! is a memorable night, starting with the downbeat to the overture. When the red curtain rises and Bette Midler steps center stage in a musical for the first time in a half century, magic happens. It’s a love affair between Bette and Broadway, a sensational homecoming not to be missed.