I expect that, if you’ve found your way to this review, you will love the national tour of the recent Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly!, newly ensconced at Kennedy Center’s Opera House. Look at the old girl now, indeed.
Jerry Zaks has directed an almost perfectly realized production, and the cast of the tour is wonderfully strong. The musical numbers give you that Golden Age musical high; the comedy, albeit on the broad end of the spectrum, earns the laughter it receives; and when it’s time for you to care a little about the characters, the show achieves the required level of poignancy.
This revival was an extremely hot ticket when it opened in New York, that demand driven by the star wattage of Bette Midler, who won the Tony for it.
The original Broadway production attracted major talent (the likes of Ginger Rogers, Pearl Bailey, and Ethel Merman) to replace original star Carol Channing after she left the show. Likewise, Midler’s shoes have been impressively filled, in New York by Bernadette Peters and Donna Murphy (both two-time Tony winners) and on the tour by none other than Betty Buckley.
Buckley, of course, is a Broadway mainstay who has been around since 1776 (the show, not the year). She won her Tony for introducing New York audiences to “Memory” when Cats opened on Broadway. (And, at the other end of the gamut, she led the cast of the notorious flop Carrie: The Musical.)
Buckley is now my fourth Dolly, as I previously saw Channing, Bailey, and Peters in the role (Bailey at this same venue). I’m excited to add this latest performance to that exalted list of predecessors.
Buckley’s Dolly has warmth and wit. Her voice, capable of filling the room beautifully, also has a softness that balances the brassiness of the part and that gives her take on the role a lovely texture.
On a couple of the more familiar songs, she lags the text a bit behind the beat. This results in her making the numbers her own in an unexpected way, giving them a lovely spontaneity, and it got me hearing the lyrics as if for the first time. We get a star turn, for sure, but we also get an engaging character.
Peters’ Dolly, which I saw about a year ago, is still pretty fresh in my mind, and she brought a gorgeous vulnerability to the part. I felt it would be hard for someone else to match her Act One finale number “Before the Parade Passes By.” Buckley’s version is of the same caliber; it’s thrilling.
And what a wonderful Horace she is given in the person of Lewis J. Stadlen. He has the killer comic timing of a Borscht Belt comic (he has a history of creating roles in Neil Simon plays, after all), and a gift as a song-and-dance man.
It’s an expert performance, without a misstep or false note. I confess that, as his number “It Takes a Woman” was about to begin, I was thinking that I wish I had a fast-forward button to move through it — I felt as if I’ve heard it enough, and it’s not a highlight of the score, in my eyes. Stadlen’s rendition won me over; it is thoroughly delightful.
Hello, Dolly! closes July 7, 2019 at The Kennedy Center. Details and tickets
Act Two of this revival begins with a number cut during the original production’s out-of-town tryouts: “Penny in My Pocket.” During the number, Horace references his dead wife and Stadlen’s pace is interrupted for a quick second; then he continues. The moment lands in a manner that is touching but that also doesn’t intrude into what is, after all, a number in a musical comedy.
The foursome who make up the young lovers are also terrific. Nic Rouleau delivers the speech in the courtroom with a lovely sweetness, and his voice (all the voices are impressively strong) blends gorgeously with that of Analisa Leaming’s Irene. And Leaming’s “Ribbons Down My Back” is another number I wasn’t looking forward to but was delighted to hear again.
Sean Burns, who plays Barnaby, was trained at Catholic University, which I guess explains why he was the only actor other than Buckley who received entrance applause. (It was not a general ovation; it seemed to come from a particular area in the house). He dances delightfully, as does Colin LeMoine as the suitor Ambrose.
Kristen Hahn as Minnie Fay was a particular favorite of mine. She mines character-driven humor out of every moment on-stage, and the role becomes unusually memorable thanks to her work.
The precision and athleticism of the waiters in the lead-up to the famous title number is literally show-stopping. Warren Carlyle is the Choreographer, and these waiters deserve generous tips; they negotiate staircases and a runway with astounding skill. Of course, the manner in which the show builds anticipation toward that song (it’s from the era when show tunes would reliably populate the billboard charts) is one of the aspects to Hello, Dolly! that elevate it as a pinnacle example of the musical comedy form.
Another is the Jerry Herman score, replete, as it is, with “hum-able” hits and reliably engaging songs.
If Herman is most strongly associated with the durability of the material, credit should also be given to Michael Stewart, who wrote the book of the show. It’s filled with truly funny moments. Sure (particularly to someone seeing it a second time in less than two years) it’s the music that is the most transporting aspect; but the fact that some of the speeches move us, and the power and timelessness of the theme (which is the importance of generosity in a world that can be harsh for people without means and/or without companionship) is a tribute to Stewart’s craft — and also to the source material. (The musical is based on Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker.)
[adsanity_rotating align=”aligncenter” time=”10″ group_id=”1455″ /]
As I said, the farcical elements are broad, though Zaks keeps things precise and perfectly paced. The design (Set and Costumes by Santo Loquasto, Lighting by Natasha Katz) is colorful and evocative.
Hovering over the proceedings is the ghost of Gower Champion, the immense musical talent who shepherded the original production and whose name is as prominent on the marquee as those of Zaks and Carlyle. It’s his template that so many wonderful successor artists have been able to employ as they put their own stamp on a grand old warhorse.
And that’s what Buckley, Stadlen, Zaks, Carlyle, and company have done.
Who’s next? My bet is that Dolly! will never go away again; at least, not for very long.
Hello, Dolly! Based on the play “The Matchmaker” by Thornton Wilder . Book by Michael Stewart . Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman . Directed by Jerry Zaks . Choreographed by Warren Carlyle . Original Production Directed and Choreographed by Gower Champion . Featuring Betty Buckley, Lewis J. Stadlen, Nic Rouleau, Analisa Leaming, Sean Burns, Kristen Hahn, Colin LeMoine, Morgan Kirner, Jessica Sheridan, Wally Dunn, Maddy Apple, Daniel Beeman, Brittany Bohn, Giovanni Bonaventura, Elizabeth Broadhurst, Whitney Cooper, Darius Crenshaw, Julian DeGuzman, Alexandra Frohlinger, Dan Horn, Corey Hummerston, Madison Johnson, Nathan Keen, Beth Kirkpatrick, Ben Lanham, Ian Liberto, Kyle Samuel, Scott Shedenhelm, Timothy Shew, Maria Cristina Slye, Cassie Austin Taylor, Davis Wayne, Brandon L. Whitmore, Connor Wince . Scenic and Costume Design: Santo Loquasto . Lighting Design: Natasha Katz . Sound Design: Scott Lehrer . Orchestrations: Larry Hochman . Music Director: Robert Billig . Presented by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts . Reviewed by Christopher Henley .