Hello Dolly

‘HELLO, DOLLY!’ Bette Midler & cast. Photo: Julieta Cervantes

 

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HELLO, DOLLY!
Based on the play The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder
Book by Michael Stewart
Music & lyrics by Jerry Herman
Choreographed by Warren Carlyle
Directed by Jerry Zaks
Sam S. Shubert Theatre
225 West 44th Street
(212) 239-6200, www.HelloDollyOnBroadway.com

 

By David NouNou

 

Hello, Dolly! was a glorious, record-breaking musical when it opened in January 1964 and if it is properly done and not chintzed on, it is still an old-fashioned spectacular musical. Dolly is an iconic character in the musical pantheon. So whoever plays her has to be bigger than life. Three women come to mind: Barbra Streisand, Cher and Bette Midler, and who better to play Dolly but Bette Midler because in addition to her singing, she has the comedic chops.

The role of Dolly, the matchmaker who goes to Yonkers to find a suitable wife for Horace Vandergelder, the “half a millionaire,” was originated by Carol Channing. Ms. Channing won a Tony that year, beating out Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl. Although she created this lovable meddling and manipulating character, there was a guilelessness about her that you embraced her for; she was perfection. Many ladies came after her to keep the show thriving through the years: Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable, Martha Raye, Phyllis Diller, Pearl Bailey (probably the best Dolly) and finally ended with Ethel Merman.

Ms. Midler is a fun Dolly; after all she is the Divine Miss M. From start to finish, the crowd cheers and roars at whatever she does. I am sure that there would be lesser-name actresses who can play the part of Dolly more vibrantly and vocally be far superior, but no one can fill a house the way Ms. Midler can. Ms. Midler as I said is a joy to watch, but does she inhabit the role? No. The audience that comes to see her has no yardstick to compare or measure her performance against. They will cheer if she reads the proverbial phonebook. The only comparison that exists is the 1969 movie version with Barbra Streisand. Take your pick. In this case Ms. Midler gives more to the character of Dolly than Ms. Streisand did.

David Hyde Pierce is one of the most beloved actors in show business. He was so great in “Frasier,” which is still in reruns, but here he is not flinty, curmudgeonly, or forceful enough as Horace Vandergelder. He tries hard to imbue that character, but there is a strain. A better flintier actor ironically would have been Kelsey Grammar or John Larroquette.

Believe it or not, the original Cornelius Hackl and Irene Molloy were respectively played by Charles Nelson Reilly and Eileen Brennan. Now they are handsomely played by Gavin Creel and Kate Baldwin. Ms. Baldwin is in superb voice. Kudos should go to director Jerry Zaks, who keeps the proceedings at an ever so lively a pace, so you don’t notice some of the cracks in the book.

Jerry Herman’s score is still sublime and the sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto are exquisite. They are just as good as the original sets and costumes by Oliver Smith and Freddy Whittop who both won Tony Awards. Natasha Katz’s lighting is dazzling as always. An added bonus is that Warren Carlyle has maintained as much of the original choreography by Gower Champion which is both a credit to him and the show. It keeps the show constantly afloat.

When seeing Hello, Dolly, you are really seeing Hello, Bette! You leave the theatre with a big smile and a feeling of satisfaction. What could be better?

 

Edited by Scott Harrah
Published July 13, 2017

 

‘HELLO, DOLLY!’ David Hyde Pierce & Bette Midler. Photo: Julieta Cervantes

 

‘HELLO, DOLLY!’ Bette Midler. Photo: Julieta Cervantes

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