The adulation for Bette Midler begins the moment she sets foot on stage. The outpouring of love—continuous applause and rousing cheers and even a standing ovation midway through the show—signals this will be unlike most theater experiences you will have witnessed. As Dolly Levi, in the sumptuous revival of Hello, Dolly!, The Divine Ms. M puts her own spin on the revered character. Not so much the belter anymore she, nonetheless, puts her quintessential stamp on every number. She manages to stay in character, most of the time, while bathing the role with comedic touches honed during her long concert and film career. The actresses also manages some soft-shoe hoofing to boot.
Hello, Dolly! tells the story of a brash yenta type character, Dolly Levi, who has been hired by the gruff, cantankerous half-millionaire Horace Vandergelder to match him up with a suitable bride. Dolly, though, has other plans. Instead of the intended young, pretty Irene Molloy, she has her own eyes set on the businessman. Meanwhile, as the irascible Yonkers entrepeneur heads to New York City to meet his prearranged wife, his two clerks, Barnaby and Cornelius, decide the time is ripe for their own excitement and head off to the big city for adventure and, possibly, romance. By the end of the musical cupid’s arrow has targeted all for the proverbial happy ending.
The producers have intelligently surrounded Ms. Midler with a superior supporting cast led by the incomparable David Hyde Pierce as Horace Vandergelder. With longish hair and bushy moustache, Mr. Hyde Pierce more than holds his own in his scenes with Bette Midler. The actor has perfect comic timing that enlivens every occasion he is on stage. The golden voiced Kate Baldwin as Irene Malloy endows her character with an independent minded attitude mixed with a wistful, loving glint. Gavin Creel is an exuberant Cornelius Hackl, fumbling and bumbling on the road to romance. Taylor Trensch as Barnaby Tucker and Beanie Feldstein as the smitten millinery employee Minnie Fay are high-spirited with a youthful enthusiasm and ardor. Jennifer Simard, in the small role of Ernestina, once again demonstrates why she is such a comedic gem that sparkles and shines. Hopefully, one day, a stage vehicle that showcases her considerable talents will be produced.
The celebrated score by the acclaimed composer Jerry Herman overflows with one memorable song after another. Just a handful would satiate an audience’s eagerness for tuneful, hummable compositions. But here, every song, even the lesser-known numbers, are a pure listening and toe-tapping delight. The many gems include “It Takes a Woman,” “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” ‘Before the Parade Passes By,” and the title number, “Hello, Dolly.”
Jerry Zaks, a multiple Tony Award winning director, has taken the war horse of a musical and injected an invigorating twinkle into the show. The storyline is old-fashioned, at best, but he breathes new life into the musical by keeping the pacing brisk and refreshing. Having a first-rate supporting cast of award-winning actors and actresses doesn’t hurt. And, of course, there is Bette Midler as your star. He allows her to overplay a scene here or there and incorporate some schtick. No one really cares. Zaks adroitly keeps the focus on Ms. Midler, not so much that the other components of the show become mere window dressing but, instead, are stylized accouterments. An extension of the stage, curving around the pit orchestra, brings the star even closer to her beloved fans. The director seizes every opportunity to utilize this alteration to the musical’s advantage.
Warren Caryle puts his own mark on the original Gower Champion choreography. The production numbers are vigorously executed with an almost fearless audaciousness. The dancers soar and strut through high-stepping routines mixed in with lively promenades. The Act II showstopper, “The Waiters’ Gallop,” at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, with waiters hustling and bustling on and off-stage with an energetic and athletic prowess is a sight to behold.
Santo Loquasto’s costume design, in bold colors as well as vibrant pastels, add an exclamation point to the production. His set design does not overpower the show, allowing the audience to focus on the very talented cast. However, when a signature piece is called on Loquasto doesn’t scrimp. This includes a life-size train chugging on and off the stage and the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant scene with the iconic staircase, which Dolly Levi uses to make her grand entrance to the tune of “Hello, Dolly!”
Hello, Dolly!, a classic musical with the bedazzling presence of a true Broadway star.