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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 30, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 26
Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler is Broadway bliss!
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Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler is Broadway bliss!

by Ron Anders - SGN Contributing Writer

HELLO, DOLLY!
SHUBERT THEATRE
NEW YORK CITY


Has there ever been an entertainer more adored by her audiences than Bette Midler? The answer to this question was answered with a deafening roar when she made her entrance in the raucous revival of Hello, Dolly! now appearing on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre. Director Jerry Zaks has surrounded our diva with a cast of elite Broadway talent, resulting in a production that is sheer musical comedy nirvana.

Midler's last appearance in a book musical was in the original run of Fiddler on the Roof a half-century ago. Having seen her in dozens of concerts and revues since the early 1970s, I wondered if she could rein in her Divine Miss M persona in service to the character of Dolly Levi. There was no need for concern. She slips into the role of professional busybody as easily as Dolly slips into her elbow-length gloves and makes the role her own. Rest assured, all the sass and hoydenish charm are still there for us to bask in, along with her unique ability to veer seamlessly from boisterous comedy to heart-wrenching pathos.

For the uninitiated, the show's plot involves meddlesome Dolly, matchmaker extraordinaire, and her pursuit of Horace Vandergelder, a cantankerous merchant of considerable means. When Dolly is hired by Horace to find a husband for his niece, complications, as they say, ensue.

The peerless supporting cast features a hilariously grumpy David Hyde Pierce as Dolly's curmudgeonly foil, Horace, Gavin Creel (Broadway's current go-to heartthrob) as a golly-gosh, exuberant Cornelius Hackl, and the superb Kate Baldwin as widow Irene Molly, her exquisite soprano turning 'Ribbons Down My Back' into one of the show's most thrilling moments. Best of all, the production showcases Midler's extraordinary performance, giving her adoring fans the opportunity to proclaim their love and admiration for this theatrical force of nature who has been warming our hearts with her artful sauciness for decades.

Hello, Dolly! has been through numerous incarnations, starting with Thornton Wilder's original 1938 production of 'The Merchant of Yonkers.' In 1955, the play (re-titled 'The Matchmaker') had a hit revival starring Ruth Gordon and in 1958 Shirley Booth starred in a film adaptation. In 1964, Gower Champion helmed the original production of Hello, Dolly! which starred the inimitable Carol Channing. It won a bucketful of Tony Awards, including one for Channing (who beat out Barbra Streisand in her Funny Girl debut). After Channing's departure, the role of Dolly was taken on by a parade of show business divas 'of a certain age' culminating with the legendary Ethel Merman (composer Jerry Herman's original choice for the title role). Gene Kelly helmed the bloated 1969 film version, starring a far-too-young Barbra Streisand.

In 2017, nostalgia continues to rule: Dolly recaptures her glorious past in the show-stopping title number, assuring all assembled that 'Dolly'll never go away again' and choreographer Warren Carlyle wisely tips his hat to Gower Champion's classic choreography.

Of course, I was in love with Midler long before seeing Dolly. Being a New York native, I remember first hearing about her in the early 1970s. She became the queen of the Continental Baths, unearthing musical chestnuts from the 1940s, which led to her first hit, 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy' (originally sung by the Andrews Sisters). I first saw Midler in her 1975 'Clams on the Half Shell Revue' and was instantly besotted. Her infatuation with rock and roll, as well as for vintage tunes rocketed her to instant icon status. In the ensuing years, she toured the world with her shows, each one uncannily combining her exquisite musical taste with her love of showbiz dish. Although many fans may know her from her hit movies (which began with her Oscar-nominated performance in The Rose), Midler has always shone best onstage, radiating good will, lightning-sharp wit and unapologetic vulgarity.

Truth be told, Hello, Dolly! was never a favorite of mine. Having seen both Channing and Ginger Rogers in the title role, I found the show insubstantial, a trifle - and wondered what all the fuss was about. The popular score also didn't resonate with me. This production - so infused with color and delight - made me a convert. This time around, I found the score irresistible, helped immeasurably by Larry Hochman's lustrous orchestrations. When Midler descended the staircase of the Harmonia Gardens to greet her loving admirers in the title number, the theater erupted in a tidal wave of Broadway bliss.

The show is also a visual treat. Santo Loquasto's costumes are pure pastel eye candy. His sets are rich in period detail, lovingly bathed in rosy, nostalgic hues by Natasha Katz's superb lighting design.

Above all, this incarnation of Hello, Dolly! is a gleeful demonstration of pure star power. And how we love reveling in it!

For those of you who despair of ever getting a ticket to this sellout, you might try the cancellation line, which forms in the theater lobby around 5pm for evening performances. I got on line at 6pm with about ten people in front of me. Two minutes before showtime, I was rushed to a seat only moments before the curtain went up.

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Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler is Broadway bliss!
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