By Nancy Salz – April, 2017
We should all send a dozen red roses to Bette Midler at the Shubert Theatre immediately. Without her there would be no revival of Hello Dolly! on Broadway, and this new production is sumptuous. Simply to die for!
The moment the huge chorus parades onto the stage (stepping lightly, only on their tip toes) in “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” you realize what’s been missing from Broadway for too many years: Elegance, brilliant dancing, gorgeous costumes, and a huge cast. The Great Comet and Groundhog Day may have contemporary inventiveness, but Hello Dolly! is a classic – a Beethoven Symphony in a pop world.
The choreography is by Warren Carlyle, who freely quotes Gower Champion’s original choreography – thank goodness. Watch for the graceful arm movements in “Elegance;” the athleticism and humor of the dancing waiters in “The Waiters’ Gallop” and “The Contest.” It is such a joy to see a large chorus – 23 strong – perfectly executing Champion’s/Carlyle’s creative steps.
Santo Loquasto is responsible for the lavish costumes – all bustles, bowler hats and boots in glorious colors. In one number the men’s blue, green and yellow suits are so bright, they could be day-glo. But lavish is a tame word for Bette Midler’s costumes, especially in the big title number at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant as pictured above. Loquasto’s scenery is magnificent –backdrops of New York and Yonkers in 1890. They look like antique, hand-colored prints. At one point they are hung on a roller from the ceiling of the stage, smoothly unrolling from one old-fashioned scene to another.
Now for Ms. Midler – she had laryngitis in the late preview I attended. But that didn’t stop her one bit. Croaking out a few of the most awful notes ever heard on a Broadway stage she presented herself as if she were singing Aida at the Met. You had to love her for being such a trouper. (We all know Bette Midler can sing so who minded a few strange sounds when her emotion and humor were behind them.) She was made for Dolly Levi and vice versa. Her scene in a court-room shoveling dinner into her mouth is as priceless for her as it was for the original Levi, Carol Channing. And her scenes with David Hyde Pierce are the epitome of perfect comic timing.
Pierce is a hilarious curmudgeon, twitching his mustache one moment and being flummoxed the next. He has a solo number, “Penny In My Pocket,” in front of the main curtain at the top of the second act. Here we can relish his performance undistracted by scenery or other players.
Midler plays Dolly Levi, a tireless matchmaker, who is supposedly finding Vandergelder, that famous Yonkers half-millionaire, a wife, But she has decided to marry him herself. (He never saw it coming and never had a chance!) How Levi pulls this off is the basis of the plot and never-ending humor of Hello Dolly! There are subplots – Vandergelder’s assistants, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, (Gavin Creel and Taylor Trensch, both wonderful comics and dancers) woo Irene Molloy (a charming, comedic, golden-voiced Kate Baldwin) and Minnie Fay (Beanie Feldstein, a hilarious scene stealer,). Ambrose Kemper (Will Burton) successfully tames Vandergelder’s wailing daughter, Ermengarde (Melanie Moore).
Michael Stewart’s book, based on Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, is filled with ingenuity at every twist of the plot. Jerry Herman’s famous score remains enormously satisfying. There are many more memorable tunes than just the title song, including “Before The Parade Passes By” and “It Only Takes A Moment.”
Jerry Zaks, who has directed too many Broadway hits to count, has another on his hands. We can thank him for all the perfectly timed jokes, multi-level staging (especially in “It Takes A Woman” in Vandergelder’s three-story office), superb performances and undoubtedly a lot more. Andy Einhorn directs the large orchestra of 23 players.
In a word, perfect! This revival of Hello Dolly! at the Shubert Theatre is simply perfect. And when Midler recovers from her laryngitis, we’ll just have to invent another word for this production. Snag yourself a ticket now. And don’t forget to send those thank-you roses to Midler!
Book by Michael Stewart; Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman; Directed by Jerry Zaks; Original Production Directed and Choreographed by Gower Champion; Choreography by Warren Carlyle; Scenic and Costume Design by Santo Loquasto; Music Supervision and Direction by Andy Einhorn
Starring Bette Midler and David Hyde Pierce with Gavin Creel, Kate Baldwin, Taylor Trensch, Beanie Feldstein, Will Burton, and Melanie Moore.