Hello Dolly is an old school musical. You can either try to update it somehow, or hire a star and revel in the revival. Director Jeffery Zaks decided to go full on traditional, using Gower Champion’s staging and turning the full wattage of Bette Midler on to a willing audience. And it works marvelously.
|Bette Midler charms as Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly|
Hello Dolly is a star vehicle, a Bette Midler is a star that carries it with ease. The audience loves every minute she is onstage, and she loves it as well. As times when her smile is turned up to 12, you see the happiness under the character, this is a showman that loves to connect with the audience.
For those few that don’t know the story, Bette Midler plays Dolly Levi, a matchmaker and more. She has set her eyes on Horace Vandergelder, the famous Yonkers’ half a millionaire. Horace is played by an always fun David Hyde Pierce, who is too pleasurable in the role to complain about his in and out accent. Dolly has been hired to find him a wife and has procured one Irene Molloy, haberdasher and widow from New York City.
Horace sets out to New York, without realizing he has a house full of trouble. He has a niece that wants to marry an artist. Two store clerks that want an adventure and Dolly Levi who wants Horace for her own. Songs, laughs and mayhem ensue.
The clerks (the always excellent Gavin Creel* and the perfectly cast Taylor Trensch) meet Mrs. Molloy and her assistant, Minnie Fay at the hat shop. Dolly and Horace enter at the same time and tales are spun as to Cornelius’ wealth. Horace leaves, determined to find a more suitable new wife, and Cornelius and Barnaby find their New York adventure by escorting Irene and Minnie to dinner. Kate Burton plays the lovely Irene and Beanie Feldstein is great fun as the bubbly and charming Minnie Fay. The couples have a nice and light chemistry.
The show really revs up in the second half, where all parties converge on the Harmonia Gardens, a swank restaurant that Dolly hasn’t entered in 10 years, since her husband passed. The most famous dance numbers and songs play out here. Personally, I am not a fan of the song as a rule, but the raucous and wonderful delivery and energy sold it to me. It is a showstopper in the true sense of the word.
The show wraps up tidily – and you except nothing else.
|Bette Midler and David Hyde Pierce|
Hello Dolly delivers exactly what you expect, but delivers it so perfectly you end up getting swept away. Bette Midler’s performance is excellent, and on the rare moments when she falters she easily moves back into her persona that also fits the play. Her years in Las Vegas playing The Showgirl Must Go On have taught her well.
The show has a large cast and many moving parts, both figuratively and literally in terms of staging. Director Jerry Zaks and Choreographer Warren Carlyle have done great work. I never saw the Gower Champion version, so I don’t know how much was changed, but did I love this show.
* I also attended one performance where Mr. Creel's understudy, Christian Dante White, performed fantastically in the role.