It’s so nice to have Mrs Dolly Levi back where she belongs, bringing infinite joy to capacity audiences on Broadway. At one time Broadway’s longest running musical, Hello, Dolly! shines again in this joyous, lovingly crafted celebration of the magic of musical theatre.
**Check back later for a full set of images from the new Broadway production**
Premiering in 1964 at the tail end of the Golden Age of Broadway, Hello, Dolly! benefitted immensely from the finely honed experience of its original creative team. The musical won a whopping ten Tony Awards and ran for seven years, moving through a cavalcade of grand divas in the leading role.
Jerry Herman’s hit parade of a score remains steadfast in the public consciousness, for example, featuring recently in popular Pixar movie Wall-E.
Michael Stewart’s book is an absolute miracle of economic storytelling and concise character development. Little more than a day passes and yet the lives of the ten or so lead characters are all changed, for the better, forever.
Recognising that the time was right for a revival of this beloved musical, and that the ideal leading lady was available, producer Scott Rudin (along with his many, many associates) has overseen a sparkling new staging that pays every respect to the original production whilst also taking advantage of the best current theatrical practice.
The duties of master showman Gower Champion, original director/choreographer, are divided between two men this time. Veteran director Jerry Zaks finds an abundance of humour in the material, balancing this with moments of tender pathos.
Zaks is aided in this duality by the superb performance of the divine Miss Bette Midler. Even while still in previews, Midler has the character in her bones, slaying the audience with radiantly sunny charm, wonderful singing and effortless dancing. From her first entrance, Midler brings down the house again and again, earning a mid-show standing ovation for “Hello, Dolly!”. Best of all, Midler can flip on a dime from broad humour to heartfelt sincerity, nailing each and every emotional beat of the tender tale.
Warren Carlyle’s choreography pays respect to the original, while benefitting from the highly trained skills of a chorus full of triple threats. New dance arrangements (David Chase) include “The Contest” and a short dance piece just before the bows, providing moments of freshness. The famous cakewalk in the title number is included, and “The Waiters’ Gallop” is as inventively comic as it is spectacular.
Ignoring the changes made for the movie, the song list is the same as the original, apart from the reinstatement of cut song “Penny in my Pocket.” This gruff charm song is sung by well known half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder at the top of act two as he explains the origins of his fortune.
A lush orchestra of 22 musicians sounds superb, especially given the noticeably excellent sound design of the production (Scott Lehrer).
In what must have been a massive task, scenic and costume design are both by one man, Santo Loquasto. In an interesting contrast with the current Australian production of My Fair Lady, Loquasto pays homage to the original designs of Oliver Smith, but still uses modern practices to drive the scene changes. The scenery is an interesting mix of hand drawn period illustrations, painted in pale water colours, and large scale constructed sets, such as the multi-level Hay & Feed store and Irene Molloy’s delicate lavender and pink hat shop.
Chorus costumes are incredibly detailed, a highlight being the rainbow of delicious candy colours for choice company number “Put On Your Sunday Clothes.”
Dolly begins the show in dark blue with dark green highlights, before moving to turquoise brocade with black trim in Irene’s store. She wears the full red dress and feathers, matching the red stairs, for the Harmonia Gardens sequence, before changing to a high waisted royal blue skirt and white blouse for “So Long Dearie” after the court case. She finishes the show in an elaborate mauve outfit, before joining the entire cast in creamy white for the curtain calls.
David Hyde Pierce wears Horace’s curmudgeonly disposition as a badge of honour for the character. Given his propensity for fey roles, Hyde Pierce is impressively grounded, adding some moustache wiggling to his amusing range of expressions.
The four secondary lead roles are shared appropriately between experienced players and new talents. Lovely singer Kate Baldwin plays Irene as a rather enthusiastic coquette. Broadway star Gavin Creel is entirely charming as sincere chief clerk Cornelius Hackl.
Beanie Feldstein, who bears an uncanny resemblance to her famous movie star older brother, is very funny as she makes her Broadway debut as giggling hat shop assistant Minnie Fay. Newcomer Taylor Trensch is convincingly fresh and unspoiled as seventeen-year-old shop clerk Barnaby Tucker.
Will Burton gets across little of the character of Ambrose Kemper, apart from the fact Ambrose is tall. Melanie Moore fares slightly better as Ermengarde; at least she has the anxious young woman’s incessant wailing to contribute.
Jennifer Simard, unrecognisable from her acclaimed role in last season’s Disaster!, is underutilised in the cameo role of Ernestina Money.
Patient advance ticket buying is wonderfully rewarded with Hello, Dolly!. If you plan to visit Broadway in the coming year, best to book sooner than not at all.
Hello, Dolly! was reviewed 8pm Friday 7 April 2017 at Shubert Theatre, New York. Official opening night is April 20 2017.
Photo: Julieta Cervantes