Yes, I saw the Broadway production of *Hello, Dolly!* for the THIRD TIME. Richard and I saw it with Bette Midler in April and loved it so much we saw it with her again in November. Donna Murphy was the alternate in the role starting in June - - she did at least one show a week, so Midler could have a little time off. It appears that she is NOT Midler's understudy, it looks like they have other people in the ensemble who step in when Midler cancels a performance.
Murphy is an A-list Broadway star. She has two Tonys for Best Actress in a Musical: she won for playing Fosca in the 1994 Sondheim musical *Passion* and again for playing Anna in a revival of *The King and I* in 1998. I saw her in *Wonderful Town,* she was hilarious and vibrant in that show, and I saw her in two shows at Encores!, both Sondheim musicals: she was Phyllis in *Follies* (brittle and brilliant) and most memorably, she was the malevolent mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper in *Anyone Can Whistle,* a fascinating mess of a show. She was on FIRE in that show, so thrilling.
I was fascinated that Murphy would take this gig. The NY Times reviewed her and said that her performance was absolutely worth seeing, just as good as Midler, but completely different. My friend Carolyn and her husband deliberately went to a Murphy performance because they love her so much, and she encouraged me to check her out. A cheap ticket became available (FYI, a cheap ticket is $50) and I grabbed it.
She was fantastic. The easiest way to describe the difference between her and Midler is to say that Midler gives a star turn, whereas Murphy is performing the role. Her Dolly is more life-size, more vulnerable, more human. I'm glad I saw Midler, her performances were honestly more exciting, mostly because the audience was so freaking nutso. But the audience was plenty enthusiastic for Murphy. Another interesting difference: Midler was more world-weary, and Murphy was more sexy.
I was anticipating a little HDFS (Hello Dolly Fatigue Syndrome) but was pleasantly surprised. The show still packed a punch, even a third time. I was still a weepy mess four or five times, I'm sure that will be the case even if I see the show a fourth time (and Bernadette Peters steps into the role in January, and maybe someone after her, who knows). The entrance of the chorus in "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" is unlike anything I've seen in my life, the colors of the costumes are completely off the rails.
I had a new observation, that the show is an exercise in double nostalgia: the original production had a hokey, made-up nostalgia for America in the 1880s, and the current production adds to that a hokey, made-up nostalgia for the Broadway of the 1960s. Plus both productions happened at a time when we were sorely in need of escapism: the original production opened less than two months after the Kennedy assassination, and many people are hungering for a warmer, sweeter, kinder, more forgiving view of America in today's political climate.
I mentioned that I got a cheap ticket - - I got it from TDF, the Theatre Development Fund, I've been a member of their website since I moved to New York. You never know where your seat will be until you get to the theater, and I was a little flummoxed by the word BOX on my ticket. A box? I'm sitting in a box? Sure enough, my seat was one of four chairs in a box seat on the side of the house. Thankfully there was just one other person in the box, a handsome and charming guy named Jordan (more about him in a minute), so we were able to move to the seats on the edge, where we had a better view. It was still obstructed, and at times pretty severely obstructed. In the Harmonia Gardens scene, there's a table on the left with the two young couples and a table on the right with Horace Vandergelder and the floozy. Well, the table with Horace and the floozy was completely absent. But I'd seen that side of the stage twice already, so I didn't mind too much. It was kinda fun listening to their moments and the audience reaction, it was like a radio show.
There was another hilarious moment of obstruction. The "Hello, Dolly" number happens earlier in that scene. The song itself is preceded by the waiters, cooks, etc announcing the arrival of Dolly, building up the excitement. They line the central staircase and the curtains part to reveal Dolly in the iconic red dress and red feathered headdress. The curtains parted and the audience whopped like mad, but all I saw was one arm! Hilarious. Thankfully Murphy moved forward and I was able to see all of her for the rest of the number, but that one arm was a scream.
So back to that guy Jordan, my seatmate in the box. We chatted each other up as soon as we sat down. I put him at ease about the obstruction, I assured him that it wouldn't be too much of a problem (he wisely moved to a center seat in the third row for the second act). We talked about other shows we've seen over the last year or so. We didn't agree on everything (he didn't like *Time and the Conways,* I wasn't wild for *Oslo,* but we both loved *A Doll's House Part 2*). He told me about a production of *Awake and Sing* being done at the 14th St Y by the New Yiddish Rep, in Yiddish. It closes on Christmas Eve, I won't have a chance to see it. Drat. I'll keep an eye on their upcoming productions.