*Hello, Dolly!*, 4/25/17
Richard, John, David, and I saw *Hello, Dolly!* on Broadway on 4/25/17. It's starring the one and only Bette Midler. This is her first appearance on Broadway in a musical since appearing the original production of *Fiddler on the Roof* in (gulp) 1967. Richard and I saw her in *I'll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers,* which was fantastic. She's been getting a LOT of press for *Hello, Dolly!* - - it's a hot ticket, it just opened last week, and you could feel the excitement in the theater. And it totally lived up to it!
This is a real, honest to God, old-fashioned Broadway musical, and it's being presented as such, in a first class, bright, beautiful, corny, glorious production. It's a thrill to be in the presence of so much happiness.
Director Jerry Zaks really honors the material. This is his 23rd Broadway show as director, and clearly he knows what he's doing, loves doing it, and communicates that love to the cast and crew, who deliver it to the audience. The sets and costumes are by Santo Loquasto, and they are darling. I asked John at the intermission, "When was the last time you saw a painted flat?" and he said, "*Mystery of Edwin Drood.* And those were hand-painted flats, I don't think these are." But they were wonderful, they perfectly set the tone for the show, what a delight to see genuine fake sets. And the costumes! I have never seen such rich and exuberant colors in costumes in my life. The audience applauded the chorus's entrance in "Put on your Sunday clothes," simply because the costumes (and colors, in particular) were so shockingly gorgeous.
David Hyde Pierce played the male lead, Horace Vandergelder, the man who Dolly is after. He was very cute and irascible. He sang well and had nice chemistry with Midler. I'm tuned into accents lately, and his Yonkers ("Yahnkuhs") accent was just right. Just strong enough.
Gavin Creel and Taylor Trensch were Cornelius and Barnaby, the young men who work in Vandergelder's store. I've had a crush on Creel since *Thorougly Modern Millie,* and have seen him many times. He has a great talent for giving a full wattage bright, cheerful performance, but without being coy or precious. He's very cute, the needle on the Cute-o-Meter is spinning wildly about the dial, but it's his own innate cuteness, it's not a performative cuteness. If possible, Trensch is even cuter, but then he's much shorter and younger, which gives him an advantage.
Minnie Fay was played by an adorable little cutie named Beanie Feldstein. Beanie Feldstein, can you take it? This is her Broadway debut, and she's very sweet. Kate Baldwin played Irene Molloy, the young widow who was originally matched up with Horace but changes her allegiance to Cornelius. She has a lovely voice and a direct, warm presence onstage, but I didn't like the way she sang "Ribbons down my back," her solo number. She took too many liberties with the rhythm, she distorted the song. But besides that her performance was very good.
In this picture we have, from left to right, Feldstein, Trensch, Baldwin, and Creel:
Let me talk about the show itself for a minute. It's based a play by Thornton Wilder, originally done in 1938 as *The Merchant of Yonkers,* then revised in 1955 as *The Matchmaker.* The music and lyrics are by Jerry Herman (his first big Broadway hit) and the book is by Michael Stewart. *Hello, Dolly!* surpassed *My Fair Lady* as the longest-running Broadway show, and was then surpassed by *Fiddler.*
The show is fascinating - - I don't know if it's this production, or if this is built into the show, but there's nothing subtle about it. There are quiet (-ish) moments, but never any subtlety. But somehow it was never overbearing, it never felt like you were being clobbered over the head. It was all done with real joy and sentiment. The first act show-stopping number is a good example of this, "Put on your Sunday clothes:" it starts off just with Cornelius in the store, then opens up into the street, eventually involving the whole chorus and about ten key changes (at the end of the song it feels like Herman does a key change about every eight bars). It keeps getting bigger and louder and more intense, but it STARTS OFF big. Just Creel in the store, he is totally delivering the number, at about 85%, singing full voice, a huge white smile, and long leggy high kicks.
Midler. Bette Midler. I just reread my review of her Madison Square Garden concert in 2015, and I described her as "the most generous performer I've ever seen." The audience is coo coo for Cocoa Puffs for her, and you can tell that she's grateful and appreciative, but she knows that she's deserving! She turned a wonderful Broadway musical confection into a scene of mass hysteria. It reminded me of seeing Patti Lupone in *Gypsy* at City Center, the audience was RAVENOUS and INSANE. With good reason!
The structure of the role itself defies expectations. It's a wonderful cliché to have a grand, ovation-inducing entrance for the leading lady. Charles Busch does this in all his shows, and I think he learned it from the shows that were written for Sarah Bernhardt: the leading lady doesn't show up until 10 or 15 minutes into the show, and is preceded by a lot of talk ABOUT her. This entrance strategy was transferred to three Italian operas based on plays performed by and/or written for Bernhardt: *Adriana Lecouvreur,* *Fedora,* and *Tosca.* The leading lady has a freakin' ENTRANCE in these shows.
*Hello, Dolly!* opens with a chorus singing about Dolly, so it seems like we're going to get a leading lady entrance, but then pouf!, there she is onstage. There's a break for applause built into the number, and of course we use that break to express our love for La Midler, but it doesn't really stop the show. Dolly appears often through the first act, and the act ends with a song about her going back into the world, "Before the parade passes by."
The second act opens with a song for Horace, then a cute song for the four young people, arriving at Harmonia Gardens, a swanky restaurant on the Battery. The waiters do a stunning dance number, the audience goes crazy for that. Then, as soon as they're done applauding, the waiters start spreading the word that Dolly Levi is arriving in a carriage, and she's coming into the restaurant! The door opens at the op of the stairs and there is Bette Midler as Dolly in the iconic red dress and red feathered headdress. THIS is the show-stopping leading lady entrance, and it happens in the middle of the second act!
The song was a total weepfest for me (good Lord, I'm weeping again), because we've come to care a lot about Dolly. There's an extra level of poignancy because the role is written for an actress of a certain age, and it's a thrill to see that woman being honored, a thrill that she is the belle of the ball. And over and over, the women who've played Dolly (list below) are people who are beloved by the public, which adds yet an extra level of love to the experience.
Richard and I are thinking of going to see it again this fall. It was a once-in-a-lifetime night in the theatre, so why not do it twice?
Women Who Have Played Dolly On Broadway
And Mary Martin in London. We will NOT talk about Barbra Streisand in the film...
PS: Here's Bette's curtain call from opening night. Watch it to the end, she does something hilarious.