Hello, Dolly

Melinda Schupmann Reviews - Theater
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From Ruth Gordon's amusing portrayal of Dolly Levi in the 1954 Broadway play, The Matchmaker, to Shirley Booth's interpretation in the 1958 film of the same name, the wily marriage broker who has her sights on a husband for herself has charmed audiences for over 60 years. Little wonder that when it opened on Broadway as Hello, Dolly in 1964 starring Carol Channing, it was so successful that it was nominated for or won Tony awards in nearly every category available. It has subsequently spawned a near cottage industry of productions and revivals, most notably Jerry Zaks's recent well received re-staging starring Bette Midler, followed by Bernadette Peters.

 

Now in the national tour, the prodigiously talented Betty Buckley has taken on the character, delivering style and showmanship to Jerry Herman's music and lyrics and Michael Stewart's book. Though by modern standards the plot and sentiments of Dolly are far from politically correct, star power takes center stage, supported by an ensemble that adds the requisite humor and goofy charm.

 

For those who may need a quick refresher: Dolly Levi is an enterprising widow who has decided to find a husband with some money, and she sets her sights on the cantankerous Horace Vandergelder (Lewis J. Stadlen), the owner of a Hay and Feed store in Yonkers. He, on the other hand, has hired Dolly to find him a wife, and he sets his sights on a milliner in New York, Irene Molloy (Analisa Leaming). He further vows that under no circumstances would he marry Dolly. His immediate plan is to go to New York, leaving behind his two clerks, Cornelius Hackl (Nic Rouleau) and Barnaby Tucker (Jess LeProtto), to mind the store. They, however, decide to set out on an adventure of their own, and they head off for the city.

As a side note, Ambrose Kemper (Garrett Hawe), an artist whom Horace claims is unsuitable to marry his unhappily weeping niece, Ermengarde (Morgan Kirner), has enlisted Dolly's aid in changing Horace's mind.  At this point, the story spirals into improbability. Cornelius falls in love with Irene, her assistant, Minnie (Kristen Hahn) hooks up with Barnaby, and Horace sets his sights on a wealthy New Yorker Dolly has dangled as a good second choice after Irene.

Buckley takes center stage, though, as she employs every bit of stage experience she has garnered over the years. Her voice is rich and nuanced, and she takes Dolly beyond caricature with character depth, even tears, as she implores her late husband Ephram to give her a sign that she should move on with her life. At 71, she gives the role her all, and it is the bonus that delivers a splendid evening.

Stadlen also takes the curmudgeonly Horace and gives him a workout. His "It Takes a Woman" is a crowd pleaser, and "Penny in my Pocket" provides a clever take on the theme of money that motivates many funny and surprising moments in the show.

Rouleau and LeProtto are delightful as the naive pair of clerks. LeProtto is a considerably talented dancer, and he pairs nicely with Hahn, who delivers a ditsy humor as she giggles her way through her role. Rouleau and Leaming also make an appealing pair, particularly in the love song, "It Only Takes a Moment."

Santo Loquasto's modern take on turn-of-the-century costumes and scenic depictions of Yonkers and New York City dazzle from the outset. Add to that Warren Carlyle's restaged choreography from Gower Champion's original Broadway production which features dancers who seem to fly through the air with gazelle-like precision, and you have an audience that cheers appreciatively throughout. "The Waiter's Gallop" before Dolly descends those magical stairs in her glitzy red dress is a showstopper. The "Hello, Dolly" number is just as entertaining as it is meant to be. Notable is Robert Billig's musical direction, giving the show the full-on Broadway feel.

The show is full of froth, and love triumphs as expected. The cast and ensemble meld together as perfectly as one would hope, which is not always the case in touring shows. People's worries that Channing had made the role her own for so many years can be dispelled as Buckley adds her own take on the savvy matchmaker. It is a pleasurable performance with all the requisite charisma necessary.