BWW Review: HELLO, DOLLY! Shows What's Best About Old Broadway
It's clear the instant she takes the stage, we're in the presence of a legend. With a humble salutation, Betty Buckley inhabits the role of Dolly Levi in a way you might expect from the actress whose multifaceted career spans decades. It truly only takes a moment for her to take a crowd of thousands in the palm of her hand.
Dolly is the kind of role that's well-suited for someone of her caliber. While its origins are forever attributed to the charm of the late Carol Channing, Buckley's got the kind of instincts to keep you zeroed in on winsome Dolly's sentimental strengths, even as she busies herself in the romantic prospects of others.
This production of Hello, Dolly! comes on the heels of the Tony-winning Broadway revival, which ran from 2017 through last summer, led mostly by Bette Midler with stints from other Broadway faves like Bernadette Peters and Donna Murphy. The tour has been making rounds since last October.
But even without Buckley (who won't be doing the role for the remainder of Denver's run), this production stands firmly grounded in the essence of old Broadway. The set design is vibrant and meticulous, the costumes are ornate with lively shades of purples, oranges, yellows and blues. The choreography, showcased best with the chorus of waitstaff in the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, is a sight to behold.
In the somewhat simplistic plot, Dolly's got her sights set on prominent businessowner Horace Vandergelder (Lewis J. Stadlen), even though she's agreed to find him a suitor. While Dolly still mourns the death of her own husband, she wants to settle down with Vandergelder and redistribute his wealth a bit. At the same time, she's agreed to pair an artist, Ambrose Kemper (Garett Hawe), with Vandergelder's weepy niece Ermengarde (Morgan Kirner).
While Vandergelder is away to New York with Dolly to meet his future wife, his store clerks Cornelius (Nic Rouleau) and Barnaby (Julian DeGuzman) decide to take their own adventure to the city, opportunely running into Vandergelder's prospective lover, Irene (Analisa Leaming), a widow who run a hat shop with her assistant, Minnie (Kristen Hahn). In classic fashion, the two fellas (who pretend to be much richer than they are), take the ladies out for a fancy dinner, where Vandergelder just happens to be going that night.
The plot is nostalgic at best. A bit contrived and longwinded, what it does best is help intertwine a compendium of characters together in zany situations where great music and dancing can easily slip its way in.
Stadlen's got the right chops for Vandergelder - a bit of an aged, raspy voice but a stern demeanor with the occasional softness. Rouleau's vocals are the standout of his Cornelius, alongside a winning stamina. DeGuzman brought a bit more caricature to his Barnaby, and he was loveable and innocent. Leaming's Irene was headstrong with a beautiful voice, a fine contract to Hahn's soft-spoken yet amiable Minnie.
While there's a certain magical core Buckley infused in the show, made undeniably clear as the audience patiently watched her suck gravy from chicken bones for a few solid minutes, enamored, I can't recommend skipping this production just because she's not in it.
Hello, Dolly! plays the Buell Theatre through April 7. Tickets at DenverCenter.org.
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