BWW Review: Betty Buckley a Glorious Dolly Levi
Hello Dolly!/music & lyrics by Jerry Herman/book by Michael Stewart/directed by Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Warren Carlyle/Hollywood Pantages/through February 17
Some shows I can see again and again, especially those composed by the forever upbeat Jerry Herman. Hello Dolly bowed on Broadway when I was a teenager in the 60s and it had a long run with original star Carol Channing, followed by turns with Ethel Merman, Ginger Rogers, Pearl Bailey, Martha Raye and Molly Picon, to name a few. Every major star wanted to do it because the role offers a female actress the chance to sing, dance and act the hell out of it. It's a big, splashy gut buster about a woman who has more moxy than the Pied Piper and enough wisdom and panache to win over an army or a whole kingdom, for that matter...and, for the audience, it's one of those extra-special feel-good musicals that just doesn't quit... "It Only Takes a Moment" to fall in love with it.. You leave the theatre actually humming the tunes. The first National Tour of the latest Dolly! at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre through February 17 is just about the best starring the glorious Betty Buckley..
Michael Stewart bases his book on Thornton Wilder's 1955 play The Matchmaker, in which a meddlesome woman named Dolly Gallagher Levi returns to Yonkers and New York City in the early 20th century after the death of her husband Ephram to bring romance into the lives of others as well as her own. Pretty millinery owner Irene Malloy (Analisa Leaming) is one woman Dolly introduces to client Horace Vandergelder (Lewis J. Stadlen), a rich Yonkers store owner, but it's all a facade as Dolly has her eyes set on Horace ... for herself, although she refuses to admit it. In the end a series of the matchmaker's outrageous ploys entangles Horace and forces him to surrender to her quaint but thoroughly appealing charms.
Director Jerry Zaks provides just the right pacing and his staging is smooth covering every corner of the stage. Of course the set is somewhat cutdown for the road, but provides enough thrill with the train in full view for "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" and the exciting parade "Before the Parade Passes By". Warren Carlyle has choreographed the dancers based on Gower Champion's original...it is big, colorful with much flair. The Harmonia Gardens with its "Waiters Gallop" is over.the.moon. with the dancing waiters performing excessive leaps and bounds.
The cast is delightful, all triple threat performers. Buckley, assuredly one of our greatest Broadway divas, is perfect for this role. She makes Dolly Gallagher Levi totally her own creation. Of course, we all know she can still sing but most importantly here she must milk the already excessive humor and make it stand up. That she does! Stadlen is one of the best Horace Vandergelders I've seen, a lovable penny-pinching curmudgeon very much like the original David Burns. Nic Rouleau makes a straight-forward, honest Cornelius Hackl and Jess LeProtto is dynamically agile and riveting as Barnaby Tucker. Kristen Hahn is adorable as Minnie Fay, with sharp attention to Fay's naivete. Leaming lends her beautiful soprano to Irene Molloy. Praise as well to Garett Hawe as Ambrose Kemper, Morgan Kirner as the whimpering Ermengarde, to Jessica Sheridan who is delicious fun as Ernestina Money and to the rest of the dynamite chorus.
Jerry Herman's jubilant score includes: "Put On Your Sunday Clothes", "It Only Takes a Moment", "Elegance", "Before the Parade Passes By", "Motherhood", "So Long, Dearie", "I Put My Hand In" "It Takes a Woman" and of course the title song. Some shows are remembered mostly for the title song or have one big hit; Hello, Dolly! can boast of multiple chart toppers. As in all Herman music, there is a positive and mirthful attitude; the songs are all singable, rare in musicals these days. Makes me ever so glad that I come from this generation dominated by the Golden Age of Broadway musicals!
This is a fantastic production that is colorfully costumed by Santo Loquasto who has also designed the sets, with gorgeous seemingly hand-painted drops. What a wonderfully skilled live orchestra under the baton of Robert Billig. This lovely Hello, Dolly! promises to "never go away again" ...well, at least until February 17, so do 'put on your Sunday clothes', board that train to the Hollywood Pantages and 'put your hand in' 'before the parade passes by'!
(photo credit: Julieta Cervantes)