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BWW Review: HELLO, DOLLY! at Dr. Phillips Center Reminds Us the World Is 'Full of Wonderful Things'

BWW Review: HELLO, DOLLY! at Dr. Phillips Center Reminds Us the World Is 'Full of Wonderful Things'

The grin hits your face early in Hello, Dolly! and stays there till the bows are done.

Thank Jerry Herman, the guy who wrote it. He's an optimist, and so is his show. He believes in big ensemble numbers and songs that build. He's an old romantic who thinks Broadway oughta make you glow.

Thank Jerry Zaks, who brought DOLLY back to Broadway last year and vowed to make it the Hamilton of revivals, at the box office at least. It worked. He's directing the current tour too - and making sure local audiences still get a spectacle. (How big a spectacle? Well, for starters, there's a TRAIN.)

Thank Betty Buckley for filling Bette Midler's shoes on the road and defying anyone who thought she was too old for the role. More on that in a minute.

Thank yourself for taking the show's lesson to heart, heading into the city to sample some of the life "out there" and buying a ticket to a show that enriches the soul.

And if you can, talk some of your friends into coming along. They'll thank you. It's the kind of musical people walk away from praising not only the songs (which are fantastic) and the performances (which rival any I've seen or heard from Hello, Dolly!) but also things like costumes, choreography, and lighting (all of which are at "so this is why people love theatre" level).

HELLO, DOLLY! is principally a comedy, and in fleeting moments, it skews broad. But underlying the laughs is an impressively taught, compellingly intertwined story with tremendous heart.

A word on Betty Buckley, the Tony-winning Broadway legend. Yes, she is 71. And yes, Dolly Levi is a role that requires a lot of energy and vocal oomph.

Or is it? Look, I love Carol Channing, who originated the role back in '64. But she's not exactly Audra McDonald. And it was Barbra Streisand who made Ms. Levi famous on the big screen. Babs sounded amazing, sure, but she was all of 27 at the time. I'm not sure she was right for the role of an aging widow, and even if she was, the comparison is hardly fair.

My point? Dolly Levi is no one-age-fits-all diva. Even more to the point, Betty Buckley is in full command of the stage at every moment, rendering the debate somewhat moot.

She's likeable. She's funny. She looks the audience in the eye and pulls us in without ever quite breaking the fourth wall. And she hits each and every note with impressive range.

If she's a little slower in her shuffle than the even-older Midler, I would argue it lends perspective to the character. Dolly is a woman beginning a second act in life. It's nice to sense that she's already lived a first.

As Dolly's half-a-millionaire mark, Lewis J. Stadlen is immediately lovable in the role of Horace Vandergelder. Maybe it's the cold front that came through Orlando this week, but while watching him, I couldn't help but think of the warm, fuzzy feeling I get from Rankin/Bass Christmas specials. Not that he's cartoony, mind you - not at all. But he is memorable, winsome, and charming.

Charming, too, is Nic Rouleau, who hits his "Out there" quite beautifully in "Put on Your Sunday Clothes." I reckon I'd take his Cornelius Hackl over Michael Crawford's or even Gavin Creel's. (And definitely over Charles Nelson Reilly's).

Finally, I must mention Kristen Hahn, who makes much of her small supporting role as Minnie Fay. There was a moment on Tuesday night when the crowd clapped for her comedy so enthusiastically that it nearly required a pause. She wasn't even telling a big joke or singing a big song; her mere presence came this close to earning an actual showstopper. And vocally, she's a strong complement to Analisa Leaming's lovely Irene Molloy.

At the end of Act I, Dolly tells us she won't let life's parade pass her by. Don't let Hello, Dolly!'s run at Dr. Phillips Center pass you by either. (Even if the Center still hasn't brought the Playbill logo back to its programs.)

This is musical theatre at its very, absolute best, and it's in Orlando through Sunday, December 2. Get tickets while you can. Visit the Dr. Phillips Center website or call (844) 513-2014.

What did you think of HELLO, DOLLY! at Dr. Phillips Center? Let me know on Twitter @AaronWallace.

Photo: Betty Buckley & HELLO, DOLLY! National Tour Company / Credit: Julieta Cervantes

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