BWW Review: HELLO, DOLLY! National Tour at Durham Performing Arts Center
Based on Thornton Wilder's 1954 play titled The Matchmaker, Hello, Dolly! follows famed New York City matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi as she receives her toughest challenge yet. She must travel to Yonkers to find a suitable match for the miserly "well-known unmarried half-a-millionaire" Horace Vandergelder. She successfully matches many others in the city, including Horace's niece and his two young clerks, but everything seems to go wrong when it comes to matching Horace.
After two out-of-town tryouts in Detroit, Michigan and Washington, D.C., the original Broadway production directed & choreographed by Gower Champion with Carol Channing in the starring role opened on January 16th, 1964. Hello, Dolly! went on to win 10 Tony Awards (including Best Musical), which at the time, was an all-time record shared with South Pacific as the most awarded production in Tony history until The Producers surpassed it with 12 wins in 2001. Throughout the run, producer David Merrick was able to get several prominent performers to take on the titular role after Channing's departure such as Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable, Pearl Bailey, Phyllis Diller, and Ethel Merman. The original production ended its run on December 27th, 1970 after 2,844 performances. Since then, Hello Dolly! has spawned four Broadway revivals, the most recent of which from 2017 (which starred Bette Midler) serves as the basis for this touring production.
Now starring as the world famous meddling matchmaker herself, Broadway legend Betty Buckley proves to be a terrific Dolly Gallagher Levi. Not only does she deliver big time in the humor and vocal departments, but she also really gets into the heart of that character. Which is especially evident in the scenes where Dolly gives these monologues to her late husband, Ephriam, as she decides to "rejoin the human race".
The rest of the cast also proves to be quite the quadruple threats. Not only do each of them sing, dance, and act well, but they also play the comedy very well. Lewis J. Stadlen is perfect casting as the grouchy half-a-millionaire, Horace Vandergelder, who sets out to seek himself a new wife. Nic Rouleau gives a very enthusiastic performance as Vangergelder's chief clerk, Cornelius Hackl, who yearns for one exciting day in New York to find love. Analisa Leaming gives a sweet performance as the fun-loving millner, Irene Molloy, who yearns for romance. Sean Burns as Cornelius' follow, Barnaby Tucker, and Kristen Hahn as Irene's follower, Minnie Fay, are both well-matched not only by their onstage chemistry, but also by the naivety of their characters.
Under the direction of Jerry Zaks, he gives a very old school approach to the show by staging it the same way a lot of Broadway musicals were staged during the Golden Age. No cutting edge technology, no projections, just hand-painted scenery on scrims as well as the physical sets. Credit must be given to scenic designer Santo Loquasto (who also did the costumes) for creating such a colorful, vibrant world on stage as well as Natasha Katz for her wonderful lighting designs. Choreographer Warren Carlyle also works in the style of Gower Champion's original work to some incredible results.
Overall, this musical absolutely stands the test of time. Michael Stewart's very humorous book has lots of heart while Jerry Herman's tuneful score (with new life breathed into it by Larry Hochman's orchestrations) still holds up. Whether you've seen a stage production of Hello, Dolly! before or not, I don't think you're ever going to see one quite like this. It's such a joyful ride that should leave you smiling from beginning to end. This national touring production is currently playing at the Durham Performing Arts Center through May 26th.