They don't make 'em like they used to - and that goes double for Broadway's dazzling revival of "Hello, Dolly!" thanks to the show itself and its above-the-title supernova, Bette Midler. Frankly, there ought to be another exclamation point.
HELLO, DOLLY! Broadway Reviews
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How to describe a force of nature? A blockbuster success even before the curtain went up on opening night, the new revival of Hello, Dolly!marks legendary performer Bette Midler's highly anticipated return to Broadway, and thanks to a top-notch cast and an award-laden production team, it more than justifies the hype.
Midler, taking on the role originated by Carol Channing, is marvelous, and so is the supporting cast which includes David Hyde Pierce as the gruff, befuddled, and ice-to-be-melted Yonkers storeowner Horace Vandergelder; and his initially-intended, Kate Baldwin's dress shop-owner Irene Molloy, who instead will find unlikely love with Cornelius Hackl, one of Vandergelder's shop-boys played by the all-leaping, dancing, and very funny Gavin Creel. Despite all the diva-ishness and scene-hogging required of her, Midler is also a generous performer. Hyde Pierce is given ample space to huff and puff, and steal his own scenes. The only characters ill-served by Hello, Dolly! are young lovers Ambrose the artist and Ermengarde, Horace's niece, who don't get much to do, but appear resolute (him) and weep loudly (her) in their quest to be together.
With her broad and brassy comic personality, star presence and underlying tenderness, Midler is ideal to inherit the sacred mantle of Dolly Gallagher Levi from actress Carol Channing, who starred in the original 1964 production and played the role for decades...The production (directed by Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Warren Carlyle) lovingly recreates the look and feel of Gower Champion's iconic 1964 production, bursting at the seams with old-fashioned showmanship, hyperkinetic energy and stylized movement.
Midler fans out her performer's wares with expert self-assurance-she delivers her jokes at a steady vaudevillian clip, like Mae West in a hurry-but she also seems like she couldn't live without us. And the part of Dolly, a matchmaker in late-19th-century New York, is exquisitely suited to Midler's enormous warmth, savvy and drive. (She cuts her schmaltz with zest.) It's hard to imagine a better match of actor and role: It is, in a word, perfection. Adapted by Michael Stewart from a Thornton Wilder comedy, Hello, Dolly! may be a vehicle for its star, but this revival treats it like a vintage Rolls-Royce.
Hearing Midler sing "Hello, Dolly!" is such a tingly experience that you eventually sit back down and wonder: Is this what it was like when Carol Channing debuted "Dolly!" on Broadway half a century ago? And, was Midler put on Earth to carry forth that legacy? It sure feels that way. This "Hello, Dolly!" is as blissful an escape as anyone could want.
Jerry Herman's 1964 musical comedy is one of the great audience shows, so it's a relief to report that helmer Jerry Zaks and choreographer Warren Carlyle have done a great restoration job on the old girl, while refraining from the urge to tart her up for modern tastes. The costumes may be more colorful and the set pieces fussier, but the musical exuberance of the initial production survives intact. So does scribe Michael Stewart's cheerful message (poached from Thornton Wilder) that it's never too late to come in from the cold and march in the great parade of life.
Dolly's big Act I closer, "Before The Parade Passes By" was limp the night I saw it, with the star searching for the key and clearly holding back on what wants to be a roof raiser...Perhaps they will improve with time. It certainly is the case that by Act II, Midler was in full command of the show, not only with her wonderful rasp of a voice at peak power, but with a sense of intimacy and, yes, feeling, that humanizes Dolly as she embarks on one of her many "conversations" with her beloved, dead Ephraim. That makes "So Long Dearie" truly touching and sends us out whistling all those happy tunes, happily.
It delivers on exactly what's craved by lovers of old-school musicals from the era when giants like Merman roamed the Earth: big, gleeful performances and the kind of production numbers intended to move you as much as move along the story. Midler has the lioness's share of the lift here, delivering buoyant renditions of "Before the Parade Passes By" and "So Long Dearie" and, of course, executing a downstage strut in red beaded gown and feather headdress for that champagne toast of a title song. She is given expert support, though, from David Hyde Pierce, who would seem oddly cast as that grizzled skinflint and object of Dolly's nuptial desire, Horace Vandergelder. Yet he turns in a completely fresh comic performance, seasoned with just enough lemon and vinegar, and amplified by a number added for him at the top of Act 2, "Penny in My Pocket."
In Midler, "Dolly" has at last found a new headliner capable of engendering the necessary ecstasies as she swans down the famous staircase at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, shimmering in her corseted gown, peacocky plumage sprouting like fireworks from her head. From her first entrance on a (fake) horse-drawn cart to her last bow, Midler serves up a star performance of glowing luster, rambunctious clowning and, on just a few occasions, surprising emotional delicacy. To say she sweeps all before her is to understate the feat: Without breaking into a sweat - although she pretends to wilt against the scenery, to hilarious effect, once or twice - Midler transforms this cotton-candy cloud of a musical into a bona fide theatrical event.
It's perhaps a measure of my great admiration for this superlative production that I didn't even get to Jerry Herman's iconic score. The 23-piece orchestra plays it to perfection. And with the Divine Miss M to sing it, we've got a match made in heaven!
We must, of course, credit the actress' brilliance as a performer. Her iconic comic chops - honed in Upper West Side gay bathhouses, Upper East Side divorcée-revenge capers and Las Vegas concerts - are on delicious display as Dolly the meddling matchmaker, especially next to David Hyde Pierce as her cheerfully crotchety leading man. And there is nothing more invigorating than Midler crooning Jerry Herman's sensational standards. But the actress' nonstop hustle during her 50-year career is every bit as ingenious as her art.
Ms. Midler brings such comic brio - both barn-side broad and needlepoint precise - to the task of playing with her food that I promise you it stops the show. Then again, pretty much everything Ms. Midler does stops the show. As for that much anticipated moment when she puts on fire-engine red plumes and sequins to lead a cakewalk of singing waiters, well, let's just hope that this show's producers have earthquake insurance...But Ms. Midler isn't coasting on the good will of theatergoers who remember her as the queen of 1980s movie comedies or as the bawdy earth goddess of self-satirizing revues from the '70s onward. As the center and raison d'être of this show, which also features David Hyde Pierce in a springtime-fresh cartoon of the archetypal grumpy old man, Ms. Midler works hard for her ovations, while making you feel that the pleasure is all hers.
Half the fun of seeing Midler and Pierce face off as Dolly and Mr. Vandergelder comes from watching two pros at the top of their game. An electric current of comic ingenuity runs between them...The diversity of the supporting cast's strengths is a marvel. As Cornelius and Irene, the romantically appealing if unexpected lovebirds, Creel and Baldwin provide majestic singing. As bashful Barnaby and bold Minnie Fay (the clerk at Irene's store who isn't shy about signaling her interest), Trensch and Beanie Feldstein bring delightful eccentricity to their sidekick roles. Even the dazzling chorus dancers possess striking individuality - there's nothing at all cookie-cutter about Zaks' production.
The new revival of Jerry Herman's 1964 "Hello, Dolly!" starring Bette Midler is so surpassingly beautiful, propelled by such glorious razzle-dazzle, and crafted with such joy and intelligence that it deserves to be studied, emulated and above all celebrated. Not since the 2008 revival of "South Pacific" has a classic been brought back to life with as perfect a mixture of fidelity and freshness. This is what Broadway is all about.
Among her fans, which sums up an orchestra section that behaved all night like the Shuberts had pulled out the seats and installed spring-loaded standing mechanisms in their stead, Midler has more rollover minutes than Sprint could ever conceive. Even if Midler had skipped "Before the Parade Passes By" entirely - rather than merely ad-libbing "live theater!" and gulping "Here it comes! Wish me luck!' before vanquishing the frog and belting out the Jerry Herman anthem like nothing had happened - it is inconceivable that anyone would have hit the lobby for a transportation voucher out of there.
But the real source of the warmth and color is Midler herself, and the crowd's feelings for her, which together create a feedback loop so tight that the distinction between star and audience is all but obliterated...she performs in a style so broad and unironic despite its myriad references that it seems nearly naked. It's not even a style, really: just a here-I-am, as-I-am honesty (however contrived) that in disguising its own achievement not only breaks down the fourth wall but makes you forget why there ever was one. In Dolly she never looks as right as when she's out on the famous passerelle, promenading among her people, reaching out to them with delight if never quite pressing flesh.
I can't recall the last time I felt a crowd so frothed up with excitement at a Broadway show, and certainly in those terms, no production currently playing in New York can touch this perfectly upholstered revival of the indestructible 1964 musical chestnut. What's more astonishing is that the enthusiasm never wanes, sending wave upon wave of love across the footlights for two and a half vigorously entertaining hours. And in a testament to the spirit of the veteran showbiz troupers who are now a vanishing breed, Midler soaks it up like a heat-seeking beacon and then beams it right back out into the house.
If there were such a thing as a happiness meter at the Shubert Theatre these days, where, oh, where would that be placed? The obvious position is in the audience, where fans of "Hello, Dolly!" and fans of Bette Midler - which may well add up to just about everyone - have come together in a palpable bonding festival of hot-ticket excitement, contentment and raucous joy. And yet, it is the happiness exuded by Midler that makes this first-rate revival of Jerry Herman's 1964 chestnut so delightful and, yes, so deeply touching.
Does the show belong on Broadway at all? This revival never makes a case for its relevance or seeks to reassess its charms. But when the orchestra plays the sprightly music and Midler steps on in each new gown and the waiters twirl their serving trays, it's nice to have Dolly back.
Ms. Midler's singing voice is in a desperate, sometimes shocking state of disrepair...As for the rest of the performance, Ms. Midler doesn't even bother to act: She simply comes on stage and plays her familiar self, albeit at a disturbingly low level of energy...Ms. Midler is playing opposite David Hyde Pierce, who is all wrong as Horace Vandergelder...He is, to be sure, a talented actor, but his lightweight charm is utterly ill-suited to the role...Jerry Zaks and Warren Carlyle, the director and choreographer, have staged this revival in a cartoonish manner...While the show itself, like all of Mr. Herman's musicals, is lapel-clutchingly cheery to the point of diminishing returns, it's not hard to see why it was and is so popular, nor is it impossible for skeptics to appreciate a production that makes the most of its cornball charms. This one makes the worst of them.