BWW Review: HELLO, DOLLY! At Kennedy Center
Throughout theatrical history many great ladies of the theatre have tackled the role of Thornton Wilder's famous matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi in the musical Hello, Dolly! In 2017 a brand new revival of the show hit Broadway starring Bette Midler (with Donna Murphy alternating in) and later on in its run Bernadette Peters. That production is now touring the country with Tony Award winning actress Betty Buckley in the starring role and veteran actor Lewis J. Stadlen as the well-known half a millionaire Horace Vandergelder.
In Michael Stewart's book, Dolly Gallagher Levi (Betty Buckley) is an entrepreneur who fancies herself as being good at everything. She has business cards for all of your needs. Matchmaking, dance lessons, you name it. She is currently helping Ambrose Kemper (Colin Lemoine) marry the high pitched Ermengarde (Morgan Kirner). The problem is Ermengarde is the niece of hay and feed store owner Horace Vandergelder (Lewis J. Stadlen) who won't condone the marriage because Kemper is only an artist and not good enough for his niece.
Vandergelder has two overworked clerks named Cornelius Hackl (Nic Rouleau) and Barnaby Tucker (Sean Burns). The two have not had an evening off in quite some time. When Vandergeldar goes to NYC the two devise a plan to get out of working in the store for one night and meet some girls in NYC. When the two clerks run into Mrs. Irene Molloy's (Analisa Leaming) hat shop to keep from being seen by Vandergelder things start to get messy. Ultimately the two will take Molloy and her hat shop assistant Minnie Fay (Kristen Hahn) out on a date to the Harmonia Gardens, the most expensive restaurant in the city. This is happening despite the lack of funds in Cornelius and Barnaby's purse. I imagine you know where this is going and who ends up with whom in the end. After all, Dolly Levi is a matchmaker.
This touring production looks and sounds really good on the stage of the Kennedy Center's Opera House. Santo Loquasto's sets take us back to the good old days in musical theatre when there was actual scenery as opposed to nowadays where they use projections for everything.
Larry Hochman's seventeen piece orchestration sounds splendid and his charts pay homage to the show's original orchestrator Philip J. Lang throughout. The orchestra is very ably conducted by veteran conductor Robert Billig.
The ensemble is in excellent voice as they sing the famous Jerry Herman score. "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" and the show's title song are true showstoppers. The vocal arrangements are provided by Herman's longtime conductor/vocal arranger Don Pippin and might I say it's so nice to see him back where he belongs.
Choreographer Warren Carlyle's "The Waiter's Gallop" provides the big dance moment in the show. It features the ensemble of waiters balancing high stacks of dishes while also doing leaps and high energy dance moves. The dance arrangement by David Chase fuels the energy of the performers.
Performance wise you would think Dolly and Horace would carry the show but unfortunately this not the case here. Under Jerry Zaks' direction Lewis J. Stadlen as Vandergelder gives a schtick laden performance that in my opinion just doesn't fit the character of the straight laced half a millionaire. I will say though that hearing Stadlen perform a song cut out of the show originally called "Penny in My Pocket" because it gives you an idea of how Horace became as rich as he now is.
Betty Buckley's performance as Dolly Levi is even a bigger problem. At my performance it sounded like she was having vocal issues as her voice lacked any sort of power. Acting wise her second act was better than her first but the comedic elements didn't land like they usually do. That is a big problem in a musical comedy.
The two best performances for me would be Nic Rouleau and Sean Burns as Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker. Rouleau's "It Only Takes a Moment" is by far the best solo moment of the night and Burns' Tucker has an adorable innocence to it.
Analisa Leaming might be a little too young for Irene Molloy but her "Ribbons Down My Back" sounds lovely on the ears.
This current tour of Hello, Dolly! has some wonderful things in it but due to Buckley's inadequacy as Dolly, the show overall is missing more than it has.
Running Time: Two hours and 35 minutes with one intermission.
Hello, Dolly! runs through July 7, 2019 at the Kennedy Center which is located at 2700 F St NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, click here.