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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
I could just keep on listing all the reason "it's so nice" to have this big, old-fashioned, good-hearted musical comedy back on Broadway. It's a treat to once again see a fabulous Dolly and ensemble sing and dance their way through Jerry Herman's hit parade of ear candy tunes and witty lyrics. .
In a world besieged with problems that our full of fake promises president is more likely to make worse than better, director Jerry Zaks and choreographer Warren Carlyle's dazzling revival is a most welcome return to Broadway of a show that doesn't promise anything more weighty than a grand old time. Lucky for all who are lucky enough to nab a ticket, they've remained true to Michael Stewart's smart adaptation of Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker and Gower Champion's eye-popping choreography. However, wrapped into a gorgeously elaborate new package and brought on Orchestrator Larry Hochman and a generously sized band to make the most of Herrman's bouncy score.
I'll admit I arrived at the Shubert Theatre wondering if the hoopla that has made this revival the hottest show in town warranted. Wasn't Midler, for all her deserved reputation as a one-of-a-kind, super diva, just a tad too old to undertake all that singing eight shows a week? Was the crowd lined up all the way to the end of Shubert alley well before the doors opened really going to get their money's worth?
Well, what was unwarranted was my skepticism. Time and that demanding performance schedule have taken their toll of Midler's voice but she nevertheless belts out her songs and dialogue with such verve that it doesn't matter. And even though her high kicks are somewhat modest, it's a kick to see her lifting her skirt to join the high-kicking ensemble.
Dolly being such a natural role for her actually owes less to her singing and dancing than her mastery of comic shtick. In Hello, Dolly! this touches on comic genius during the Harmonia Gardens scene where she uses her matchmaking skills in her own behalf by insisting she would never accept Horaces marriage proposal, which he correctly insists he never made. This hilarious flim-flam is accompanied by her serving him a turkey leg, of which she even more hilariously and literally makes a meal when we see Horace and the rest of the diners in front of a judge waiting for you know who to speak up for them.
But for all her deft comic business, Midler also imbues the crafty widow with a touching vulnerability. This comes across loud and clear a monologue asking her dead husband to give her the go-ahead to live fully again leads into a powerhouse rendition of "Before the Parade Passes By."
And so, the audience gets exactly what it wants and shows it with constant applause, that includes a standing ovation for the famous titular number. Midler matches their exuberance. She is clearly overjoyed to be on that stage, to give them everything she s got —, and to be warmed and energized by their embrace.
While Midler is the undisputable star, this revival offers an abundance of other pleasures. Topping the list of these pleasure is David Hyde Pierce as Horace Vandergelder. Though, perhaps best known for his long-running gig in Frazier, Hyde Pierce has done terrific work in both musicals and straight plays. With the help of wig designers Campbell Young Associates he looks the right age to be Dolly's suitor , even though he's years younger than Midler. His rendition of resurrected "Penny In My Pocket" — deleted from previous revivals and wisely resurrected to the top the second act — underscores the quality he brings to the curmudgeonly Horace that makes him worth marrying for more than his money.
There are two secondary pairs, who add to the farcical complications and predictable happy romantic endings: Kate Baldwin's Irene Molloy (Who Dolly matched up with Horace before deciding to marry him herself) and Gavin Creel as the Vandergelder's hooky playing chief clerk Cornelius Hackl are the show's standout singers as evident "It Only Takes a Moment." To complete this quartet we have their sidekicks, Taylor Trensch as Hackl's younger co-clerk Barnaby and Beanie Feldstein as Minnie Fay the assistant in Molloy's millinery shop— both very funny.
A minor player in bringing the farcical mishaps to its happy conclusion is Jennifer Simard. She makes a tasty feast out of the cameo role of a designed to fail dinner date with Horace that Dolly arranges to insure that he ends up at her Harmonia Gardens table.
The high-stepping ensemble is of course another key contributor to this production's pleasure-giving assets — starting when they join Dolly at Grand Central Station for "I Put My Hand In" to the male member's spectacular "The Waiters Gallop."
Santo Loquasto's deluxe scenery includes Irene Molloy's millinery shop and Horace's Yonkers Hay and Feed store, a carriage pulled by human horses, an array of lithographed scrims to provide an old New York backdrop. Of course, there's also the staircase at the Harmonia Gardens for Dolly's grand re-entry into a fulfilling life. Wearing his second hat as company designer he's outfitted the entire company in an array of gorgeous costumes throughout, not just for the delightful "Put On Your Sunday Best" number.
Despite all my praises, Hello, Dolly! hardly belongs in the annals of great musical theater classics like Fiddle on the Roof and South Pacific, Sweeney Todd or even Jerry Herman's own La Cage Aux Folles. To paraphrase La Cage's signature song, "I Am What I Am", it is what it is— a delightfully silly, eye and ear pleasing few hours of escape from the real world.
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Book: Michael Stewart Music and Lyrics: and Jerry Herman
Directed by Jerry Zaks
Choreography: Warren Carlyle
Bette Midler (Dolly Gallagher Levi)/ David Hyde Pierce (Horace Vandergelder), Gavin Creel (Cornelius Hackl), Kate Baldwin (Irene Molloy), Taylor Trensch (Barnaby Tucker), Will Burton (Ambrose Kemper), Melanie Moore (Ermengarde), Jennifer Simard (Ernestina), plus an ensemble of twenty-seven. Cast: Bette Midler (Dolly Levy), David Hyde Pierce (Horace Vandergelder), Gavin Creel (Cornelius Hackl), Kate Baldwin (Irene Molloy), Taylor Trensch (Barnaby Tucker), Will Burton (Ambrose Kemper), Melanie Moore (Ermengarde), Jennifer Simard (Ernestina), Donna Murphy (Dolly alternate as of 6/23, an Linda Muggleston Doll understudy when not playing Mrs. Rose ), plus an ensemble of twenty-seven.
As of 1/20/18: Bernadette Peters and Victor Garber take over in the leading roles.
Scenic Design by Santo Loquasto
;Costume Design by Santo Loquasto
Lighting Design by Natasha Katz
Sound Design by Scott Lehrer
Hair and Wig Design by Campbell Young Associates
Make-Up Design by Campbell Young Associates
Stage Manager: William Joseph Barnes
Running Time: 2 1/2 hours with 1 intermission
Shubert Theater 225 West 44th Street 212/239-6200
From 3/15/17; opening 4/20/17; closing 1/18/14.
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