Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - April 20, 2017
Hello, Dolly! Based on the play The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder. Book by Michael Stewart. Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Originally produced on the New York stage by David Merrick. Directed by Jerry Zaks. Choreographed by Warren Carlyle. Original production directed and choreographed by Gower Champion. Scenic and costume design by Santo Loquasto. Lighting design by Natasha Katz. Music supervision and direction by Andy Einhorn. Sound design by Scott Lehrer. Orchestrations by Larry Hochman. Vocal arrangements by Don Pippin. Dance arrangements by David Chase. Hair, wigs & make up design by Cambell Young Associates. Cast: Bette Midler, also starring David Hyde Pierce, featuring Gavin Creel, Kate Baldwin, Taylor Trensch, Beanie Feldstein, Will Burton, Melanie Moore, Jennifer SImard, Kevin Ligon, Cameron Adams, Phillip Attmore, Giuseppe Bausilio, Justin Bowen, Taeler Cyrus, Elizabeth Earley, Leslie Donna Flesner, Jenifer Foote, Jessica Lee Goldyn, Stephen Hanna, Michael Hartung, Robert Hartwell, Aaron Kaburick, Amanda LaMotte, Analisa Leaming, Jess LeProtto, Ian Liberto, Nathan Madden, Michael McCormick, Linda Mugleston, Hayley Podschun, Jessica Sheridan, Michaeljon Slinger, Christian Dante White, Branch Woodman, Ryan Worsing, Richard Riaz Yoder.
To the extent that this Hello, Dolly! stumblesand it isn't muchit's because Midler falls short. She's utterly convincing portraying each of Dolly's personalities (meddling busybody, ruthless Vandergelder hunter, grieving widow), and though her spin is usually bright and brash, she's not afraid to pull back and reveal her latent vulnerability, too. (This is most notable in the lead-up to the Act I finale, "Before the Parade Passes By.") And, whether steamrolling anyone in her path, or bowling over the Harmonia Gardens waitstaff (and, thus, you) with her charm in the title song, this Dolly is daffy, real, and irresistible.
What she's not, however, is locked in a life-or-death struggle for her future, and that matters. In the last Broadway revival in 1995, in which Carol Channing once again took on the role she'd created three decades earlier, this was palpable; the stakes were impossibly high, for reasons both textual and otherwise. Her every action was motivated by an insatiable hunger, plus the inviolable understanding that her time was running out. This made the sad moments unbearable, the happier scenes overwhelming, and the jokes revolutionary in their hilarity. Midler doesn't go that farshe plays it safe, and, despite getting the maximum amount possible from that approach, doesn't get everything. She may be a gleaming star, but she's not a transformative one.
Other rough edges stem from her lack of discipline or experience. Midler plays to the audience, complete with "takes," far too often, momentarily dislodging you from Stewart, Herman, and Zaks's world. She gets visibly winded during the dance numbers, and calling attention to that with a gag during the title song is not wise. Perhaps most troubling: her voice is already starting to sound ragged, something that shouldn't be the case after only five weeks of previews. Much of this can, and hopefully will, be corrected as Midler continues her run, and Donna Murphy comes aboard in June to play Dolly once a week.
Ultimately, these are minor quibbles that don't detract from Midler's marvelous performance as part of a marvelous evening. At the very least, when she traipses down the stairs of the Harmonia Gardens near the middle of Act II, wearing that gaudy red dress with the heart and the feathered headdress, and begins cooing those historic lyrics, "Hello, Harry / Well hello, Louie / It's so nice to be back be home where I belong," you won't care about what doesn't work because of how much does. "Hello, Dolly!" is a prime example, an explosion of life and joy, of coming into one's own again after regaining lost hope.
"Dolly'll never go away again," the waiters conclude a few minutes later. They're right. Not just because Midler and everything surrounding her will stick in your mind for years, or decades, to comethough they will. But because the best shows, which tap into the most of who we are and explore the complexities and contradictions we don't always understand ourselves, never go out of style. And Hello, Dolly! is about as good as the Broadway musical gets.