Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

Hello, Dolly!
National Tour
Review by John Olson | Season Schedule


Betty Buckley and Lewis J. Stadlen
Photo by Julieta Cervantes
If it's not too cynical to suggest that the recent Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly! was conceived mostly as a vehicle for Bette Midler, one might wonder, why do a national tour of this staging by Jerry Zaks without her? Of course the tradition behind this show, and what certainly made it such a long-running hit in its original Broadway run from 1964 to 1970, is that the title role is a such a good one for actresses of a certain age—and one that allows a variety of interpretations, making it suitable for most any strong actress. That tradition was partly revived in the revival, with Donna Murphy taking over for Midler at certain performances and Bernadette Peters replacing Midler for six months near the end of the run. So, the producers have made a smart choice in continuing that strategy by casting no less than Betty Buckley in the title role and pairing her up with the veteran character actor Lewis J. Stadlen as her Horace Vandergelder.

Buckley is one of the great musical theater actresses of the past 50 years, and who would ever want to pass up a chance to hear her sing? She can croon the softer sections of "Before the Parade Passes By" or belt out the comedy numbers as well as anyone. And while Buckley has frequently proven herself to be an outstanding dramatic actress, is she especially funny? I wouldn't say comedy is exactly the greatest talent she brings to this role, but her laughs all land. And what she does bring to the role is something we don't always see in our Dollys—some real heart. When we see Dolly address her late husband in the beyond—asking for a sign he'll approve of her marrying again, and sharing her need to recapture his love for life—we really believe her. Buckley's Dolly also seems to genuinely care about the younger lovers she nudges to their own coupling and this all makes her a genuinely sympathetic character rather than just a funny gold digger we tolerate because the skinflint Horace is even more reprehensible.

Oddly enough, though, director Zaks doesn't really recalibrate his approach to accommodate Buckley's softer take on Dolly. There wouldn't be much of a way to do that with the crusty old Vandergelder—and Stadlen lends his trademark gravelly voice and impeccable comic timing to good effect. But Zaks mostly walks away from the charm potential in the Cornelius-Irene/Barnaby-Minnie Fay numbers "Dancing" and "Elegance." Rather, he maintains a loud, almost pushy tone, and directs the players to give presentational, vaudevillian performances that fail to generate the sympathy Buckley shows toward them. These four roles are exceptionally well sung, though. Irene is Analisa Leaming, who understudied for Kelli O'Hara in The King and I and is a wonderful soprano we should expect to hear lots more from. She gives Irene an appealing, feisty spirit that adds to the comic tension in the scenes with Cornelius. Nic Rouleau, who played The Book of Mormon's Elder Price on tour and on Broadway opposite Ben Platt, has a terrific voice as well, but isn't as funny as he was in Mormon and sacrifices much of the character's charm while going for the laughs. His Cornelius needs to be a better foil for his naïve teenage co-worker Barnaby, a role which is in great hands (and legs and feet) with the physical comic skills of Jess LeProtto.

What is intact, though, is the gorgeous production design from Broadway, mostly thanks to the scenic and costume designs by Santo Loquasto. Including some gorgeous painted backdrops of New York City streetscapes and costumes, they transport us back to the New York City of the 1880s. We also get to see the "ooh, ah" moments from Broadway in the way he makes two dancers look like a real horse pulling a streetcar and gives us a most convincing train locomotive and passenger car ready to make the trip from Yonkers to New York City. And there is "The Waiters' Gallop," and the title song it leads into, both spectacularly choreographed by Warren Carlyle and danced expertly by the ensemble. It's a tribute without being an imitation of the Gower Champion original.

So, even if not a perfect integration of its new star's interpretation with the tone of the successful package seen on Broadway, there's lots to love here. Beginning and ending with a reason to see Betty Buckley on stage in a major role, everything in between is musical theatre performance and production at a very high level.

Hello, Dolly! through November 17, 2018, at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago IL. Performances are Tuesdays at 7:30pm, Wednesdays at 2:00pm and 7:30pm, Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 2:00pm and 8:00pm (Sunday, October 28 at 2pm and 7:30pm). Single tickets are $27 to $108. To purchase tickets, go to www.broadwayinchicago.com, call 800-775-2000, or visit any Broadway in Chicago box office (Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission). For more information on the tour, visit hellodollyonbroadway.com/tour.


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