Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The musical is based on Thornton Wilder's play The Matchmaker and has a score by Jerry Herman that features over a half dozen toe-tapping tunes and a fairly fast-paced book by Michael Stewart. Set in late 1800s New York, the plot follows widow Dolly Levi, a determined and brassy woman of many talents who provides her services, including matchmaking, for a fee. Wealthy Yonkers, New York, merchant Horace Vandergelder has recently hired Dolly to find him a wife, and once the nosey, fast-talking Dolly gets involved, it sets all of those around Vandergelder, including his overworked clerks and young niece, off seeking adventure, and love, in New York City. As all of the characters' paths cross on their romantic journeys, the opportunistic widow Dolly, who encourages those around her to find joy in their lives, discovers that it may just be time for her to find some joy and happiness as well.
While the 55-year-old musical may be a little dated in the stereotypical portrayal of its female characters as mainly women seeking rich husbands, they, especially Dolly, are also completely in charge of their outcomes and firmly have the upper hand throughout. Also, the fact that the male characters are either cantankerous or sweet and naïve, and that Dolly has intentions of using any money she marries into for good purposes adds to the portrayal of female empowerment the musical depicts. Even if you have some issues with how the show represents the characters, you also have to remember that the show is set 25 years before women had the right to vote, so its depiction of powerful women is actually very forward thinking. It's also a very highly entertaining show.
Jerry Zaks' direction keeps the comedy sharp, bright and funny. Fortunately, it also doesn't shortchange the emotional pull of Dolly's heartwarming journey or the sweet nature derived from the many romantic couplings. Zaks' cast for the tour is top-notch and they all exceptionally deliver Warren Carlyle's choreography, which incorporates some of the original Broadway production steps by Gower Champion, with crisp moves and refined perfection. The fast-paced "Waiter's Gallop" is a crowd-pleasing production number. The costumes and sets designed by Santo Loquasto are lavish and lush, with the costumes a non-stop parade of rich colors and fabrics and the set elements ones that are quite large and very extravagant, including a replica of a steam engine train.
While Buckley, who won a Tony for her soul-searching turn as Grizabella in the original Broadway cast of Cats and sang that show's iconic ballad, "Memory," may not be known for her comedic chops like Midler or Channing, she does quite well in bringing plenty of humor to the part while also infusing Dolly with a realistic sensibility. She brings a constant warmth to the role with a smile that never fades and a perpetual twinkle in her eyes. At 71, Buckley's full-throttle voice may have lost a bit of its luster, but her voice is still powerful. She excels on Dolly's many songs and looks great in her gorgeous costumes. It also appears like she's having a blast in the part. While Dolly is a forceful and opinionated woman who encourages those around her to seek happiness, she also believes that, since she is a widow, life has passed her by. From Buckley's nuanced portrayal we clearly see how Dolly learns to take control of her future and find her way back into the human race. It's a larger than life performance of a real woman who is full of honesty and an abundance of heartfelt emotion.
As the grumpy Horace Vandergelder, Lewis J. Stadlen is irritable but also has a layer of warmth and charm underneath that makes him quite appealing and less insufferable than other actors I've seen in this part. With a beautiful, lilting singing voice, Analisa Leaming is full of spirited adventure as Dolly's widowed friend Irene Molloy. As Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, Vandergelder's underpaid and overworked clerks, Nic Rouleau and Jess LeProtto are a winning duo. Rouleau's vocals are bright and soaring, and LeProtto's dance abilities are acrobatic and fun. As the dizzy, fun-loving Minnie Fay, understudy Madison Johnson is quite fetching. In smaller parts, Morgan Kirner and Garett Hawe are fine as Horace's niece and her enamored boyfriend.
With such well-known songs as "Put on Your Sunday Clothes," "It Only Takes a Moment," "Before the Parade Passes By," and the title number, Hello, Dolly! is a charming show with a memorable score. The national tour is a beautiful production of a classic gem of a musical with a finely etched star turn by Buckley as the title character along with a winning cast who prove it's never too late to seek adventure and romance in your life.
Hello, Dolly!, through January 13, 2019, at ASU Gammage, 1200 S. Forest Avenue, Tempe AZ. Tickets can be purchased at www.asugammage.com or by calling 480-965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit hellodollyonbroadway.com.
Book by Michael Stewart