New York Times
Bette Midler, Glowinâ€™, Crowinâ€™, Goinâ€™ Strong and Ready for â€˜Hello, Dolly!â€™
By MICHAEL PAULSON
January 20, 2016
Sure, sheâ€™d seen the movie, and she was generally familiar with the story, but when the producer Scott Rudin started calling her some months ago, asking her to consider starring in a revival of the musical on Broadway, she realized she needed to do some homework.
She went to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts to watch a film of Carol Channing in the 1995 revival, and to YouTube to watch clips of Pearl Bailey in the 1975 revival. She watched â€œThe Matchmaker,â€ a 1958 film starring Shirley Booth, which is adapted from the same Thornton Wilder play that inspired the musical.
And that was not all. She read production notes from Gower Champion, who directed the original production in 1964. She listened to cast albums. And finally she read the script, which persuaded her that the title character, a turn-of-the-century widow named Dolly Gallagher Levi, had more need and desperation than she had realized.
She said yes.
â€œIt has an enormous amount of weight, and the score is irresistible,â€ Ms. Midler said in a telephone interview hours after her agreement to star in a revival of â€œHello, Dolly!â€ was announced. â€œItâ€™s a very American thing, with a joyous quality, a kind of can-do quality, and an incredible sweetness, and in these dire times, when the whole world seems to be on fire, it seems like something people would love to see.â€
Ms. Midlerâ€™s Dolly will arrive on Broadway in the spring of 2017, 50 years after the actress first appeared on Broadway as Tzeitel in the original production of â€œFiddler on the Roof.â€ In the intervening years, Ms. Midler has become an enormously popular entertainer, best known for her film roles and her concert performances. In the 1970s, she appeared on Broadway in a series of concert shows; then she returned in 2013 for a one-woman play (â€œwhich pleased me no endâ€) called â€œIâ€™ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers.â€
Her biggest complaint? Midtown traffic. â€œGetting to the theater was a real chore. A couple of times, I had to get out of the car and run.â€
Bette Midler, Back on Broadway in â€˜Iâ€™ll Eat You Lastâ€™APRIL 10, 2013
Over the same period, â€œDollyâ€ has become one of the best-known American musicals, performed and spoofed and fetishized (among the showâ€™s more charming enthusiasts: the title robot in the 2008 Pixar film â€œWall-Eâ€). Although the role is most closely associated with Ms. Channing (who starred in the original and two Broadway revivals) and Barbra Streisand (who starred in the film), it has also been played by any number of brassy belters: Phyllis Diller, Betty Grable, Mary Martin, Ethel Merman and Ginger Rogers among them.
The revival will also bring the showâ€™s composer back to Broadway for the 20th time.
â€œWhether I like it or not, on my tombstone itâ€™ll say, â€˜He wrote the music and lyrics for â€˜Hello, Dolly!â€™â€ said Jerry Herman, who wrote the music and lyrics for â€œHello, Dolly!,â€ as well as those for â€œMameâ€ and â€œLa Cage aux Folles.â€
â€œThe morning after the reviews came out in 1964, I got a call from David Merrick, and he said, â€˜Whatever youâ€™re doing, put on your pants and come down to the St. James, â€™cause youâ€™ll only see this once or twice in a lifetime,â€™â€ Mr. Herman recalled in a separate telephone interview. â€œI did, and I saw a line that went around Eighth Avenue, and Merrick himself pouring coffee for people wanting to buy tickets. It was a sight worth getting dressed for.â€
Ms. Midlerâ€™s last appearance on Broadway was in â€œIâ€™ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers,â€ a nonmusical solo show, in 2013. Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
â€œThere were so many suggestions of very talented women, but nobody pressed that button that made me say, â€˜Wow,â€™ and then when I saw Bette on television doing a part of her Vegas act, it all happened,â€ he said. â€œI said, â€˜This is the lady who can do it.â€™ The time has come.â€
That was several years ago. Mr. Herman had lunch with Ms. Midler, who was charmed but couldnâ€™t fit â€œDolly!â€ into her schedule; then along came Mr. Rudin, a veteran producer in Hollywood as well as on Broadway, who sealed the deal. The revival will be directed by Jerry Zaks (who has won four Tony awards) and choreographed by Warren Carlyle (who has won one); the production has not yet announced a theater or other cast members, and tickets do not go on sale until fall.
Ms. Midler, who will be 71 years old when the revival opens, called the role â€œa big challenge,â€ noting that it had been years since she had appeared with a cast of other actors in a show, but she also said, â€œItâ€™s going to be fun, and more than anything I like to have fun.â€
â€œItâ€™s a lot â€” Iâ€™m no spring chicken â€” but Iâ€™m curious, and I love to do all the things this character is required to do,â€ she added. â€œIt keeps me thin, which I like, and it keeps me engaged.â€
She said her age would make preparing for the role more difficult â€” â€œEverything you do in life gets harderâ€ â€” but also noted that she had been touring last year and felt up for it. â€œI had a fabulous time,â€ she said. â€œIt was not easy, but it was not as hard as I thought it was going to be.â€
Mr. Herman said that Ms. Midlerâ€™s age might have been an issue for a different actress, but that â€œshe has youth built into her, and I think sheâ€™s going to sail through this.â€ Ms. Midler is also younger than Ms. Channing was in the last revival (she was 74 at the time, playing a role she had originated at 43).
â€œBette is an original, and Dolly needs to be an original,â€ Mr. Herman said. As for the production, he said: â€œItâ€™s going to be beautiful, and itâ€™s going to be exciting and colorful and handsome. Everything that the old girl deserves.â€