It Takes A Horace! Who Should Star In HELLO, DOLLY! Opposite Bette Midler?
January 19, 2016
by Michael Dale
As announced on BroadwayWorld, The Divine Miss DÂ will be returning to Broadway next season in the guise of The Divine Miss M, as Bette Midler struts down the staircase of Harmonia Gardens in a brand-spanking new revival of HELLO, DOLLY!
As is the case when any beloved old musical is plucked for a revival, the guessing game now begins where theatre fans pick their dream casts to fill out the show’s supporting roles. What makes the game a little more interesting this time is that a high-profile star like Bette Midler may attract bigger names into the casting pool.
When director Gower Champion and producer David Merrick cast the wildly eccentric GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES star Carol Channing as matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi in the original 1964 production, they knew they needed to gather equally unique personalities to play the supporting roles.
That’s why the daffy clown Charles Nelson Reilly, a recent Tony-winner for HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, was cast in the romantic role of Cornelius Hackl opposite an Irene Molloy essayed byEileen Brennan, the off-beat star of Off-Broadway’s LITTLE MARY SUNSHINE.
As for the surly Horace Vandergelder, the well-known half-a-millionaire from Yonkers, Champion and Merrick nabbedDavid Burns, who had won Tonys for playing the blowhard mayor in THE MUSIC MAN and the spineless husband in A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.
Burns’ stoic, businesslike Horace was a perfect foil for Channing, as he slowly melted to her adorable charms. WhenWalter Matthau played the role opposite Barbra Streisand he turned in a performance with the same kind of bluster. But when Pearl Bailey stepped into Broadway’s original production, and had another go with the lady in a 1975 revival, her Horaces were the slick and stylish nightclub stars Cab Calloway and Billy Daniels.
So there’s elbow room for variation when casting Bette Midler‘s leading man. With just one song (unless Jerry Herman would care to write a new one), Horace is more of a very large supporting role than a starring one, but a big name with solid stage chops would still be needed to match what Midler brings to the dinner table.
Here are some ideas to ponder…
NATHAN LANE would be a long-shot as he’s more likely to be seen on Broadway in starring vehicles of his own, but his pal Jerry Zaks, who molded his Nathan Detroit in GUYS AND DOLLS, is directing HELLO, DOLLY! so maybe some strings could be pulled. We already know he and Midler have great chemistry from the film, ISN’T SHE GREAT.
The dashing BRIAN STOKES MITCHELL would certainly give audiences an authoritative Horace they can also swoon over, though his enchanting singing voice would be underused. (Any room for a Horace ballad, Mr. Herman?)
MICHAEL CRAWFORD gave a memorable turn as Cornelius in the film version, and his Horace would bring out a playful charm underneath the character’s hard exterior.
BEN VEREEN would be welcomed back to Broadway anytime, and he could give a stylish take on the role, as did Cab Calloway.
TONY ROBERTS is one of those actors who excels in playing musical comedy with honesty and realism, no matter what craziness is happening on stage. If he could play Zeus in XANADU with a straight face he could handle any of Bette Midler‘s antics.
RICHARD KIND is best known for his lovable, funny performances, but as he proved on Broadway in THE BIG KNIFE, he can be pretty scary when playing a tough guy.
But that’s just to get us started. There are plenty of other great choices. Who would you pick?