BootLeg Betty

Behind the Scenes: Bette Midler and ‘Dolly!’ coming to Broadway

Herald Tribune
Behind the Scenes: Bette Midler and ‘Dolly!’ coming to Broadway
By Jay Handelman , Herald-Tribune / Sunday, January 24, 2016

When I posted news online the other day that Bette Midler has signed on to play Dolly Gallagher Levi in a Broadway revival of the Jerry Herman musical “Hello, Dolly!” next year, I was only a little surprised at how excited people got.

Early artwork for the upcoming revival of "Hello, Dolly! with Bette Midler.

“Can’t wait,” said one Facebook friend, while another added “Making plans!” even before all the details are revealed.

Midler is one of my favorite performers and there’s really nothing like seeing her live, so it’s almost a no-brainer that she would stir up a lot of interest.

I’ve long wondered if “Dolly” would ever be revived again on Broadway and what actress would be ballsy enough to face up to the living legacy of the original star Carol Channing. There aren’t many ballsier performers than Midler, who was most recently seen on Broadway three years ago as agent Sue Mengers in the one-woman show “I’ll Eat You Last.”

Channing opened “Dolly!” on Broadway in 1964, toured with it, and revived it twice in 1978 and 1995, with long national tours both times. She played the role thousands of times, and even though Barbra Streisand played the role of the matchmaking Dolly on film, it’s Channing whom most theater fans associate with the character.

In my mind, Carol Channing is Dolly, but now I’m thinking about her in a different way.

Bette Midler has announced that she will take on the title role in a 2017 revival of "Hello, Dolly!" (Photo by Hallman/Invision/AP)

In a statement Midler said, “I am looking forward to portraying one of the most beloved characters in all of American musical comedy, Dolly Levi, born Gallagher, in ‘Hello, Dolly.’ I know I’m going to have the time of my life.”

Jerry Zaks, a multi-Tony Award-winning director will stage the revival.

On Broadway, at least, “Dolly” is one of a handful of shows that seemed to be owned by just one performer, the iconic Channing, the way Yul Brynner for so long was the one and only King in “The King and I.”

There has been talk about revivals of “Funny Girl,” which hasn’t been seen on Broadway since the original production closed in 1967. Could any production succeed without its original star Barbra Streisand?

There were rumors that “Glee” star Lea Michele might star in a revival of “Funny Girl” around the same time that producers announced a production in 2012 that would star Lauren Ambrose, but then they had trouble getting the financing needed.

So we’re still waiting to discover the next generation of Fanny Brice.

Lots of people thought “Gypsy” could never be done with anyone other than Ethel Merman, the original star, but look at all the revivals that have followed, many leading to Tony Awards for its stars, who have included Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters and most recently Patti LuPone.

 Carol Channing thanks the audience during her curtain call after a 1996 performance of a revival of "Hello, Dolly!" on Broadway.  (AP Photo/Aubrey Reuben)

Channing, of course, isn’t the only one to have played Dolly on Broadway. She was followed by a long line of stars, who included Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable, Phyllis Diller, Pearl Bailey (in a famous all-black production featuring Cab Calloway) and finally Merman, whom the creators wanted for the show in the first place. And Mary Martin, another Broadway legend, took Dolly to London before an American tour.

I wish that one of Channing’s performances was captured for something other than a library archive because it was something to behold and I’d love to relive it beyond my memory. But I can only imagine the wonder, humor and energy that Midler might bring to the role when this new revival brings “Dolly!” back to Broadway.

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