Dolly Levi and Bette Midler are back where they belong
A review of Hello, Dolly! on Broadway – March 23, 2017 preview performance
By Todd Sussman
Caution: This posting contains spoilers.
Bette Midler has brought top notch pizzazz back to Broadway in the new Hello, Dolly!…now in previews. A bigger-than-life performance in a lavish show is just what is needed at this time, and, by golly, this Dolly has it all.
The costumes are breathtakingly beautiful. The sets are gorgeous…especially that Act II Harmonia Gardens red carpet stairway. The scenic designer and the costume designer are one and the same person, Santo Loquasto. Look for his name twice on Tony night.
We all know the songs…other Broadway shows would be lucky to have even one song the audience could hum on the way out of the theater, and Dolly is packed with them. Thank you, Jerry Herman. And Larry Hochman’s orchestrations are vibrant. I cannot wait for the cast album of this.
Then there is Bette. If she can bring the sparkle to her one-woman monologue in 2013’s I’ll Eat You Last, wait till you see what she does with Dolly Levi. Her performance is delicious. Nobody, but nobody, will be able to deny that she has one of Broadway’s all-time greatest moments as she descends the stairs in the aforementioned Harmonia scene. Soon after, she also mines her feast on a turkey leg for every last laugh possible as she devours the meal, even holding the gravy boat up for a sip. This is pure Bette. That extended reading of the scene is not in the Streisand movie. Another spoiler: It is nothing short of ingenious the way Bette remains seated at her dinner table when the rest of the cast has transitioned to the courtroom scene. This would not work in a movie, but it is poetic license on a Broadway stage…and it works!
Of course, there will be the inevitable comparisons of Barbra and Bette since they have occupied the same role. However, neither needs to worry. There is clearly room for both. First of all, Barbra, with history’s (arguably) greatest singing voice, filmed the movie in her early 20s. Bette is now 71, and she still makes the score sound fantastic. She’s still got it. Ironically, some critics chided Barbra as being too young for the part…and you may hear a few say Bette is too old. Yet — due to their acting skills and charisma – they both make it work. Ageism and reverse ageism be damned. I look forward to seeing backstage photos the night Barbra sees this show, which I am certain she will.
By the way, Barbra infused her Dolly with a tinge of Mae West. Bette opts for a tinge of Sophie Tucker here and there…and in many places, some welcome Midlerisms.
There was pre-production chatter that Bette may include “Just Leave Everything To Me” – written especially for Barbra and the movie. Not the case. “I Put My Hand In” remains her opening number, faithful to the Carol Channing show. However, both songs have the same introduction – “I have always been a woman who arranges things…” For a moment, fans of the film may have assumed otherwise.
Bette’s co-stars are also up for the chore. David Hyde Pierce makes an ample foil for Dolly’s antics…and if his Horace Vandergelder sounds a bit Walter Matthau-ish, that is a fine homage to the film. Gavin Creel and Taylor Trensch (as Cornelius and Barnaby) are the funniest tall/short duo since Dorothy and Sophia in Golden Girls. Gavin – who is as nice in real life as he is in inhabiting this character – has his own great “It Only Takes A Moment” here.
The girls also shine. Kate Baldwin, Beanie Feldstein, Melanie Moore, and Jennifer Simard all make their roles and characters memorable – bringing their A-game. Of course, you would have to when you are working opposite Midler.
If Bette doesn’t win the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical this June, then it is due to off-stage politics. I do not see how any other actress this season can top her performance – especially since Glenn Close in a return to her Tony-winning Sunset Blvd. performance is not eligible to be nominated again for the same role.
By the way, those attending early previews (they are continuing through late April) may see mega producer Scott Rudin hanging out in the back of the theater, overseeing every detail on stage…and even putting his two cents in to the ushers as they seat people. Talk about hands on. But that is a good thing…God is in the details.
I also want to thank Dolly dresser Holly – not Lolly, who is also listed in the Playbill. Holly and I were subway seat neighbors and she exemplifies everything wonderful about being part of a Broadway production.
If you do not have a ticket yet to see this show, do whatever it takes to get one.