Exactly a week from today Bette Midler will open in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway. There are a few reasons why I think this is pretty much the best thing ever.
First, Bette Midler. As I’ve written in this space multiple times before, I have always loved Bette Midler. While other Jews worship at the altar of Streisand, I’m the one outside the synagogue with signs reading: “Have you ever seen The Rose?” and “Did you not cry at the end of Stella?”
Second, it marks the Broadway return of a great Jerry Herman musical. There are so many wonderful things about Herman’s writing—he can make you cry and make you grin. When I name my favorite musical theater songs, so many of them were written by him. Yet we rarely see his musicals on Broadway. In fact, since I began writing about theater approximately 15 years ago, we’ve seen two revivals of La Cage aux Folles on Broadway, but none of the other Herman classics. During this same time period, I’ve seen many Stephen Sondheim musicals. (And, yes, he does have more to revive.) Why? Partially it is that Herman’s work requires large casts and spectacle. Read: they are expensive. Partially it is the man himself. If he liked Christine Baranski in Mame more, we maybe would have seen that on the Great White Way. I’ve also heard he is reluctant to allow Encores! to stage his work. (Possibly because of the feeling among many that if a show bombs at Encores!, the chance of a large-scale revival drops like a rock.)
New York recently got treated to a production of two of Herman’s lesser-known works, Milk and Honey and Dear World, as part of another NY off-Broadway concert series, the York Theatre Company’s Musicals in Mufti series. I had the pleasure of seeing Dear World, starring the incomparable Tyne Daly and scene-stealer Alison Fraser doing her best confused Angela Lansbury impersonation. There are definite problems with the tuner, but I was so happy to be there, hearing a score live that I’ve never heard live. I just wish it could be heard with a bigger orchestra. Unlike Encores!, Mufti, which is much smaller in scale, features only a few pieces accompanying the actors.
There is always something enjoyable about seeing one of his shows. I’ve seen Herman musicals in productions around the country, from venues as big as Goodspeed or the Kennedy Center to a Midwestern high school. I think this will be my fourth professional Dolly. I hope it inspires someone to bring back Mame, my favorite Herman tuner. I keep waiting for Catherine Zeta-Jones to be announced.
Third, this revival is playing up old Broadway, but will also feature new touches. Of course, outside the Shubert is quotes from reviews of the original production of Hello, Dolly!. And everyone who sees the production says it is very old school Broadway. However there is also material we have not heard in prior Dolly mountings. For example, the team has gone back to Thorton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, on which Hello, Dolly! is based, and pulled material to put in the show. There might also be a new line here or there. But this isn’t a remake or a re-imagining. It’s not set in a post-apocalyptic world where Dolly Levi is matching people of higher breeding to earn scraps of food. This is a good old-fashioned Dolly, with luxurious costumes and a big personality at its center. It’s simply augmented.
Therefore, dear readers, I welcome back Hello, Dolly! to the Broadway landscape. It’s so nice to have you back where you belong.