‘Hello, Dolly!’: Bette Midler delivers a ‘perfect, once-in-a-lifetime’ performance

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‘Hello, Dolly!’: Bette Midler delivers a ‘perfect, once-in-a-lifetime’ performance
By David Buchanan
Broadway Apr 21, 2017


Seldom does a pairing of actress and role feel so intrinsically perfect as Bette Midler and Dolly Gallagher Levi, the titular character in Jerry Herman’s classic musical comedy “Hello, Dolly!” made famous by the incomparable Carol Channing. Under the direction of Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks (“Guys and Dolls”), a new revival of “Hello, Dolly!” co-starring Tony-winner David Hyde Pierce (“Curtains”) and Tony nominees Kate Baldwin (“Finian’s Rainbow”) and Gavin Creel (“Hair, Thoroughly Modern Millie”), opened on April 20 at the Shubert Theater to uproarious fanfare from critics and audiences alike.

“Hello, Dolly!” received universal raves and many of the strongest notices of the 2016-2017 theatrical season. Deeming the production a Critic’s Pick, Ben Brantley (New York Times) heaps praises upon Ms. Midler, who “works hard for her ovations, while making you feel that the pleasure is all hers,” and who “makes fast switches from explosive comedy to a sober emotionalism that never cloys.” Of the other elements of this “exceedingly bright and brassy revival,” Brantley singles out Pierce’s “beautifully drawn caricature” and “springtime-fresh cartoon of the archetypal grumpy old man,” and the “expert and exhausting” choreography by Warren Carlyle. Praising Midler as a “perfect, once-in-a-lifetime Dolly,” Jesse Green (Vulture) similarly notes the “brilliant alignment of performer and role,” stating, “In the long line of memorable Dolly’s I’ve seen or heard — from the alienoid Carol Channing to the louche Pearl Bailey to the enameled Barbra Streisand — Midler is by far the most natural and inviting,” especially in the “insanely warm glow” of this “ecstatic revival.”

Awarding this “blissful” production a perfect five out of five stars, Adam Feldman (Time Out New York) commends Midler for her “expert self-assurance… enormous warmth, savvy, and drive,” while also applauding the “joyful aplomb” of Zak’s direction, the “droll dignity and adorable flashes of cartoon clowning” in Pierce’s performance, and the “winsome” pairing of Baldwin and Creel. Charles McNulty (LA Times) echoes all of those sentiments, noting that Midler’s now in “the role she was destined to play,” while also praising the overall joyous quality of the production itself, as “the show distills the mood-elevating properties of the American musical at its giddy best.”

Aside from Midler, who’s Tony Award win for the Best Actress in a Musical category seems almost as assured as “Hamilton”’s victory in Best Musical last year, “Hello, Dolly!” should receive ample recognition in many other categories. In a season fairly thin on musical revivals, with only “Cats,” “Falsettos,” “Miss Saigon,” and “Sunset Boulevard” competing with “Dolly” for the prize, this exquisite production seems like a verifiable lock for the top honor. Director Zaks, a four-time Tony winner who hasn’t earned a nomination since 1996 for his production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” also looks destined to return to the derby with a bid for his perfect stewardship of this classic show and its high-profile star.

Many of Midler’s co-stars also seem likely to land nominations, too. In the against-type role of Horace, Hyde Pierce earned the cheers and affection of critics and will easily land a bid in the Actor in a Musical category, although he will struggle to pull off a victory over the likes of Ben Platt (“Dear Evan Hansen”) and Andy Karl (“Groundhog Day”). Baldwin and Creel both seem poised to contender in the Featured categories as well.

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This sumptuous revival should also perform nicely in the below-the-line categories. Scenic and costume designer Santo Loquasto, who has 19 previous Tony nominations and three wins (“The Cherry Orchard,” “Cafe Crown,” “Grand Hotel”), should find himself a double nominee this year for his lavish and vibrant sets and costumes. Based on her remarkable Tony track record of six wins out of 13 nominations alone, Natasha Katz will most likely find herself with another bid for her lighting design. Choreographer Carlyle, who picked up his first Tony in 2014 for “After Midnight,” seems like a very likely nominee because his work on this production not only honors the original, indelible Gower Champion staging, but also adds a new, exciting vitality. And while Herman’s enduring score cannot receive any formal recognition, Tony winner Larry Hochman (“The Book of Mormon”) should earn a nomination for his glorious orchestrations that ensure that, paired with the Divine Miss M’s voice, the music has never sounded better.

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Be sure to make your Tony Awards predictions. Weigh in now with your picks so that Broadway insiders can see how their shows and performers are faring in our Tony odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on May 2. And join in the fierce debate over the 2017 Tony Awards taking place right now in our theater forums.

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