They don’t make ’em like they used to — and that goes double for Broadway’s dazzling revival of “Hello, Dolly!” thanks to the show itself and its above-the-title supernova, Bette Midler.
Frankly, there ought to be another exclamation point.
If you don’t know the classic by composer-lyricist Jerry Herman and writer Michael Stewart, it only takes a moment to get you up to speed.
In 1890s New York, matchmaker Dolly Levi (Midler) has been enlisted to find a wife for rich businessman Horace Vandergelder (David Hyde Pierce). The options: milliner Irene Molloy (Kate Baldwin, lovely) and Ernestina Money (Jennifer Simard). But Dolly, a widow, wants Horace for herself.
The group, along with Horace’s employees, Cornelius (Gavin Creel) and Barnaby (Taylor Trensch), and Irene’s assistant Minnie Fay (Beanie Feldstein) collide at a fancy restaurant. Chaos (and nuptials) follow.
The show, the best musical Tony winner of 1964, is old-school comic jewel filled with great songs. The book — based on Thornton Wilder’s play, “The Matchmaker” — then as now is as tight and bouncy as a late-19th century corset and bustle.
Director Jerry Zaks surrounds the singing-and-dancing gem with a platinum setting. Santo Loquasto’s scenic designs — a mix of merry painted backdrops and set pieces — are bubbly and first-rate. Loquasto’s period-rich costumes are riots of plaids and Crayola bright shades — they’re beyond beautiful. Natasha Katz’s lighting bathes it in a glow.
Choreographer Warren Carlyle, inspired by Gower Champion’s original dances, fills the stage with high-stepping oomph. It hits a zenith with a fleet of galloping, leaping, whirling waiters.
The whole cast shines. As the merchant Vandergelder, Pierce sells his comedy and his songs (“Penny in My Pocket”) deliciously. Creel delightfully reminds that when it comes to love “It Only Takes a Moment.” Simard is laughing gas on legs.
But this show’s all about Dolly, a role indelibly linked with Carol Channing, who’s played it three times on Broadway. It’s a role made for personality. And Midler, with her 40-plus years of experience, has that — and then some. She’s in fine voice and eases into the performance, which fits how the show is built. In short order, she flies.
It’s entertaining just watching her watch the antics — and wink on occasion. When she hilariously tucks into a meal, she has us eating out her hand. When she declares it’s time to rejoin the living (“Before the Parade Passes By”), she pushes the pathos button and wraps us around her little finger. On the night I saw “Dolly,” she turned a coughing fit into a giddy celebration. It’s that kind of show. She’s that kind of star.
Type out all the superlatives you can because nights like this in the theater — in which tingles continue from overture to final bow at the Shubert Theatre — make you feel overjoyed. That is a tonic for troubled times!