Mister D: I know some of you don’t want to see any comparison reviews because it pits two beloved stars and friends against one another, but you knew it was going to happen. So I picked out some that said the same thing as the others, and what it really boils down to is personal tastes and fandom. The Peter’s fans are going to pick her and the Midler fans will pick Midler. Midler will win of course because she is an international star where Bernadette is basically a favorite of the Broadway crowd. It’s just a fact. So I see no reason to even argue with one another. Neither side is going to listen. And don’t feel sorry for these ladies. They are both at the top of their game, they have made it in an industry that is callous and cruel. Believe me both women can handle what is thrown at them. Yes, I’m sure they still get hurt feelings, but by now they have learned to say “fuck it, I’m a star!!!”
Bette Midler Is a Better ‘Dolly’ Than Bernadette Peters: Review of ‘Hello, Dolly!’
As Bernadette Peters officially opens in ‘Hello, Dolly!,’ the question is, who played it best: Peters or predecessor Bette Midler? Our critic prepares to have his gay card revoked.
02.22.18 7:30 PM ET
It’s a gay Sophie’s Choice, and it’s happening on Broadway right now.
Prepare for friendships to be torn asunder, loud street arguments in Hell’s Kitchen (“At least Bernadette Peters knows how to walk down a staircase”), and vodka sodas being flung in anger.
Are you ‘Bette’ or ‘Bernadette’? (Or, kind, warm soul, do you love them both equally? They are both different performers, and shouldn’t be compared etc.)
Sadly, if you saw Midler and are also seeing Peters, comparisons are inevitable. On Thursday night, Peters officially takes over the mantle–or giant, deep pink, feathery fascinator—of Dolly Gallagher Levi from Midler, in Jerry Zaks’ handsomely mounted Broadway production of Hello, Dolly!
The Midler production of Jerry Herman’s musical (with book by Michael Stewart) which opened last April was, as I wrote at the time, a barnstorming, all-cylinders-rocketing joy, for which Midler won a Tony. It would be tough for any actor to follow her.
Peters obviously has the stage stature, but she is a very different Dolly. Midler exuded a flirty, knowing, audience-winking warmth in her Dolly. Peters, the night this reviewer attended at least, seemed more distant and (even if this means my gay card being immediately revoked) more nervous and tentative in the role.
Some in the audience would disagree with this—loudly. They whooped and applauded Peters as they had with Midler. Your preference, if you see both actors in the role, will come down to personal taste. Peters’ first appearance in Act One still brings the show to a hollering halt in its infancy. For Broadway devotees, Peters equals, even outstrips Midler in the icon stakes.
But in this role, Peters’ Dolly feels more skittish and scattered, and less focused than Midler’s eccentric mistress of all that she surveys and seeks to benevolently manipulate. We do not, for a moment, believe that Peters’ Dolly has a crush on, and desires to have a relationship with, Victor Garber’s Horace Vandergelder, the gruff Yonkers store-owner.
Both performers have no chemistry whatsoever, and do not even attempt to magic some up. Peters’ Dolly seems a little too outside the universe of the musical around her, and Garber’s performance compares poorly to David Hyde Pierce’s engaging incarnation—he was both a match and foil for Midler—in the earlier production.
Hyde Pierce captured Vandergelder as a grouchy eccentric, whose perfect mugging when singing “Penny In My Pocket” burrowed into the song’s ridiculous schematics. Garber singing the same looks puzzled, and makes us feel puzzled watching him.
Garber’s Vandergelder is more loopy eccentric—he reminded me of Charlie Bucket’s Grandpa from Charlie and The Chocolate Factory—than scowling, world-rejecting widower awaiting reawakening. His first song, “It Takes a Woman,” sung with the men of the company about women’s roles in domestic patriarchy, suddenly sounds creepily sexist rather than just charmingly hokey as it did before.
In evoking Dolly’s own widowhood, and her occasional soliloquies to her dear departed Ephraim, Peters locates some scratchily profound emotional notes that Midler did not, and this seemed to me to reflect her Dolly as less assured and less commanding. Others may think it is simply a more restrained performance, and good on her, but is Dolly Levi best played as restrained?
There is no sense why Peters’ Dolly and Garber’s Horace would get together, and no sense of them operating together when sharing a stage. Everything is said and played by both actors directly to us rather than between them. At the end, their coupling is purely ceremonial.
‘Dolly’ fans will not be disappointed by the key scene of our diva descending the Harmonia Gardens restaurant stairs, and the show’s title number striking up. The visuals of Dolly in her deep pink dress and crowning fascinator and the queenly acceptance of the waiters’ “Hello, Dolly, it’s so nice to have you back where you belong,” are as richly sung and visually satisfying as ever. (This is even more impressive when you consider that the ‘waiters’ have, for the previous few minutes, been performing the demented “Waiters’ Gallop,” choreographed by Warren Carlyle, with wobbling mountains of plates.)
Just as memorable as Peters’ Dolly, center stage and sparkling right in front of us, are the men’s wonderful voices, singing their devotion to Dolly in perfect unison.
Midler offset this goosebump-raising, bracing men’s chorus with her own perfectly judged campy theatrics and soft, lilting voice; Peters’ Dolly seems a little overwhelmed by the attention and unsure of who’s who. In its Midler iteration, the show was a smooth, big-voiced, big-colored joy; now it feels workmanlike. It is not terrible, but you can see the joins and hear a little creaking.
If this sounds harsh, there are other joys left intact. Peters, like Midler, makes the best kind of meal out of eating a meal. The orchestra, led by conductor Justin Hornback, is so lushly controlled you dream that one day you could march down a New York street with them playing “Before The Parade Passes By” beside you.
The chorus is glorious, from their first collective sortie singing “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” dressed in Santo Loquasto’s suits and dresses in maxed-up sherbet colors, through to the men’s dazzling serenade of Dolly herself.
Remaining from the original are the formidable presences of Kate Baldwin as hat-shop owner Irene Molloy, who is not only very funny but whose honeyed meticulousness when singing “Ribbons Down My Back” underscores so perfectly the longing of that song.
Like her, a stay-on from the Midler production, Gavin Creel (now out of the show, recovering from back surgery; Santino Fontana will replace him) provides strong and charming support as store clerk Cornelius Hackl. Charlie Stemp as his sidekick Barnaby is appositely goofy, and as delightfully light on his feet as he needs to be as the pair search New York’s streets for a woman to kiss.
Molly Griggs as Minnie Fay, Irene’s assistant, is a zingily hilarious scene-stealer, and—some things never change—the worst parts are for young lovers Ambrose Kemper (Will Burton) and Ermengarde (Melanie Moore), whose desired union is the impetus for the musical’s plot and who are soon forgotten, reappearing only occasionally for her to wail in misery.
Peters fans will not be disappointed (their devotion would mean that would take a lot anyway). Hello, Dolly! is still a pleasure to watch. You will hum the songs for days. If you didn’t see Midler, Peters won’t suffer by comparison. If you did see Midler, it will come down to taste. Peters doesn’t perform the role badly, but, for this critic at least, the sense of fun and mischief that should orbit Dolly is missing from her. It was the heady perfume of the 2017 Midler production.
Suddenly, Hello, Dolly! feels like a company of individual performers working hard, rather than a company of performers in smooth, collective command of the material. Before the parade passes by, Hello, Dolly! would benefit from a reset.
Hello, Dolly! is at the Schubert Theatre, 225 West 44th Street, NYC. Booking through July 30.
The Hollywood Reporter
‘Hello, Dolly!’: Theater Review
2/22/2018 by Frank Scheck
You experience many things while watching the Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly! at the Sam S. Shubert Theatre. Laughter at the broad, hysterical comedy. Joy upon hearing Jerry Herman’s gorgeous score. Wonderment at the eye-popping costumes on constant display. But now that Bernadette Peters has taken over the title role, for the first time you’ll also shed tears.
That’s because the veteran, two-time Tony Award-winning performer has brought a poignancy to the production that wasn’t quite in evidence with her predecessor, Bette Midler. Midler was a powerhouse presence to be sure, bringing to the part all of her star wattage and formidable comic chops. Her starring turn, which resulted in sell-out performances and huge box-office grosses, became instantly iconic. But you never felt as much concern and tenderness toward her Dolly as you do for this one.
Peters, of course, is no slouch when it comes to being an iconic presence herself, considering that her career as a theater star has lasted a half-century since her breakout performances in 1968’s George M! and off-Broadway’s Dames at Sea. Since then she’s delivered acclaimed turns in such musicals as On the Town, Mack & Mabel, Sunday in the Park with George, Song and Dance, Into the Woods, Annie Get Your Gun, A Little Night Music and Follies. If anyone could be considered musical theater royalty, it’s her.
She pulls off another triumph here, infusing her Dolly Gallagher Levi with a pathos that, while making the character less a force of nature, makes her far more relatable. When her Dolly speaks to her dead husband Ephraim, such as when she implores him to let her go so she can get on with her life and be happy, it’s not just a prelude to the big, first-act closing number “Before the Parade Passes By” but also a tearful plea from the heart.
Which is not to say that she falls short of the role’s comedic demands. Her performance is less vivacious than Midler’s, but no less hilarious. With her deadpan comic line readings and subtle bits of physical business — the latter especially shown off in the riotously farcical hat shop scene in which she does not just a double, but a triple, take — she gets all the necessary laughs and more without lapsing into excessive shtick. Her vocals are equally stellar, and she looks sensational slinking down those Harmonia Gardens Restaurant stairs in that fabulous red dress and feathered headdress.
Victor Garber, another Broadway veteran whose musical theater credits include Sweeney Todd and Damn Yankees, has taken over for David Hyde Pierce as Dolly’s comic foil Horace Vandergelder. Garber doesn’t get nearly as many laughs as his predecessor, but few actors could, since Hyde Pierce is a finely tuned comedy machine. But if Garber’s more restrained performance is less gut-busting, it’s also less of a caricature. His Horace is more emotionally vulnerable, making us care more deeply about him and Dolly getting together.
The other significant cast changes (Gavin Creel and Kate Baldwin continue in their Tony winning and nominated roles respectively, and have only gotten better with time) are Charlie Stemp as Barnaby Tucker and Molly Griggs as Minnie Fay. Stemp, a 24-year-old British actor who won raves for his London performances in Half a Sixpence and Dick Whittington and here makes his Broadway debut, is a revelation. Effortlessly charming and displaying pitch-perfect comic timing, the charismatic performer is also one hell of a dancer. So much so, in fact, that he’s been given a dazzling solo in the “Dancing” number that wasn’t there before. Catch him now, and you’ll be able to say that you saw a star in the making. Griggs, who’s replaced Beanie Feldstein, proves no less an adorable laugh-getter than her predecessor and has excellent chemistry with Stemp. You’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the future as well.
Jerry Zaks’ perfectly tooled staging hasn’t lost a step, dancing or otherwise, since the show opened 10 months ago. Gower Champion’s original 1964 Broadway production — starring Carol Channing followed by a host of luminaries including Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable, Pearl Bailey, Phyllis Diller and Ethel Merman — played 2,844 performances. Assuming that it can keep up this level of star casting, there’s no reason not to think that this revival can’t match it.
‘‘Hello, Dolly!’ review: Well, hello, Bernadette Peters!
By Barbara Schuler
Updated February 22, 2018 9:00 PM
It’s been just a month since the “Hello, Dolly!” hats (and magnificent hats, they are) were passed from the Tony-winning, seriously adored Bette Midler to Broadway legend Bernadette Peters.
Time to invite the critics, who for the most part will be inclined to compare the two performances. But you won’t get that here. For a variety of reasons, I never saw Midler in the role. We’re starting fresh.
“Bette, who?” is all I have to say. Peters electrifies the Shubert Theatre stage with her warm, finely nuanced take on matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi, the multitasking widow who decides to rejoin the human race, with a perfect mix of heartfelt vocals and impeccable comic timing. True, her voice is on the raspy side (she is playing eight shows a week, where Midler got most Tuesday nights off with Donna Murphy stepping in) but it takes nothing away from the many magical moments — among them the renowned title song, of course, but also the life-affirming “Before the Parade Passes By” — that this lavish confection offers up. And never have I seen an audience so primed to love a show, with the applause starting the minute the lights went down and crescendoing at Dolly’s famed strut down the Harmonia Gardens staircase.
Some of that applause was saved for Victor Garber, another newcomer to the production, replacing David Hyde Pierce as the penny-pinching half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder, the man Dolly has her sights on. Lacking the musical chops of Peters (or the rest of the cast for that matter), Garber, all rumpled hair and grating New York accent, sells his wonderful material, especially the song “Penny in My Pocket” that’s often cut from the show, with a heavy dose of curmudgeonly charm.
A word, too, for Charlie Stemp as Barnaby Tucker, taking over for Taylor Trensch, now breaking hearts over at “Dear Evan Hansen.” A wonderful dancer, Stemp is delightful as the befuddled sidekick to Gavin Creel’s Tony-winning Cornelius Hackl.
Broadway statistics have noted a marked revenue drop following Midler’s departure, attributed both to the stratospheric prices she was commanding and the typical post-holiday slump. But this production has good bones — Santo Loquasto’s gorgeous costumes and artistic scenery and Jerry Herman’s well-loved score. When the time comes, a way off we hope, for Peters to move on, director Jerry Zaks will surely find another Dolly (one survey says fans want to see Dolly Parton in the part), and in all likelihood, my next question will be, “Bernadette, who?”
The New York Times
Review: The ‘Dolly’ Parade Marches On, Now With a New Star
HELLO, DOLLY! NYT Critic’s Pick Broadway, Musical, Musical 2 hrs. and 35 min. Open Run Shubert Theater, 225 W. 44th St. 212-239-6200
By JESSE GREENFEB. 22, 2018
A dimply new star has joined the cast of “Hello, Dolly!” and he’s delightful — oh wait.
Perhaps you weren’t asking about Charlie Stemp, the replacement Barnaby Tucker in the hit musical revival that introduced four fresh principals on Thursday evening.
O.K., then: A dimply new star has joined the cast of “Hello, Dolly!” and she’s delightful.
And something more, too.
Bernadette Peters, who turns 70 next week, doesn’t need to step into anyone’s shoes at this point in her 60-year Broadway career. That she would take over the role of Dolly Levi from Bette Midler (and her alternate, Donna Murphy) means she was interested in the challenge, not the provenance. I imagine she understood that there was something she could bring to the part that no one else could.
That something is not a stage personality filled with gregarious high spirits. Ms. Peters is neither the hoyden type nor the winking type, at least not since her days as a self-parodying chorine. Where Ms. Midler wrung laughs from a line like “I’m tired, Ephraim, tired of living from hand to mouth” — sometimes even pretending to collapse in decrepitude — Ms. Peters doesn’t even go for a giggle. She makes it clear that Dolly is talking about real hardships: the anxiety of work and the loneliness of a widow.
Ms. Peters is in fact a widow. (Her husband died in a helicopter crash in 2005.) So is Ms. Murphy, who nevertheless seemed to revel, like Ms. Midler, in the role’s brightest colors. For all the thoughtfulness she brought to the character, Ms. Murphy was more than comfortable with Dolly’s swanning tours of the passerelle; she giddily partook in the loop of absorption and reflection that eventually whips the audience’s love into a kind of hysteria.
Ms. Peters gets all that, and returns it. She sings the Jerry Herman songs thrillingly, of course. But if her performance is more like Ms. Murphy’s than like Ms. Midler’s, it has an even darker underlay. I don’t mean that she isn’t funny; she is — though I’m not sure I really believed, in the famous scene at the Harmonia Gardens, that a woman so disciplined in her diet that she will eat just “three smiles of grapefruit” for breakfast would ever chow down on the giant turkey leg set before her.
Ms. Peters, standing, with Amanda LaMotte, seated at center, and Leslie Donna Flesner. Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
The darkness is more of an aura or predilection. Ms. Peters seems most truly herself not in charm numbers like “I Put My Hand In” but in spoken or sung soliloquies like “Before the Parade Passes By.” In such moments Dolly, the old meddler, isn’t conning anyone; she’s being honest with herself. The final scenes, even as they bring her financial and marital woes to an end, are heartbreaking in the way all successful campaigns are if looked at closely enough.
That’s something you don’t really expect to see in a 1960s musical comedy, especially one as lovingly and successfully reincarnated as “Hello, Dolly!” is in Jerry Zaks’s revival. The explosion-in-a-Necco-factory sets and costumes (by Santo Loquasto) and the eccentric Gower Champion choreography, restaged by Warren Carlyle, continue to astonish; you actually gasp at the hats and postures.
But a gap may be opening up between the production’s style and Ms. Peters’s. Mr. Stemp and the other new principals — Victor Garber as Dolly’s intended, Horace Vandergelder; Molly Griggs as the milliner’s assistant, Minnie Fay — match the bright polish of the original cast, which has grown a bit zany with time.
Mr. Garber has a breezier take on Vandergelder than did David Hyde Pierce; the subtext of his bluster is never really in doubt. Ms. Griggs is charming and light as a bubble. And Mr. Stemp, as a 17-year-old clerk looking for adventure, doesn’t seem so much excitable as convulsive. Mr. Carlyle has given him some acrobatic new dance moves to make hay of his hyperkinesis.
Ms. Peters goes along with all this, to a point. But sometimes I felt she would rather observe the parade than be in it. (Showbiz was never her idea.) Personally, I’m a sucker for that: I think it gives this “Dolly” a fascinating new valence.
And “Dolly” can handle it. After all, it has accommodated actresses as different as Carol Channing (the original) and Tovah Feldshuh over the years. However peppy and farcical it gets, it is built on a strong foundation; Michael Stewart’s book draws heavily on the dramatic and real-world wisdom of its immediate source, Thornton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker.”
That play, itself worth reviving, is filled with philosophical asides that the musical borrows almost whole. “The surest way to keep us out of harm is to give us the four or five human pleasures that are our right in the world,” goes the best of these asides, and as spoken passionately by Ms. Peters, herself one of those four or five human pleasures, it has never sounded so true.
“And that takes a little money,” she adds.