Even the costumes receive applause in director Jerry Zaks spectacular revival of Hello, Dolly!, starring Bette Midler, who more than lives up to her reputation as The Divine One. This Dolly certainly was looking swell, and so was every element of this production at the Shubert Theatre. It’s so glitteringly joy-filled it’s almost overwhelming.
Midler is definitely back where she belongs, dancing, singing and vamping her way through the roll of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a resourceful widow scraping out a living as a matchmaker and any other occupation for which she encounters a need in 19th century New York. All of this talent went unused in Midler’s last Broadway turn in the 2013 play I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers. Playing that high-powered Hollywood agent, she spent the time propped up on a sofa eating, drinking, smoking pot and talking about her celebrity cliental. The character was an unlikeable bore and a waste of Midler’s pizzazz.
But she’s in her glory now, giving us a show we need more than ever. Some great cosmic scheduler must have foreseen the 2016 election results. This spring has brought us especially uplifting shows that include Come From Away, the inspiring true story of the people of Gander, Newfoundland, who welcomed nearly 7,000 strangers from around the world when their planes were diverted there following the 2001 terrorist attacks, and Groundhog Day: The Musical with its message that we don’t have to get stuck in our lives because we have the power to do something new everyday.
In contrast to Midler’s exuberant Dolly is David Hyde Pierce’s comically dour Horace Vandergelder, the “half-millionaire” cheapskate widower who hires Dolly to find him a new wife. Dolly has someone in mind — herself — but she distracts him from her scheming with other possibilities, one of whom is Irene Molloy, a widowed hat maker play by the charming Kate Baldwin, who is underused in this minor role. Gavin Creel is winning as Cornelius Hackl, a clerk in Vandergelder’s Yonker’s hay and feed store who become Mrs. Molloy’s unexpected love interest.
With a cast of more than two dozen, Jerry Herman’s wonderful songs ring out, combining smoothly with Michael Stewart’s book, adapted from Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker.
Warren Carlyle’s choreography pays tribute to Gower Champion’s original choreography and direction and fills the stage with high spirit, enhanced by Santo Loquasto’s sets and his costumes in vivid Easter egg colors.
Song, dance and costume — vibrant red for Dolly — ignite a show-stopping standing ovation for that most famous number, “Hello, Dolly!” when Dolly returns to the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant. Midler is in her glory ascending from the top of a flight of stairs to dance with a chorus of waiters. This is traditional musical theatre at its best. Director Zaks has won four Tony Awards. Number five could well be on the way.
For some reason, this is the first new production of this classic show since it opened on Broadway more than 50 years ago. That’s probably why I had never seen it. I read the play in high school but never even saw the movie. What a great introduction to Dolly I had last night.