Friday, March 31, 2017

Hello Dolly

Bette Midler and Dolly Levi would seem to be as perfect a match as, oh, Glenn Close and Norma Desmond or Angela Lansbury and Mame. But, rather than giving us Dolly Levi, Bette has chosen to give us . . . Bette. Yes, she's funny and charming and lovely, but Dolly Levi is missing. Still, Bette does the star thing as no one else can, and the audience adores her. And she rocks the red "Hello, Dolly" dress and feathers. (Also, I saw a preview, and perhaps her performance will deepen.)

Bette Midler and Fabulous Dancers
Photo: Julieta Cervantes

I would have thought that not loving Midler would have meant not loving Hello Dolly, but I had a great time. Dolly is an old-time Broadway Musical, and this production beautifully captures its size, sweetness, and silliness. The book, by Michael Stewart, does what it needs to do, with some great silly jokes. The score by Jerry Herman is uneven, but the highlights are indeed highlights. It's also a pleasure to look at. The sets and backdrops are colorful, attractive, and full of detail. I could spend hours in Horace Vandergelder's and Irene Molloy's shops just enjoying the craft and artistry of the designs. The costumes are yummy eye candy, and there are a lot of them. Both the scenery and costumes are designed by the great Santo Loquasto, who has been delighting theatre and movie audiences for decades.

The cast is large, at least by today's standards--33 people versus Sunset Boulevard's 26. The 33 seem more like 40, mostly through the stamina and verve of the dancers (I wonder if they keep oxygen tanks backstage, just in case). 

In fact, the dancers are the heart and soul of this production. I may not have been moved by Midler's performance, but I did get tears in my eyes during a couple of the vibrant dance numbers. I've always been a sucker for a good production number, and Dolly is full of them. Kudos to Warren Carlyle who knows not to stray too far from Gower Champion's iconic work.

For me, the major flaw in any production of Hello Dolly is that there is no reason--zero, nada--for Dolly to be interested in marrying Horace Vandergelder. He's an obnoxious, stingy, humorless man. I was mildly optimistic that David Hyde Pierce would find a spark in the role, but he didn't. He works hard to bury his charm and attractiveness under a gruff Walter Matthau voice and glued-on facial hair, and he succeeds. So that flaw remains alive and well.

It's not that the rest of the plot makes perfect sense. It doesn't. But all the other illogical moments and inconsistencies are just silliness. The connection between Dolly and Horace is--or at least should be--the core of the show.

The rest of the cast is swell. It's always a treat to see Kate Baldwin (Irene Molloy), and Beanie Feldstein is a delight as Minnie Fay. (It's also quite nice to see a heavy girl treated as attractive--which she is!--and worthy of love.) Taylor Trensch is sweet as Barnaby Tucker, and Jennifer Simard gets her laughs, and then some, as Earnestina Money.

I was disappointed to learn that Gavin Creel (Cornelius Hackl) was out, but his understudy was fabulous. His name is Christian Dante White, and he's engaging and graceful and eminently likable, and his voice is gorgeous. (I also enjoyed that he's African-American; there's no reason to limit casting racially in the highly imaginary world of Dolly.) Midler gave him a solo bow, and he got huge cheers.

I'm a Sondheim-ian, through and through. I love musicals full of angst and suffering. But there still is--and I hope there will always be--a place on Broadway for big! bright! silly! and fun!

(Because everyone in the cast contributes mightily to the show, here are the performers not already mentioned:  Will Burton, Melanie Moore, Kevin Ligon, Cameron Adams, Phillip Attmore, Giuseppe Bausilio, Justin Bowen, Taeler Cyrus, Leslie Donna Flesner, Jessica Lee Goldyn, Stephen Hanna, Michael Hartung, Robert Hartwell, Aaron Kaburick, Amanda LaMotte, Analisa Leaming, Jess LeProtto, Nathan Madden, Michael McCormick, Linda Mugleston, Hayley Podschun, Jessica Sheridan, Branch Woodman, Ryan Worsing, Richard Riaz Yoder.)

Wendy Caster
(Paid just over half price to someone who couldn't use them and couldn't sell them for full price. Thanks again to that person--otherwise I would never have gotten to see this show! Fifth row mezz, on the side.)

Writing this, I became curious about Hello Dolly cast sizes past and present. This table shows definite shrinkage. The original cast had 45 performers! (Info from I have no idea how this will look on your browser or smartphone....)

Original Jan 16, 1964 - Dec 27, 1970
(45 people)
Nov 6, 1975 - Dec 28, 1975
(36 people)
Mar 5, 1978 - Jul 9, 1978
(38 people)
Oct 19, 1995 - Jan 28, 1996
(36 people)
Current Production
(33 people)
Carol Channing
Pearl Bailey
Carol Channing
Carol Channing
Bette Midler
Eileen Brennan
Billy Daniels
Eddie Bracken
Michael DeVries
David Hyde Pierce
David Burns
Guy Allen
Diane Abrams
Jay Garner
Gavin Creel
Jerry Dodge
Sally Benoit
Richard Ammon
Florence Lacey
Kate Baldwin
Alice Playten
Lisa Brown
John Anania
John Bantay
Taylor Trensch
Charles Nelson Reilly
Don Coleman
Carole Banninger
Desta Barbieri
Beanie Feldstein
Ken Ayers
Ron Crofoot
Bill Bateman
Bill Bateman
Will Burton
Nicole Barth
Richard Dodd
K. T. Baumann
Kimberly Bellmann
Melanie Moore
Alvin Beam
Terrence Emanuel
Michael C. Booker
Bruce Blanchard
Jennifer Simard
Carvel Carter
Chip Fields
Kyle Cittadin
Stephen Bourneuf
Kevin Ligon
Monica Carter
Grenoldo Frazier
Ron Crofoot
Julian Brightman
Cameron Adams
Mary Jo Catlett
Terry Gene
Don Edward Detrick
Holly Cruikshank
Phillip Attmore
Gordon Connell
Pat Gideon
Richard Dodd
James Darrah
Giuseppe Bausilio
Joel Craig
Ray Gilbert
Rob Draper
Christine DeVito
Justin Bowen
Dick Crowley
Ann Givin
David Evans
Cory English
Taeler Cyrus
Igors Gavon
Charles Goeddertz
JoEla Flood
Simone Gee
Leslie Donna Flesner
Gene GeBauer
Ted Goodridge
Tom Garrett
Jason Gillman
Jessica Lee Goldyn
Amelia Haas
Birdie M. Hale
Charlie Goeddertz
Milica Govich
Stephen Hanna
David Hartman
Karen Hubbard
Coby Grossbart
Elizabeth Green
Michael Hartung
Joe Helms
Gwen Humble
James Homan
Donald Ives
Robert Hartwell
Richard Hermany
Clark James
Marilyn Hudgins
Dan LoBuono
Aaron Kaburick
Neil Jones
Eulaulá Jennings
Alexandra Korey
Jim Madden
Amanda LaMotte
Charles Karel
Kathy Jennings
Florence Lacey
Lori Ann Mahl
Analisa Leaming
Paul Kastl
James Kennon-Wilson
Robert Lydiard
Halden Michaels
Jess LeProtto
Jan LaPrade
Mary Louise
Alex MacKay
Sharon Moore
Nathan Madden
Sondra Lee
Richard Maxon
Richard Maxon
Steve Pudenz
Michael McCormick
Joan Buttons Leonard
Francie Mendenhall
Deborah Moldow
Michael Quinn
Linda Mugleston
Jim Maher
Charles Neal
Randy Morgan
Robert Randle
Hayley Podschun
Marilyne Mason
Howard Porter
P. J. Nelson
Mitch Rosengarten
Jessica Sheridan
Bonnie Mathis
Jimmy Rivers
Janyce Nyman
Mary Setrakian
Christian Dante White
Joe McWherter
Ken Rogers
Jacqueline Payne
Clarence M. Sheridan
Branch Woodman
John Mineo
Bessye Ruth Scott
Debra Pigliavento
Randy Slovacek
Ryan Worsing
Else Olufsen
Sachi Shimizu
Theresa Rakov
Roger Preston Smith
Richard Riaz Yoder
Randy Phillips
David Staller
Bubba Rambo
Ashley Stover

Yolanda Poropat
Teddy Williams
Lee Roy Reams
Michele Tibbitts

Lowell Purvis
Jonathan Wynne
Randolph Riscol
Monica M. Wemitt

Michael Quinn

Barbara Ann Thompson

Will Roy

Mark Waldrop

Bonnie Schon

Barbara Sharma

Mary Ann Snow

Paul Solen

Jamie Thomas

Pat Trott

Ronnie Young

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