Theater Review: HELLO, DOLLY! (National Tour)

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by Tony Frankel on January 31, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours

BUCKLEY BUCKLES A BIT,
BUT DOLLY DEFINITELY DELIVERS

To start with, let’s agree to never say “Goodbye, Dolly.” Thornton Wilder’s genius for the common touch isn’t just a golden legacy in Our Town or The Skin of Our Teeth, both perfect comedies of life. There’s almost as much warm wisdom in The Matchmaker, Wilder’s craftily-plotted 1955 mating romp that librettist Michael Stewart and composer/lyricist Jerry Herman transformed into a 1964 musical gem called Hello, Dolly! Now on a national tour, Jerry Zaks’ four-time Tony Award-winning best revival festoons Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre with a delightful restoration of this infectious confection.

Famed designer Santo Loquasto creates a jewel-box/picture-book nostalgic tour-de-force radiant with resplendent Victoriana: Its filigreed proscenium frames period postcards illustrating the Gilded Age’s gorgeous ornamentations; while the set size may not be a perfect fit for this huge theater, it’s design is a perfect fit for the ornate interior. Its rich reliance on extravagantly elegant props and costumes evokes a world long gone, including an entire train for the Hudson River Railway. Loquasto’s abundant, tintype-accurate outfits (this chorus changes clothes a lot) are colored like a box of crayons (it’s been since I-don’t-know-when that a chorus entrance got applause for the costumes) that perfectly complement his sweetly suggestive scenery. A prettier touring show has seldom graced the boards.

These near three hours display spunk to spare, even heart. And Tony-winner Betty Buckley’s beautifully modulated and indomitable Dolly Gallagher Levi offers poignancy and perkiness to spare — but her voice was raw on opening night in L.A. (she cancelled most of her performances last week in Costa Mesa). Yet even if that wasn’t the case, she doesn’t seem to own the fun factor that we got from Midler, Peters, Streisand (too young for the film, maybe, but exceptional), and the late, great Carol Channing, whose star right in front of the theater on Hollywood Boulevard was bedecked with a red rose, red feathers, and a sparkling tiara. At 71, the effortlessly smiling Buckley is impressively agile, but her physical shtick fell a little flat (it could be she was still under the weather). So the jury is out as to whether she earns her marquee billing as this gold-digging fortune-huntress who dabbles in everything (“I Put My Hand In”) and practices payback like a Borgia (“So Long Dearie”).

Yet the show remains indomitably jubilant because Dolly exists to make life flourish, not fester, and her chosen fertilizers are money and matchmaking. This nurturing Earth Mother gardens people and they thrive. And while I thought that the cast — which enunciated beautifully so that we heard every lyric — was a bit pushy and overmiked, their delight on stage was palpable in the house.

The genius of this musical is to make it just cartoonish and corny enough to lift the laughter to the upper balcony but not have it be too insistent on its “live more than a little” messaging. Above all, Hello, Dolly! delights in first and second chances — first for stock boy Barnaby, chief clerk Cornelius and milliner’s assistant Minnie Fay, second for Dolly and Irene Molloy, whose late husbands were their best loves, and especially for crusty burgher Horace Vandergelder.

As described by husband-hunting Dolly, this feed-and-grain tycoon, “the well-known unmarried half-a-millionaire,” is ripe for conquest, despite never having respected a woman until Dolly tames him. Growling, gravelly but ultimately melting like a glacier, Lewis J. Stadlen plays flinty Horace with a vaudevillian master’s set of double takes. He also gets a “new” number to open the second act, the previously cut “Penny in My Pocket,” which actually serves to endear us more to a character that seems too abhorrent for Dolly — it makes more sense when he grudgingly gives in to the life force personified by Buckley’s hungry, ardent Dolly.

The cunning casting continues with tall and short Nic Rouleau and Jess LeProtto as the lovable goofball truants who run off to the future Big Apple, Kristen Hahn’s impish screwball Minnie, and Analisa Leaming’s worldly-wise but sensation-seeking Irene Molloy, who I wish was a little less big to balance out the really big Mr. Rouleau. Still, the quartet made “Elegance” a marvel. Also swell are Garrett Hawe’s plucky, long-haired painter Ambrose Kemper and Morgan Kirner as his intended (and Horace’s niece), the always agitated Ermengarde. Also winning is the Dolly understudy, Jessica Sheridan, as the garish Ernestina.

Robert Billig’s orchestra rediscovers the glories of Herman’s celebratory score, its joys ranging from an ebullient dance contest to a full-scale parade in lower Manhattan. You couldn’t have more fun watching the wrenchingly athletic waiters dancing up a dining ballet in the glorious second act. Warren Carlyle’s choreography would do Gower Champion proud as “Before the Parade Passes By” threatens to strut itself right into The Music Man.

Even with Buckley’s underwhelming night, the show works splendidly. Wilder and Herman make a wonderful, seemingly inevitable, combination, much superior to its origin, The Matchmaker, which in turn was better than its predecessor, The Merchant of Yonkers. Here, perkily presented with Wilders’ disarming delight in apostrophizing the audience, Mrs. Levi’s tart survival knowledge blends beautifully with the unashamed sentiment of “Dancing,” “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” and the inexpressibly exuberant title number, a showtopper as much as showstopper. So much that life fails to encourage, theater redeems. Seldom more winningly than in Hello, Dolly!

photos by Julieta Cervantes

Hello, Dolly!
national tour
at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre until February 17, 2019
for tickets, call 800-982-2787 or visit Pantages

tour continues through August 25, 2019
for dates, cities, and tickets, visit Dolly

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard S. February 13, 2019 at 1:36 am

I saw this last Friday Feb. 8 and Buckley had an understudy, so I left.

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Larry L. February 13, 2019 at 1:38 am

Here’s what I can say about Hello, Dolly!: It’s a little LUMPY, but it rings. Poor Betty just isn’t up to it. The role seems to have her pooped. But the worst is…she isn’t FUNNY. I’ve never seen the eating shtick fall so flat. And it’s sad that I didn’t believe her smile.

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