“Hello Harry, well, hello Louie,
It's so nice to be back home where I belong…”
The first two lines of the title song of this nostalgia-infused, perfectly-crafted Broadway revival speak volumes. As Bette Midler descends the staircase of Santo Loquasto’s exquisite Harmonia Gardens set, wearing that now infamous red dress and feathered headdress, the audience cannot help but nod in gleeful agreement that this global star is back exactly where she belongs – on the Broadway stage.
Let’s make no mistake about it, this production is the epitome of a star vehicle, but it is a vehicle fit for the Queen herself (Bette or Elizabeth II, take your pick)… From the moment the overture strikes its first note (Oh, why can’t every modern Broadway musical include an overture???) to Ms. Midler’s final bow, Broadway veteran director Jerry Zaks has lovingly poured the oldest ingredients in the book of musical comedy into his production, stirred them well with Warren Carlyle’s delightful choreography, and has produced a throwback to the glory days of yesteryear. Any ageing Broadway aficionado that sighs: “Well, they don’t make them like they used to…” clearly hasn’t seen this Hello, Dolly! yet. He or she is also probably one of the endless number of die-hard theatre fans, currently struggling to get a ticket to the hottest show in town!
The story of the late-19th-century matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi, who sets out to snag the Yonkers-based “half-a-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder as a husband of her own, is a simple tale. The subplot of Vandergelder’s disgruntled yet overwhelmingly charming employees Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, who shut up shop in hopes of an adventure in the Big Apple, adds another layer of comedy gold to the book. The latter storyline sees a blossoming romance between Hackl and Irene Molloy (initially intended to Vangergelder) and her sidekick Minnie Fay to Tucker. Supporting Midler in a once-in-a-lifetime-dream-casting as Dolly is David Hyde Pierce as Horace, who threatens to steal every scene he is involved in with buckets of grouchy, comic panache. Gavin Creel oozes an unassuming charisma as Cornelius, while Kate Baldwin shows off her heavenly vocal range as Irene. Sidekicks Barnaby and Minnie are expertly played with on-the-button comic timing by Taylor Trensch and Beanie Feldstein, respectively. And a special mention must go to Tony nominee Jennifer Simard, who proves her hilarious character acting skills once again in the small, but memorable role of the shrill Ernestina.
Santo Loquasto’s costumes are as glorious as they are colourful. Retro-Fashion enthusiasts will gawp as the parade passes by and as the cast puts on their Sunday clothes. And his scenic design appears so elegantly simple at times, until a train or a horse-drawn carriage suddenly appears from the wings. Goodness knows how they all fit backstage!
But back to the divine Miss M… Although Ms. Midler doesn’t perhaps no longer matches contemporaries like Ms. Baldwin in terms of pure singing range and ability, she conveys each number of Jerry Herman’s timeless score with a twinkle in her eye and is a master of storytelling. When she joins the young and gifted ensemble during the big choreography numbers and subsequently slumps down the arches of the proscenium in exhaustion, we’re not entirely sure whether she is acting or not... and that only intensifies the laughter from the audience. She has us in the palm of her hand throughout – even during the prolonged scene towards the end of Act II in which we are forced to watch her devilishly devour a meal. Bon appetit, Bette… and welcome back!
(Photo by Julieta Cervantes)
"Exceedingly bright and brassy revival... Back on a Broadway stage in a book musical for the first time (can it be?) since “Fiddler on the Roof” half a century ago, Ms. Midler is generating a succession of seismic responses that make Trump election rallies look like Quaker prayer meetings."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Hello, blockbuster! 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... 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!"
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Hello, Dolly! offers classic musical theater without a hint of apology. Jerry Herman’s exuberant score is a show-tune bonanza, and Warren Carlyle’s choreography distills showbiz dancing to its essence; the show elicits grins with simple bounces and kicks, and earns waves of applause with a cakewalk. Midler hasn’t appeared in a Broadway musical in almost 50 years. It was worth the wait. We are all her waiters now."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"It's perhaps a measure of my great admiration for this superlative production that I didn't even get to Jerry Herman's iconic score. The 23-piece orchestra plays it to perfection. And with the Divine Miss M to sing it, we've got a match made in heaven!"
Roma Torre for NY1
"As a shot of sparkling, old-fashioned popular entertainment of a kind largely erased by the age of cynicism, this deluxe revival of Hello, Dolly! is about as good as it gets, crowned by star casting that fits like a glove."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter
"Jerry Herman’s 1964 musical comedy is one of the great audience shows, so it’s a relief to report that helmer Jerry Zaks and choreographer Warren Carlyle have done a great restoration job on the old girl, while refraining from the urge to tart her up for modern tastes."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...