This is not the Hello, Bette! show. This is not even the Hello, Bernadette! show. This is a by-golly-and-thank-you-Jesus Hello, Dolly! show.
This production succeeds in giving us the story of a woman who, as the 19th century heads for the 20th, is kicking butt up and down Olde Broadway. Dolly Gallagher Levi (Bernadette Peters) is a widow with no children. She has to figure out life on her own. What money she has she earns. Out of necessity she is entrepreneur before there were such things. She is also a Woman of a Certain Age - egad.
Oh, and did I mention she is an Irish woman who married a Jewish man?
How many things could be so terribly wrong and the story ain’t even started yet? No matter. This woman is not concerned with facts. She is too busy moving forward.
Dolly has created a world in which she offers to fix almost anything that ails a person and has an unending supply of business cards to prove it. She sticks her nose and puts her hand in to e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. But what she does, mostly, is reassure the timid. Whatever is in your way, she will remove it with a flick of her magic wand and you will be the better for it. And if you still need a push - her hand is at your back. Especially if you are two young men - Cornelius Hackl (Gavin Creel) and Barnaby Tucker (Charlie Stemp) sneaking out of Yonkers for a day of adventure. Or if you are two young women with open arms and hearts to match - Irene Malloy (Kate Baldwin) and Minnie Faye (Molly Griggs). These four are just what Dolly ordered for a romantic feast.
Dolly's realm is New York City and Yonkers. The Lower East side is booming and 14 Street is it’s Northern-most border. The Harmonia Gardens (think Delmonico’s, which is still standing) is or was THE place to be. And Dolly Gallagher Levi is a woman on a mission.
On her agenda this day is a certain Horace Vandergelder (Victor Garber) whose heart, like the Grinch, is two sizes too small. He wants a wife because he does. Period. She has to be skilled, fit, and even-tempered. Kind of like a good horse. Dolly has been hired as his matchmaker. And because she knows much better than Horace, what he wants is not what he is going to get. What he is going to get is Dolly. Lucky and unsuspecting man.
The reality of what is stacked against Dolly washes over us in this production, and were barely present in the previous incarnation at the Shubert. In Bernadette Peters we have an actor who connects with her character. Peters conveys the circumstances as well as the determination needed to navigate the world as a single woman relying on her own wits. It is in her every move, every gesture. This is not a casual situation. This is survival. When this Dolly says she is tired - it is not a joke.
Not for nothin' but Hello, Dolly! is based on the 1958 film, The Matchmaker, which was based on Thornton Wilder's 1954 play which was a rewrite of his 1938 play The Merchant of Yonkers. And THAT was based on an 1835 farce all about a man looking for a wife. When Wilder rewrote the script at the behest of Tyrone Guthrie in 1954, the spotlight shifted from Horace Vandergelder to Dolly Gallagher Levi. It opened on Broadway in 1955 and starred Ruth Gordon. Following me?
Frankly if you want the best ever version of this I would suggest the 1958 movie starring Shirley Booth (Dolly), Shirley MacLaine as Irene I-Am-Not-Kidding Malloy, Anthony Perkins and Robert Morse as Cornelius and Barnaby, the two young men about town.
Where was I? Oh, right. So THIS Dolly. The entire production is a creamsicle designed to make you feel good. Period. The music is mostly jolly and occasionally poignant. Love is in the air and people believe in its power and it's ability to change your life in a moment. The entire production is a visual feast (with the exception of the costumes for Kate Baldwin and Molly Griggs that look like leftovers from a very old movie about the Civil War). The dancers and chorus evoke applause just by landing on the stage. The plot is of course predictable, but that is not why we are there - we are there to be taken on a journey. Specifically, Dolly's journey that overflows into the lives of everyone she meets. Bernadette Peters understands that. Her response is to hoist the entire audience up on her diminutive shoulders and carry us to Heaven.
Dolly is finally home, where she belongs.
(Photo by Julieta Cervantes)
What the popular press says...
"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’sdelightful. And something more, too."
Jesse Green for New York Times
"Broadway favorite Bernadette Peters has stepped into the title role in “Hello, Dolly!” and puts her stamp on the single-minded matchmaker. The two-time Tony winner brings high spirits, warmth and a voice that will make you laugh and cry with joy."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"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."
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter
"Bernadette Peters’ return to Broadway puts the “doll” back in Hello, Dolly! Tiny, trim, and in terrific voice, the Tony Award-winning diva tops off previous triumphs like Mack and Mabel and Sunday in the Park with George with yet another beautifully sung (and sensitively felt) star performance, stepping into the show that Bette Midler turned into a smash."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...