Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
As well known a title as it is, Hello, Dolly! has not been seen in major productions for a while. It opened on Broadway in 1964 as a huge smash, eventually breaking My Fair Lady's record for longest running musical at that time. Its title tune was a hit in its own right, Louis Armstrong's recording reaching number one on the Billboard charts, knocking off the Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love," after held 14 weeks in the top spot. It became "Hello, Lyndon!," a campaign song that accompanied Lyndon B. Johnson's sweeping victory in the 1964 presidential elections. Carol Channing became wholly identified with Dolly and, in spite of some great ladies, including Ginger Rogers, Pearl Bailey and Ethel Merman replacing her during the show's run, Channing had claim to the part. She brought Dolly back to Broadway for two successful revivals, in 1978 and 1995, and played the West End in 1979. Finally, in 2017, producer Scott Rudin and Bette Midler, a dazzling star who had been teasing her fans for some four decades about someday headlining a big Broadway musical, brought Hello, Dolly! back. Lightning struck again and Dolly was once the talk of the town.
That acclaimed production is now on tour, with director Jerry Zaks and choreographer Warren Carlyle repeating their stunning work and using the same eye-popping designs, which include Santo Loquasto's Tony Award winning costumes. I am old enough to not always be able to fully trust my memory, but am pretty sure I have never before seen an audience applaud scenery (also designed by Loquasto) as well as a costumes, but, ah, what a costume: the signature bright red dress the star wears to establish her command over the hearts of every character on stage, and every member of the audience.
One of the secrets to Hello, Dolly!'s success, in addition to a thoroughly hummable, if not terribly sophisticated, Jerry Herman score, is Michael Stewart's strong book. It is a faithful adaptation of Thornton Wilder's 1955 play The Matchmaker and is well written, extremely funny, and laced with the delightful spirit of the great adventure that a simple day in one's life can become. The play is set in the 1880s, imagined as a simpler time when even the hustle-bustle of New York City (with 14th Street the main thoroughfare) is as innocent as a Sunday picnic. Beautifully rendered lithograph-like depictions of city streets fill the rear of the stage to establish different settings, and a bucolic Hudson Valley depiction serves as the backdrop for scenes set in Yonkers, then a world away from the big city, though today an urbanized extension of the Bronx which abuts it.
Dolly Gallagher Levi has been a widow for a long time, supporting herself as a matchmaker among other forms of meddling in people's lives. Her current client is widower Horace Vandergelder, a prosperous merchant in Yonkers. Dolly sets up a match for Horace, but her real plan is to marry Horace herself. She shares her scheme through dialogues with her dear late husband Ephraim, a device that might have been mawkish, but in Wilder's hands, as adapted by Stewart, works beautifully. Her complicated scheme ends up entangling Vandergelder's 33-year-old clerk Cornelius Hackl and 17-year-old apprentice Barnaby Tucker, neither of whom have ever left Yonkers, nor kissed a girl; a beautiful milliner, Irene Malloy, who pines for a bit of romance before buckling down to a safe and secure future; and her bashful assistant, Minnie Fay. Then there is Vandergelder's high-strung niece and the young artist determined to marry her, over her uncle's staunch objections. To no one's surprise, with Dolly's cunning and kindness, all will be better off by the show's end.
Betty Buckley may not have the box-office power to open a show on Broadway, but given the chance, she radiates charisma, has the comic flair to land every joke, fully embodies the matchmaker's fertile mind as she spontaneously hatches plot after plot, and sings beautifullyno surprise there. Her inspiring rendition of "Before the Parade Passes By," fills the house, she offers a swell vaudevillian turn in "So Long, Dearie," and she has the entire room eating out of her hands coming down the stairs in that dazzling red dress, singing the iconic title song.
Co-starring as Horace Vandergelder is Lewis J. Stadlen, with a long roster of Broadway credits. Some may remember Stadlen as Nathan Detroit when the national tour of Guys and Dolls came to the Ordway some 25 years ago. Stadlen has a pleasant but growly singing voice that fully conveys the merchant's fussiness and impatience, and is a perfect foil for Dolly's machinations. A song cut from the musical's original run, "Penny in My Pocket," was restored in the 2017 revival for Vandergelder, sung in front of the rich, red velvet curtain to open act two, and is delivered by Stadlen in dashing music hall style.
Nic Rouleau, as Cornelius Hackl, and Sean Burns, as Barnaby Tucker, both give highly energized performances, with great dancing and strong singing, especially when they lead off one of the all-time great musical comedy production numbers, "Put on Your Sunday Clothes," and Rouleau also lends his charming tenor to "It Only Takes a Moment." They have a delightful chemistry together, as Cornelius becomes a big brother figure, himself clueless, nonetheless tutoring Barnaby in the ways of the world. Analisa Leaming is both lovely and spirited as Irene Molloy, expressing her yearning in the beautiful "Ribbons Down My Back." Kristen Hahn is an adorably amusing Minnie Fay. The four do a swell job together in the jaunty "Elegance."
The ensemble couldn't be better, with full-powered harmonic singing and indefatigable dancing, delivering Warren Carlyle's non-stop choreographyitself paying homage to Gower Champion's originalwith boundless energy and exquisite grace, with "Dancing" and "The Waiters' Gallop" the peaks among many high points. Not only is the dance, as it is usually considered, splendid, but extraordinary stage images, such as crowd filling up a train from Yonkers to New York, or of the 14th Street Parade teeming with life, lift Hello, Dolly! to the top echelon of great musical theater, even if it is by most measures old-fashioned.
A generously staffed seventeen-member orchestra conducted by Robert Billig plays the Herman score with robust energy, full of old-school Broadway brass, enough to make us almost believe that the train we see on stage really is steaming down the tracks. And few shows offer so many occasions for full-throated choral singing by a large ensemble, raising the rafters in "Put on Your Sunday Clothes," "Before the Parade Passes By," "Hello, Dolly!," and "It Only Takes a Moment," all winners.
This fabulous production of Hello, Dolly! is the real deal, a "they don't make 'em like that anymore" musical that does everything right, is unafraid to be sentimental or to fill the stage with bright colors and celestial voices. The story is dated, to be sure, but conveyed as a warm, full-hearted fable that declares love the champion, it is a welcome tonic for frayed 21st century nerves.
Hello, Dolly!, through April 28, 2019, at the Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $39.00 - $115.00. Student/Educator rush, two tickets per valid ID, $25.00 per ticket, cash only, two hours before showtime, subject to availability. For ticket information call 800-982-2787 or visit hennepintheatretrust.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.hellodollyonbroadway.com.
Book: Michael Stewart, based on the play The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder; Music and Lyrics: Jerry Herman; Original Production Directed and Choreographed by: Gower Champion: Director: Jerry Zaks; Choreography: Warren Carlyle; Scenic and Costume Design: Santo Loquasto; Lighting Design: Natasha Katz; Sound Design: Scott Lehrer; Hair, Wig and Makeup Design: Campbell Young Associates; Orchestrations: Larry Hochman; Music Supervision: Andy Einhorn; Vocal Arrangements: Don Pippin; Musical Director and Conductor: Robert Billig; Casting: Telsey + Company; Production Stage Manager: Brian J. L'Ecuyer;
Cast: Daniel Beeman (Town Clerk), Betty Buckley (Dolly Gallagher Levi), Sean Burns (Barnaby Tucker), Wally Dunn (Rudolph), Kristin Hahn (Minnie Fay), Beth Kirkpatrick (Mrs. Rose), Morgan Kirner (Ermengarde), Analisa Leaming (Irene Malloy), Colin LeMoine (Ambrose Kemper), Nic Rouleau (Cornelius Hackl), Scott Shedenhelm (Stanley), Jessica Sheridan (Ernestina), Timothy Shew (Judge), Lewis J. Stadlen (Horace Vandergelder).
Ensemble: Maddy Apple, Daniel Beeman, Giovanni Bonaventura, Elizabeth Broadhurst, Julian DeGuzman, Alexandra Frohlinger, Dan Horn, Corey Hummerston, Madison Johnson, Beth Kirkpatrick, Ben Lanham, Kyle Samuel, Scott Shedenhelm, Timothy Shew, Maria Cristina Slye, Cassie Austin Taylor, Davis Wayne, Brandon L. Whitmore, Connor Wince.