Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Gleeful, Glorious, Giddy, Unforgettable Romp!

The story of Dolly Gallagher Levi takes place at the turn of the turn of the century in 1890s New York. But its origins date all the way back to an Austrian play written in 1835 which eventually morphed into the 1938 Thornton Wilder play, The Matchmaker and then later the 1964 musical Hello, Dolly!
The emergence of Dolly is a story in itself inasmuch as Dolly was only a minor character in the 1835 play. It was Thornton Wilder who moved the story to New York and eventually built the whole play around Dolly.
And therein lies the magic of this perennial favorite.
Because Dolly herself is timeless. The heart and soul of this inimitable character is also ageless and universal.
When she accepted the 2017 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, Bette Midler reminded her colleagues that Broadway's current production of Hello, Dolly! is most assuredly not a revival. "A revival is for someone who is dead or dying," Midler said. "But Dolly never died. She's always been here. She's always been with us and her story is for everyone."
Nobody understands this better than Midler herself and her astounding turn as Dolly at Broadway's Shubert Theater is not only the singular most joyous, most irresistible, most incandescent performance on the Great White Way right now, it's also the best performance we've ever seen, period.
The secret here (if there is one) is that Midler doesn't give us a campy Dolly or a caricatured Dolly or a smirk-and-chuckle Dolly but a real, honest-to-goodness, fully-formed, three dimensional Dolly who laps up life like a rich turkey dinner and inspires others to do the same.
Dolly understands the human condition and that understanding helps her turn events her way. But when she "puts her hand in" matters (as she explains in) she does it not as a cynical manipulator but as a self-appointed benefactor who wants to see people get as much enjoyment as they can out of every moment. And thanks to Bette Midler and the wonderful cast of this new Dolly, all this is accomplished without a single ounce of sugary sentimentality.
Of course, this musical is richly blessed with good bones.
The book by Michael Stewart moves along solidly with all the right turns and trappings at all the right moments. The music and lyrics by Jerry Herman give us a bounty of show stoppers, ballads and even newly-inserted numbers (like Penny in My Pocket) that demonstrate time and again why this is Broadway gold. The direction by Jerry Zaks manages to be both faithful and inventive and snappy, no small feat when you consider the nature of the project. The choreography by Warren Carlyle pays homage to Gower Champion but is so fresh and alive, it makes you yearn for more and more dancing on Broadway right now. And the scenic and costume design by Santo Loquasto evokes a glorious American era in hues and flourishes that you will never forget.
Dolly has a cast of 37 with a 28-piece orchestra and the grandest, most spectacular numbers you'll see anywhere on Broadway. From the rousing Put on You Sunday Clothes to the breathless Before The Parade Passes By to the catchy Dancing, to the comic Elegance and the lushly romantic Ribbons Down My Back, Dolly never fails to deliver.
But of course, it's the near manic title number that brings down the house. Yes, when Bette Midler begins to walk down those steps into the Harmonia Gardens, she demonstrates once again that you don't need pyrotechnics or special effects to electrify an audience, even in 2017. She gleefully maximizes every moment of this infectious anthem but never, ever hams it up. Coming on the heels of the ingenious Waiters' Gallop (a classic of choreography) the Hello, Dolly! number lasts nearly seven minutes, with Midler joking at one point, "Oh, I think I got it on tonight!" But when it's over the audience is still literally screaming and crying for more.
Tony winner Gavin Creel is sheer perfection as Cornelius Hackl, David Hyde Pierce is marvelous as Horace Vandergelder and Kate Baldwin, Taylor Trensch, Will Burton and Beanie Feldstein are all perfectly cast as well.
It's hard to believe Dolly hasn't been on Broadway for more than two decades. While there have been revivals, there's been nothing like this since the original production closed in 1970 after 2,844 performances, holding Broadway's "longest running" record for 37 years.
But now Dolly is, indeed, back where she belongs and night after night audiences are in a state of near giddy ecstasy that begins with roars of approval as the first notes of the overture are played and doesn't end until well after the finale when big crowds gather outside the stage door on Shubert Alley to offer Benediction to Bette.
We've seen nearly 250 Broadway shows but we've never seen anything like this.
The star, the cast and the audience are joined in syncopated glee. It's something you'll never, ever forget.
Do whatever you have to do -- save your pennies, take out a second mortgage, bribe somebody, rearrange your schedule, hop a plane, bus, train, ride a bike, run, jog, walk -- but get to the Shubert Theater and see Hello, Dolly!
This is why Broadway was born!

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