By Tulis McCall
This is not the Hello, Bette! show. This is not even the Hello, Bernadette! show. This is the by-golly-and-thank-you-Jesus Hello, Dolly! show.
This Hello, Dolly! 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. And, of course, Dolly is 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 Dolly 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-er-y-t-h-i-n-g. What she does mostly, however, 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. 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 Gallagher Levy is a woman on a mission. Her realm is New York City and Yonkers. The Lower East side is booming and 14th Street is its Northern-most border. The Harmonia Gardens (think Delmonico’s, which is still standing) was THE place to be.
On Dolly’s agenda this fine 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. This wife has to be skilled, fit, and even-tempered. Kind of like a good horse. Horace has hired Dolly as his matchmaker, and because she knows more about Horace than he does, what he wants is not what he is going to get. What he is going to get, lucky and unsuspecting man, is Dolly.
The reality of what is stacked against Dolly washes over us in this production. They were barely present in the previous incarnation at the Shubert. In Bernadette Peters we have an actor who connects with her character, and delivers her character to the audience. Peters conveys the circumstances as well as the determination needed to navigate the world as a single woman at the turn of the century relying on her own wits. It is in her every move, every gesture. This is not a casual situation. This is survival at a time when indoor plumbing and electricity were spotty at best. 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 The Matchmaker 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. This 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 its ability to change your life in a moment. Every minute is a visual feast (with the exception of the costumes for Kate Baldwin and Mollie Griggs that look like leftovers from a very old movie about the Civil War). The dancers and chorus evoke applause just by gliding onto 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 theatre up onto her diminutive shoulders and carry us to Heaven.
Dolly is finally home, where she belongs. Brava.
Hello, Dolly! – Book by Michael Stewart, based on “The Matchmaker” by Thornton Wilder; Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman; Choreography by Warren Carlyle; Directed by Jerry Zaks; originally directed by and choreographed by Gower Champion
Cast Bernadette Peters, Victor Garber, Gavin Creel, Kate Baldwin, Charlie Stemp, Will Burton, Molly Griggs, Melanie Moore, Jennifer Simard, Cameron Adams, Phillip Attmore, Giuseppe Bausilio, Justin Bowen, Elizabeth Earley, Taeler Elyse Cyrus, Leslie Donna Flesner, Jenifer Foote, Jessica Lee Goldyn, Stephen Hanna, Michael Hartung, Robert Hartwell, Amanda LaMotte, Analisa Leaming, Jess LeProtto, Ian Liberto, Kevin Ligon, Nathan Madden, Michael McCormick, Linda Mugleston, Hayley Podschun, Jessica Sheridan, Michaeljon Slinger, Christian Dante White, Branch Woodman, Ryan Worsing and Richard Riaz Yoder
Santo Loquasto (Scenic & Costume Design), Natasha Katz (Lighting Design), Scott Lehrer (Sound Design), Andy Einhorn (Music Direction),
At the Shubert Theatre, 225 West 44th Street.