Saturday, February 2, 2019

Review: HELLO, DOLLY! - At Long Last, It's Hello, Betty!

Betty Buckley in Hello, Dolly! All photos by Julieta Cervantes

In the lexicon of American Musical Theatre, Hello, Dolly! is one of the best star vehicles ever written. And, because of the title role’s iconic nature, almost everyone can name the leading ladies who have played her. Carol Channing, Mary Martin, Pearl Bailey, Barbra Streisand, and most recently, Bette Midler, have all donned the red sequined gown and outsized personality of Dolly Levi, matchmaker extraordinaire and the original mother of invention.

But, now, to the thrill of local music theatre fans, it’s time to say, “Well, hello Betty…” Betty Buckley, that is, queen of the Broadway musical, who originated the roles of Edwin Drood, Martha Jefferson in 1776, and Grizabella in CATS (for which she won a Tony Award). She’s played some of the genre’s most tragic characters, from Norma Desmond to Margaret White in the cult musical Carrie, to Triumph of Love’s Hesione. Everything she does is a master class in excellence. To watch as she brings her signature emotional heft to composer Jerry Herman and bookwriter Michael Stewart’s enduring classic is a high audiences won’t soon forget.

Dolly breezes into town like a breath of fresh air and Betty gives us a character full of chutzpah and heart, whose rare insight into the hilarious foibles of love endear her to everyone within reach. Before the curtain falls, she will succeed in delivering a new romance to two optimistic young men in search of a big city adventure, fulfill the dreams of a hat maker who longs for love, open the eyes of a quirky young shopgirl with her first infatuation, help a young couple convince her curmudgeonly uncle to support their engagement, and persuade said uncle that the perfect match for him is none other than Dolly herself.

 Front left: Jess LeProtto (Barnaby) and Nic Rouleau (Cornelius) with
Lewis J. Stadlen (center) and the cast of Hello, Dolly!

Horace Vandergelder (Lewis J. Stadlen) is the well-known unmarried Yonkers half-a-millionaire whom Dolly has decided will take the place of her deceased husband, Ephraim. For ten years she has made a go of it on her own but, as she says in one of her loving asides, “I’m tired, Ephraim, tired of living from hand to mouth.” Still, she wants him to give her a sign it’s okay to move on and, when it finally arrives, it is the perfect tug-on-the-heart conclusion to this optimistic all-American musical.

Buckley and Stadlen, whose own credits include more than a dozen Broadway shows and Tony nominations for Candide and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, are a terrific pair. His chauvinism belongs to a different time and her unwavering ability to steamroll past any objection is a practice women are still having to exercise today. That their verbal volley works is a credit to director Jerry Zaks, who doesn’t try to sidestep Horace’s dated mindset but instead highlights it and then surrounds him with a theatrical reality big enough to make him grow in the process.

Betty Buckley and Lewis J. Stadlen

Character bits abound and are played broadly for the sake of the comedy, particularly by the unlikely road duo of chief clerk Cornelius Hackl (Nic Rouleau) and his assistant Barnaby Tucker (Jess LeProtto) who both work for Horace. Going as big as they do within such a naïve framework makes them lovable rather than annoying and pays off beautifully as their capers spin out of control. Plus, Rouleau packs a bright classic music theatre tenor voice that rings to the back of the Pantages’ large house, and LeProtto has the moves of a modern-day Gene Kelly and an instinctive sense of comic timing.

Widow Irene Molloy (Analisa Leaming) and her assistant Minnie Fay (Kristen Hahn) are the women who catch their eye when the men accidentally duck into Irene’s hat shop. Leaming is lovely as the confident business woman who wants more from life than just selling hats, while Hahn’s eccentricities make her flirtations comedy gold. The rest of the cast members match their brio, each building on their character’s idiosyncrasies which, in this show, are plentiful.

Betty Buckley and the cast of Hello, Dolly!

The touring production also benefits from the talents of the same creative team that mounted the 2017 Broadway revival. In addition to Zaks’ direction, Warren Carlyle choreographs one sensational production number after another on a set designed by Santo Loquasto that brings all the nostalgic charm of the Gay Nineties to life with extravagant detail. Its painted vintage backdrops, plush Harmonia Gardens staircase, and delightful train to New York are a fitting foundation for Loquastos costumes, which come in a blissful array of candy shop colors.

Musical direction is by Robert Billig, music supervision by Andy Einhorn, orchestrations by Larry Hochman, vocal arrangements by Don Pippin, and dance arrangements are by David Chase. What they are presenting is quite an accomplishment. 

This national tour of Hello, Dolly! boasts so many outstanding elements that the only real response is for me to say, go see it. Those of you who are aspiring actors, dancers, designers, and musical theatre writers, this is your homework. To know where we’re going, we need to know where we’ve come from, and this American classic is an important part of our legacy. Everything about the show is infectious, from its non-stop energy to its heightened style. And with Betty Buckley at the center of it all, it is a musical theatre geek’s dream come true.

Betty Buckley and the ensemble of Hello, Dolly!

January 29 - February 17 2019
Hollywood Pantages Theatre
6233 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90028
Tickets and info:

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